Ireland went down 17 – 27 to Wales at Ravenhill on Saturday afternoon in their final match of the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup. It was a disappointing end to a disappointing tournament for the hosts who will now have to qualify for participation in the 2021 Tournament which is expected to be held in the USA.

The performances in this tournament are a long way from that glorious day in France in 2014 when Ireland climbed to second place in the World Rankings after beating New Zealand in the pool stages of the 2014 World Cup. Ireland finished this competition in 8th place and now rank 9th in the World.

Granted, subsequent defeats to, eventual champions, England and, hosts, France did see Ireland slip back to 5th place by the end of that 2014 tournament but, given the “comparatively” huge increase in resources and training time invested in the Woman’s programme since, Ireland’s failure to stay in the top six of World Rugby is a disgrace.

Heads have to roll and though Tom Teirney has ducked the flack by immediately resigning the consequences of this huge decline has to go further than the removal of a coach who appeared to have little empathy and understanding of the requirements of the women’s game throughout his tenure. The role and the direction taken by, Director of Women’s Rugby, Anthony Eddy has to be questioned as indeed has the input to the Women’s programme of the man that appointed him, David Nucifora. Fifteens has proved to be the flagship of the women’s game and it should be treated as such.

We are three years down the road of what appears to be a failed strategy. Yes the women’s game has changed since the highly successful era of Philip Doyle but, believe me, it has not changed that much.

The core skills of tackling, passing, and rucking are still key and should be combined with the fitness and conditioning requirements necessary to allow them to perform these skills under duress at the end of a gruelling series of games. The decline in these core skills over the last three years has been alarming.

These players haven’t been through school or club systems where the core skills have been repeated year after year and, even if they had, the muscle memory still needs refreshed and enhanced to perform at the highest level throughout a game.This was recognised in the previous regime at Ireland Women.

Look, it’s not easy, and coaching at club level needs to be improved in tandem. It has improved slightly in recent years but too often I’ve sat behind the goal line taking my snaps and watching some ego driven coach turn incandescent with rage as “their” team failed to implement some ridiculously complicated double skip trailing runner type bollix that they saw on YouTube once. Jesus I could weep! That same coach not bothering to equip “their” team with the ability or the confidence to string five passes together.

This, in my opinion, is what has happened with Ireland, though obviously to a lesser degree, there definitely has been a move away from the core to peripheral concerns and it’s been to the detriment of the senior women’s game in the entire island.

Anyway, this is supposed to be a match report rather than an angry man rant!  So let’s get back to the game.

Despite playing in front of a disappointing crowd at Ravenhill, Ireland started well, they were driven, passionate and obviously revved up by the occasion and that communal drive and determination saw them cross the line in the 11th minute with Paula Fitzpatrick touching down off the back of a driving maul. Nora Stapleton added the extras to give Ireland a 7 – 0 lead.

Wales though, undoubtedly fancied their chances, and they concentrated on their basics and quietly worked their way back into the game. They knew Ireland could be rattled, and despite never really having to do anything particularly threatening they gained enough ball in the attacking areas to rack up three points from a penalty in the 25th minute.

A second penalty, minutes later, saw Wales awarded a five meter line out and Caryl Thomas crossed with comparative ease. Robyn Wilkins converted to give Wales a 7 – 10 lead and that’s how it stayed until the break.

Ireland had gone from passionate to nervy as the game restarted and a series of errors kept them on the back foot. Wales took advantage and after a period of pressure inside the Ireland 22 Sioned Harries touched down on their third attempt after a series of powerful scrums. Wilkins added the extras and Wales led by 10.

It got worse for Ireland as Paula Fitzpatrick got yellow carded for an offence during the score and Wales took full advantage to drive a maul over in the 52nd minute. Carys Philips touching down for an unconverted try that took the score to Ireland 7 Wales 22.

The game looked lost but the Irish performance did improve considerably once the bench was emptied, the experienced Larissa Muldoon bringing some much needed game management at scrum half. With the wonderfully chippy Muldoon calling the shots Ireland rumbled up to the Wales 22 for Welsh prop Amy Evans to be carded.

Within minutes the Irish pack was mauling over the try line for Lindsay Peat to touch down for an unconverted try to push the score to 12 – 22.

Unfortunately core skills deserted Ireland on the restart and Wales found themselves back in the Ireland 22 without having to do very much. A series of pick and goes later and (14 player) Wales were over for their fourth try with replacement Shona Powell-Hughes crossing from close in. The conversion was missed but Wales looked home and hosed leading 12 – 27 with ten minutes left.

Ireland enjoyed something of a late revival based, once again, on the strong scrumming of replacement Ilse van Staden. If they had trusted themselves they could have bagged a hat full of tries in those closing minutes but this did not look like a side built on trust.

As it was, Katie Fitzhenry did cross in the 74th minute to score an unconverted try in the 74th minute but core skills and decision making under pressure saw another couple of chances go astray, Wales holding on for a deserved  17 – 27 win.

Ireland: Hannah Tyrrell, Eimear Considine, Katie Fitzhenry, Jeamie Deacon, Alison Miller, Nora Stapleton, Nicole Cronin, Lindsay Peat, Cliodhna Moloney, Ailis Egan, Ciara Cooney, Marie Louise Reilly, Paula Fitzpatrick, Ciara Griffin, Heather O’Brien. Replacement: Leah Lyons, Ilse Van Staden, Ciara O’Connor, Sophie Spence, Ashleigh Baxter, Larissa Muldoon, Sene Naoupu, Mairead Coyne.

Sadly, this will be our last match report on Ireland Women’s Rugby. There is now seemingly sufficient interest for bigger media outlets to carry the torch that we carried, hopefully with some insight and no little dedication, for the last seven years in Ireland and beyond.

I am desperately sorry that this wonderful adventure ended with such disappointment for a fantastic group of players who gave their all. I would like to thank each and every one of them for the amazing journeys that their skills, grit and determination have taken me on over the years. It has been an honour and a privilege to cover you all. We will always have Italy 2013. 🙂

We’ll be wrapping up our World Cup coverage with “Who Done What” later this week and then we’ll replace our Ireland Women’s coverage with increased coverage of the developing U18 Girls programme, which is already producing a new stream of super heroes for The Front Row Union to tell you all about in the years to come.

Thanks ladies.

#SUFTUM