The Ireland Women’s persistence was rewarded with four second half tries as they stayed top of the Six Nations table with a 27-3 win away to Italy yesterday afternoon.
For the second week running, Tom Tierney’s side left it very late to claim the bonus point. It took a lung-bursting run from winger Hannah Tyrrell to ensure the maximum return with just over 81 minutes on the clock.
Tyrrell’s magical 80-metre try came from a Nora Stapleton cross-field kick back in the Irish 22, adding to an earlier three-try blitz from Leah Lyons (51 minutes), the fit-again Sophie Spence (54) and captain Paula Fitzpatrick (61).
Fitzpatrick’s back row colleague, Connacht’s Claire Molloy, marked her 50th international cap with a player-of-the-match performance, but Ireland’s collective display was again sprinkled with basic errors and some sloppy passages that better opposition will punish.
It leaves them with a lot to tidy up ahead of the visit of defending champions France to Donnybrook in two weeks’ time, while England, who hammered Wales 63-0 yesterday, look to the team to beat so far.
Penalties from Stapleton (27 minutes) and Michela Sillari (40) were the only scores of an error-strewn first half in L’Aquila, although an early run from returning Sevens international Tyrrell showed promise.
With both Wales and Scotland scoring off mauls against Ireland recently, Italy were also quick to seek out a lineout drive but the girls in green stood firm in defence.
Handling errors prevented Ireland from building much momentum in a scrappy opening period, with Sene Naoupu guilty on a couple of occasions, and a Beatrice Rigoni chip over the top caused problems for the visitors.
At the midway point of the half, Stapleton initiated a fast-paced counter attack from deep as Alison Miller burst away up the left wing, however Italian captain Sara Barattin did really well to chase down the Portlaoise flyer and prevent a certain try.
A failing from last week in Cumbernauld was Ireland’s struggle to convert set piece pressure into points, and their execution let them down again when two promising mauls were thwarted by the resilient Italians.
Molloy, Ailsa Hughes and Lyons were all held up in successive phases. Despite those missed opportunities, Italy’s indiscipline invited Ireland forward again and scrum half Hughes and Miller exploited space on opposite wings.
After Alice Trevisan was caught offside, Stapleton clipped over a close range penalty to see Ireland into the lead. Better play from the Women’s Rugby World Cup hosts saw flanker Molloy jink through midfield but Stapleton’s subsequent pass was ruled forward and Miller missed out on a try in the left corner.
Indeed, it was the Italians who forced the issue coming up to the interval, a Sofia Stefan break up to the Irish 22 showing their intent and Hughes’ loose pass from a scrum giving the home side a close-in scrum.
An offside call against Lindsay Peat allowed Sillari to draw Italy level off the kicking tee, while Jenny Murphy had a short spell off the pitch after taking a heavy hit from Rigoni.
Ireland had no end-product to show for some encouraging build-up play on the resumption, Murphy and Tyrrell both running hard into space and Mairead Coyne’s knock-on let Italy off the hook.
The breakthrough finally came in the 51st minute, the Irish pack wearing down the home defence and hooker Lyons managed to ground the ball against the right hand post for a try which Stapleton converted.
Another seven points following just three minutes later, Miller doing the initial damage with a trademark burst in off her left wing. Prop Peat did really well to support her and with possession retained, replacement Spence rumbled over from close range.
A terrific turnover from Ciara Griffin then launched Ireland downfield on a dangerous counter, Miller linking with Naoupu whose looping pass found Peat who was really growing into the game.
Italy defended doggedly but it was obvious that they were tiring, and from an Irish scrum in the 22, centre Murphy went close before skipper Fitzpatrick burrowed over for an unconverted effort.
The chances kept coming but Ireland’s accuracy was slightly off as Murphy, who made two powerful breaks in quick succession, just failed to link up with Coyne, and Molloy’s pass to Stapleton was adjudged forward with the Italian defence under huge pressure.
It looked like Ireland would miss out on the bonus point when Italy successfully disrupted after another slaloming surge through the middle by Molloy. However, with time up, a final penalty allowed Ireland to build from the back through Stapleton’s clever kick. After waiting to gather the bouncing ball, Tyrrell took off on the outside of two defenders and then outfoxed covering full-back Manuela Furlan to finish her thrilling solo score in the right corner.
Connacht had three players in the starting XV: Mairead Coyne, Alison Miller and 50-cap Claire Molloy. Mary Healy was a livewire when she came off the bench at the break and Ciara O’Connor was introduced on 72 minutes for her second cap.
Ireland: Mairead Coyne (Galwegians/Connacht); Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Jenny Murphy (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Sene Naoupu (Aylesford Bulls), Alison Miller (Old Belvedere/Connacht); Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Ailsa Hughes (Railway Union/Leinster); Lindsay Peat (Railway Union/Leinster), Leah Lyons (Highfield/Munster), Ailis Egan (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Elaine Anthony (Highfield/Munster), Marie Louise Reilly (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Ciara Griffin (UL Bohemians/Munster), Claire Molloy (Bristol/Connacht), Paula Fitzpatrick (St. Mary’s/Leinster) (capt).
Replacements used: Claire McLaughlin (Cooke/Ulster) for Murphy (38 mins-half-time), Sophie Spence (Old Belvedere/Leinster) for Anthony, Mary Healy (Galwegians/Connacht) for Hughes (both half-time), Ciara Cooney (Railway Union/Leinster) for Griffin (62), Ciara O’Connor (Galwegians/Connacht), Ilse van Staden (Cooke/Ulster) for Peat (both 73).