Eerily empty streets as I walked from Donnybrook to Lansdowne Road at 4.30 on Saturday were a good indication that this was no ordinary day. The usual exodus prior to the final whistle, especially when the result is in no doubt was nowhere to be seen. Two men leaving as I approached the Aviva were sharing headphones to listen, like me, to the post match interview with Man of the Match Brian O’Driscoll on his last home appearance for Ireland at the end of his illustrious career. I felt a lump in my throat listening to his very emotional farewell, but as a true professional he was already focused on the next game against France. His humility showed when he declared his 60 minute performance unworthy on a Man of the Match award. I for one was glad he got it to boost my fantasy rugby score but from what I had read on twitter and heard on the radio commentary he had made a major contribution to the game, not least in setting up several of the tries scored by Ireland in their 46-7 victory over Italy.
There is plenty of coverage available on the men’s game in the media so my focus this week is on the ladies team. I admit I qualify as a bandwagoner as this was my first time attending a women’s game but when the IRFU announced that the match would be played at the Aviva I was determined to be there for the historic occasion. Hopefully they will play there again, albeit with improved logistics as the queue to get in was very slow. The lack of an early exodus mentioned above probably did not help. By the time I got to a seat the game was already 10 minutes old and Ireland were leading 3-0, but I was disgusted to have missed the anthems. I always love singing along, proving that the investment in my summers at the Gaeltacht near Dingle was not wasted as I know all the words to “Amhrán na bhFiann”
The demographics of the supporters at this game differed from the west terrace at Thomond, plenty of ladies of all ages, some wearing tricolour boas, hair decorations, sparkles and/or facepaint; along with family parties and groups of young men. Those with tickets for the men’s game could stay for free and some did, while others like me purchased the €10 tickets just for the ladies game.
When No. 7 Claire Molloy evaded several tackles to score the first try there were great celebrations, someone was so excited they lost a hold of their tricolour balloons which soared high into the blue sky. Just before the break I was delighted to see Lynne Cantwell score the second try. Like the afore-mentioned O’Driscoll Lynne also wears the #13 jersey and was also making her last home appearance for Ireland. Unlike BOD she is not a household name but she has made a great contribution to the development of women’s rugby in her 13 years on the Irish team. Lynne also writes an interesting column for the Irish Times – this week she wrote about playing at the Aviva Read her article here
Overall the standard of play was good, especially given the fact that this is an amateur sport. While there were some forward passes and knock-ons, you get them in the men’s game also. I was impressed by Niamh Briggs who made several breaks, showing strength in the tackle to make good ground on several occasions. The lineout worked well, I was surprised to see the prop Gillian Bourke throwing in the ball, I had not picked that up watching previous games on TV.
The scrum became a weapon of mass destruction and was unleashed to great effect in the second half as Ireland pushed home their advantage. Alison Miller displayed super dancing feet to score the third try while the fourth came from pushing the Italians off their own scrum on their 5m line with Heather O’Brien picking up the ball to power over the line.
Looking ahead to the crunch game in France the substitutes were unleashed and made an impact. The fifth try was scored by replacement Jenny Murphy after a good break by #12 Grace Davitt. A singsong broke out on the West stand to celebrate the comprehensive victory by the ladies. The Italians did not give up and pushed hard for a score at the death only to be repelled.
At the final whistle the substituted players rushed onto the pitch to celebrate with their team mates. It was great to see them all enjoy their victory and their lap of honour, recognising faces in the crowd of about 18,000 as they saluted their support on a historic occasion for women’s rugby in Ireland.
15. Niamh Briggs 14. Ashleigh Baxter 13. Lynne Cantwell 12. Grace Davitt 11. Alison Miller 10. Nora Stapleton 9. Amy Davis 1. Fiona Coghlan (capt) 2. Stacey-Lea Kennedy 3. Gillian Bourke 4. Sophie Spence 5. Marie Louise Reilly 6. Siobhan Fleming 7. Claire Molloy 8. Heather O’Brien
Replacements: 16. Ailis Egan 17. Fiona Hayes 18. Kerrie-Ann Craddock 19. Paula Fitzpatrick 20. Larissa Muldoon 21. Hannah Casey 22. Jenny Murphy 23. Jackie Shiels
Saturday was also a milestone for Welsh referee Nigel Owens on his 50th Test level appearance. I had attended a fundraiser for Barnhall on Thursday night in Celbridge where Nigel was the guest speaker. There he had joked that he was about to retire but in the subsequent Q&A he confirmed he has a contract with the WRU through to the 2016. Nigel is one of the best referees in the business, his consistency, no-nonsense approach and quick wit are famous. He has over 80K followers on Twitter and many appearances on YouTube.
The title of his talk: “This is not soccer” came from a game against Munster:
Since we were asked not to quote him or tweet him (as all was not politically correct and could be misunderstood out of context) I won’t say too much about it but if you get a chance to attend any future such evenings I would recommend it as being both insightful and entertaining, with lots of anecdotes and plenty of time for Q&A. Nigel proved that like many (all?) Welshmen he can carry a tune as he invited us to join him in song but not many there knew the words to Myfanwy 🙂
I wonder what the u/12s of Barnhall and Wicklow thought when he turned up to referee their game on Sunday. He did say at the talk that he applies the same rules to all age groups but will also coach them as he goes so they understand why he is penalising them.
Photos from men’s game taken from Daryl Feehely’s collection – see the full set here. Photos of ladies game taken by me.
Thanks to my regular readers for their response to the news in last week’s blog of my Dad’s illness. I am glad to report he is back home recuperating after getting a stent put in and enjoying being spoiled by his girls.
Another man who enjoys being spoiled by his girls: