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Ireland battle to tight win

6nations_womenIn poor conditions, Ireland did enough to beat Wales 14-6 at Ashbourne and will head to Twickenham next looking for a Triple Crown.

A 61st minute try from the influential number 8 Heather O’Brien kept Ireland’s hopes of a title alive.

The defending champions had achieved a record-breaking 59-0 success over Scotland in the same venue a week ago, but right from the word go at Milltown House, it was clear that this was going to be a much tougher assignment for Philip Doyle’s side.

The hosts did start with a similar vigor to their facile opening round success, with Claire Molloy, Nora Stapleton and Alison Miller all featuring prominently during promising early passages, but they were encountering a Welsh outfit who were performing their defensive duties in a meticulous fashion.

Indeed, having weathered the early Irish storm, Wales were starting to create several inroads through the opposition rearguard, and a bout of indiscipline eventually presented Llandaff North centre Robyn Wilkins with an opportunity to open the scoring from a close-range penalty 17 minutes in.

This kick at goal was from an awkward left-hand angle, but the Welsh No 13 negotiated the kick perfectly, and following her second successful three-point effort from a similar position eight minutes later, the visitors had developed a six-point platform.

Having made such a promising start to the proceedings, Ireland had found themselves pegged back by a team that were desperate to atone for their narrow defeat at home to Italy last week, and despite enjoying plenty of possession towards the end of the half, the wet and windy was making it difficult for Ireland to execute their customary brand of attacking rugby.

The Welsh rearguard were certainly aware of the threat was opposed by the Irish attack, and they continued to frustrate their Celtic counterparts as the second-quarter on.

However, Ireland did manage to reap some form of reward for their endeavors, and thanks to an expertly-converted place-kick by returning full-back Niamh Briggs one minute before the interval, they had reduced their deficit to a manageable three points (6-3) by the mid-way stage.

In fact, there was a sense that Briggs’ opener could prove to be a crucial moment in the game, and following a lengthy spell of dominance in the Wales ‘22’, the UL Bohs star cancelled out the Welsh lead with a second routine penalty on 50 minutes, after Lowri Harries had been penalized for a high-tackle on Richmond’s Lynne Cantwell.

During Harries’ time in the sin-bin, Ireland continued to dominate possession, and with momentum very much on their side, they were ready to turn the tie on its head. The pivotal moment of the game then arrived just past the hour mark, when a scrum close to the Welsh line provided Ireland with an ideal platform to forge their one and only try of the evening, as Munster No 8 Heather O’Brien displayed great initiative to gather the loose possession, before driving over forcefully in the right-corner.

Munster’s Briggs was wide of the mark from a tricky bonus kick, but with Wales showing little sign of attacking intent in the second period, Ireland were never in danger of letting their lead slip. Ireland were perilously close to crossing the whitewash for a second time in the dying embers of the game, but it made little difference to the final outcome, and when Briggs superbly split the posts from the 22-metre-line deep into stoppage time, their seventh consecutive Six Nations victory was secured.

IRELAND: Niamh Briggs (UL Bohemians/Munster); Hannah Casey (Saracens/Exile), Lynne Cantwell (Richmond/Exile), Jenny Murphy (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Alison Miller (Portlaoise/UCC/Connacht); Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Larissa Muldoon (Bristol/Exile); Fiona Coghlan (UL Bohemians/Leinster) (capt), Stacey-Lea Kennedy (Cooke/Ulster), Ailis Egan (Old Belvedere/Leinster); Sophie Spence (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Marie-Louise Reilly (Old Belvedere/Leinster); Siobhan Fleming (Tralee/Munster), Claire Molloy (Bristol/Connacht), Heather O’Brien (Highfield/Munster).

Replacements used: Gill Bourke (UL Bohemians/Munster) for Kennedy (56 mins), Ashleigh Baxter (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster) for Casey (69). Not used: Fiona Hayes (UL Bohemians/Munster), Kerrie-Ann Craddock (Saracens/Exile), Paula Fitzpatrick (St. Mary’s/Leinster), Amy Davis (Blackrock/Ulster),  Grace Davitt (Cooke/Ulster), Jackie Shiels (Richmond/Exile).

WALES: Dyddgu Hywel (Bristol); Elen Evans (Waterloo), Robyn Wilkins (Llandaff North), Rebecca de Filippo (Bristol), Philippa Tuttiett (Bristol); Elinor Snowsill (Bristol), Amy Day (Llandaff North); Megan York (Blaenau Gwent), Lowri Harries (Neath Athletic), Catrin Edwards (Bristol), Jenny Hawkins (Llandaff North), Shona Powell Hughes (Neath Athletic), Catrina Nicholas (Llandaff North), Nia Davies (Cardiff Met), Rachel Taylor (Bristol) (capt).

Replacements used: Jenny Davies (Waterloo) for York, Sioned Harries (Llandaff North) for Nicholas (both 50 mins), Sian Williams (Worcester) for Taylor, Laurie Harries (Llandaff North) for Tuttiett (both 73), Carys Phillips (Bristol) for L Harries, Sian Moore (Bristol) for Day (both 77). Not used: Caryl Thomas (Bath), Ffion Bowen (Maesteg Celtic).

Referee: Nicky Inwood (New Zealand)

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