Ireland had to dig deep to scrape a 19 – 17 win against Australia in the thrilling WRWC2017 Pool C game at UCD Bowl, Dublin on Wednesday evening.

Ireland’s tries came from Larissa Muldoon, in the first half, with replacements Ciara Griffin and Sophie Spence crossing in the second. Crucially, Nora Stapleton landed two conversions to give Ireland the win.

We’d said in our preview, “Ireland to boss it up front and come away with a win“. And that’s pretty much how it worked out, but my goodness it was close. Ireland owe this win to the outstanding line out work of Marie Louise Reilly and a couple of wayward conversions by the Australians.

Australia started strongly and enjoyed the best of the opening exchanges but Ireland held firm. The Irish pack dug deep and by the end of the first quarter they were camped in the Australian 22. After a series of rucks close to the line, scrum half Larissa Muldoon spotted a gap and darted over for the opening score. Nora Stapleton converted and Ireland took a 7 – 0 lead.

Any thoughts of Ireland pulling away were quickly quashed as Australia hit back before the half hour mark. A quick line out enabled Mahalia Murphy to turn the defence inside out before crossing out wide for an unconverted try. The conversion was missed to leave the score at  7 – 5.

That’s how it stayed until the break but the warning signs were flashing for Ireland as they struggled in the scrum and I don’t think they executed a single move out wide without the ball ending up on the ground.

By the end of the third quarter Australia were ahead after they took the Irish pack on head to head. A concerted attack finished with Shannon Parry bundling over close to the posts. Crucially, the comparatively simple, conversion was missed.

Ireland regrouped and quick tries by replacements Ciara Griffin and Sophie Spence, the first converted by Stapleton, saw Ireland build a nine point lead by the 70th minute but there was still more drama to come in this tense encounter!

Australia’s pack responded almost immediately and punched straight up the middle for impressive prop Hilisha Samoa to barge over. Replacement Ashleigh Hewson completed the conversion and it was back to a two point game with seven minutes remaining.

Ireland did well to maintain possession for the remaining minutes, Nora Stapleton kicking the ball dead on full time to record a memorable, if somewhat fortunate, win for the home side.

Ireland: Hannah Tyrrell, Eimear Considine, Jenny Murphy, Sene Naoupu, Alison Miller, Nora Stapleton, Larissa Muldoon, Lindsay Peat, Cliodhna Moloney, Ailis Egan, Paula Fitzpatrick, Marie Louise Reilly, Ashleigh Baxter, Claire Molloy, Heather O’Brien. Replacements: Leah Lyons, Ruth O’Reilly, Ciara O’Connor, Sophie Spence, Ciara Griffin, Nicole Cronin, Katie Fitzhenry, Mairead Coyne.

As expected it was a gutsy effort from Ireland who had to dig deep to stop their World Cup campaign falling flat at the first hurdle. The Day 1 results should somewhat clarify Ireland’s strategy. The second place qualifier for the knock out stages looks likely to come from Pool A so Ireland will gain nothing from posting a big score against Japan. Any win will do. I expect them to rest key players for the next outing and put everything on a win against France in the last game.

The Ulster contingent of Ashleigh Baxter and Larissa Muldoon did well. Baxter completed a remarkable 21 tackles and made 42 meters in a typically hardworking performance. Muldoon, of course, got the ball rolling with her intelligent opening try, spotting a brief moment of inexperience from her opposite number to barge over.

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