So how are you doing after that weekend of rugby especially the roller coaster ride throughout Saturday afternoon and evening?
Do you have any nails left? Have your mental arithmetic abilities improved immeasurably as you added or subtracted 3, 5 or 7 points as Wales or Italy scored to see what the minimum points difference target would be for Ireland? Then again watching the ding-dong battle between England and France as momentum swung one way and then the other in the twelve try thriller? Maybe you were also totting up your fantasy rugby points as 27 tries scored in the final weekend completely changed some people’s fortunes in those leagues if they had selected players like George North, Ben Youngs and Sean O’Brien!
The delight as Italy held Wales for the first half despite being without Parisse and losing their out-half so early was premature as Wales scored 47 point in the second half. Still, each Italian penalty and point was cheered as loudly as if they were our own team and when Sarto scored their 2nd try at the death it was as if we had won the game ourselves, especially when Orquera added the difficult conversion, as it brought the final score to 20-61 and the more important points difference to 53, just 20 ahead of Ireland on 33.
Before we had time to draw breath and debate if the target was achievable focus had switched to Murrayfield. Within minutes of kick-off we were cheering again as our captain Paul O’Connell led by example, stretching out to score the opening try for Ireland, who went on to score as many in that final game as they had in the previous 4 rounds! While our own Tommy O’Donnell had contributed with his try in Italy and a strong defensive performance against England which also helped our points difference, seeing Sean O’Brien back to his barn-storming best, scoring two tries was wonderful. Jared Payne also gave the perfect response to George Hook’s comment with his debut try, as indeed had Ian Keatley in the opening game in Rome when he successfully kicked 100% of his kicks (and every point was valuable in the end) despite being written off by George as a 70% success rate kicker. Enjoy your retirement George, we’ll miss you.
It was Payne’s try when converted by Sexton which brought Ireland to the all important +53 with half an hour left and while two uncharacteristic missed penalties by Sexton gave us some concern he got his next attempt to pull Ireland clear of Wales before O’Brien’s second try. Scotland continued to push and seemed to have made a breakthrough but the replay of Jamie Heaslip’s tackle showed he had dislodged the ball when Stuart Hogg looked certain to have scored in the corner. On such margins are championships decided!
While much of the talk was about the lack of tries by Ireland in the earlier rounds credit must be given to their strong defence throughout the campaign. Just 56 points conceded in 5 games provided the bedrock for their points difference.
The England – France game will surely go down in history as an amazing game. Twelve tries scored and France had 57% possession as time and again they took England on and stopped them getting the 26 points they needed to claim the championship after Ireland set them a target of +63 – it sounds like cricket!
When England looked poised to pull clear in the second half France came back with speedster Nakaitaci breaking down the wing and who was in support but the prop Debaty to take the offload and score a memorable try! England scored in response through Vunipola four minutes later only for France to respond with a try from a maul within 2 minutes. It was incredible, nerve-wrecking and had us on the edge of our seats. When eventually Kockott kicked the ball out to end the game and punched the air you knew this was a moral victory for France after a disappointing campaign and they were happy to thwart England’s championship aspirations. While we won’t be singing “Allez les Bleus” in Cardiff in the RWC we were comrades in arms on Saturday.
You can find all the match stats from all the games here
There was a great spread in the Irish Times showing the key moments in the three games on Saturday and how the points difference changed throughout. It is a great souvenir of the day.
Sunday was the turn of the ladies and it was great that the game was televised and that there was good interest in it judging by the volume of tweets throughout. The ladies knew exactly what they had to do and while in the studio Rosie Foley was taking a conservative approach the team went about it very professionally and had achieved their target by half-time which was very considerate on our nerves!
The emotion was evident pre-match as Niamh Briggs lined up for the anthems on her 50th cap for Ireland and she led by example scoring the first try after great interplay with Hannah Tyrell. A carbon copy of how the men’s game had opened with a try by that captain! The power of the maul was evident early on and led to the 2nd (scored by Claire Molloy) and 4th try (touched down by Gillian Bourke) with a pushover scrum being used to great effect to score the 3rd try by Heather O’Brien!
Alison Miller who had thrilled us at the WRWC during the summer with a super try against New Zealand was in sparkling form again as she scored a hat trick, showing her pace and nifty footwork to wrong foot the defenders.
Another maul resulted in a try, this time for Paula Fitzpatrick while Sophie Spence who had made some great breaks in the first half to put Ireland on the front foot also scored a try, off an Irish scrum. Even with all the substitutions there was no loss of shape and defensive strength. Tania Rosser scored a try after a maul had sucked in the defence while Jenny Murphy capped off a great performance when she brought the scoring to an end in the final minutes of play.
Team: Niamh Briggs (UL Bohemians/Munster) (capt); Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Jenny Murphy (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Jackie Shiels (Richmond/Exile), Alison Miller (Portlaoise/Connacht); Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Larissa Muldoon (Skewen); Ruth O’Reilly (Galwegians/Connacht), Gillian Bourke (Olympico de Pozuelo), Ailis Egan (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Sophie Spence (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Marie Louise Reilly (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Paula Fitzpatrick (St. Mary’s/Leinster), Claire Molloy (Bristol/Connacht), Heather O’Brien (Highfield/Munster).
Replacements used: Aoife Doyle (Shannon/Munster) for Tyrrell (23 mins), Fiona Hayes (UL Bohemians/Munster) for O’Reilly (52), Tania Rosser (Blackrock/Leinster) for Muldoon, Sene Naoupu (Galwegians/Connacht) for Shiels (both 57), Orla Fitzsimons (St. Mary’s/Leinster) for Spence (67), Katie Norris (Blackrock/Leinster) for Fitzpatrick (75), Sarah Mimnagh (Wasps/Exile) for Bourke, Fiona O’Brien (Old Belvedere/Leinster) for Egan (both 78).
The scoreline of 3-73 underlined the excellent technique and skill set of these athletes who dedicate so much time to the sport they love. Given the change in coaching and the loss of senior players who retired after the world cup this achievement was a credit to the dedication of players, their coaches and their clubs. Hopefully the TV coverage and their success will help to continue to attract new players and supporters. Holding the WRWC in Ireland will also increase the profile of the sport.
So for now we congratulate both teams and coaching staff and while we are Four Proud Provinces we are especially proud of the 2 Irish captains, made of Munster – Superman and WonderWoman as I saw on twitter!
After a nine week absence I am really looking forward to getting back to the West Terrace in Thomond this weekend for the key Pro12 game versus Connacht. It would be great if they have the trophies there for us to show our appreciation at half time.