Naimh Briggs celebrates another milestone on her remarkable career.

Naimh Briggs celebrates another milestone on her remarkable career.

It’s taken me 24 hours to recover from this match. I certainly didn’t put in the physical shift the magnificent Green Machine did but the mental exhaustion after the game was immense, so entirely vested was I in their on field efforts.

I’d said in my preview a couple of days ago:

“The team has the skill set, the technique and the ability to win this one but they will all count as nout if they don’t match the Black Ferns in the physical battle and what a battle it will be.

My reckoning is that this one will be won or lost in the first twenty minutes. If Ireland can contain the Black Ferns for the first quarter then I can see Ireland’s game management come out on top, However if New Zealand get a significant lead then it could become a bit of a rout.

Ireland are very much the underdogs in this one, any team would be playing the World Champions, but the team have been focusing on this one since the Pools were announced and I think they may just be ready to produce one of the biggest shocks in Women’s Rugby.”

and that is exactly how it turned out. The question is now, “How far can they go?”

If yesterday’s match is anything to go by they can go a long way. However, there are more challenges to come and in such a compact competition with five games in 19 days their progress is going to come down to the individual and collective resolve of the team and a fair proportion of luck.

The old adage is that good teams make their own luck and this is certainly a good team, the best Ireland Women’s side ever, and they set about their task yesterday with supreme confidence, bullying the New Zealand team for the entire first quarter.

In fact they were so dominant in the first twenty minutes that I was worried that the 8+ points that they left on the pitch would come back to haunt them as the World Champions were bound to respond.

And respond they certainly did, grabbing eight points in two clinical raids into the Ireland half with a penalty by Kelly Brazier on the 22nd minute followed by an unconverted try by Selica Winiata four minutes later.

Two body blows that would have floored lesser teams.

22 Pen Kelly Brazier NZ 0 – 3
26 Try Selica Winiata NZ 0 – 8
34 Try Heather O’Brien IRE 5 – 8
35 Con Niamh Briggs IRE 7 – 8
47 Pen Kelly Brazier NZ 7 – 11
60 Try Alison Miller IRE 12 – 11
61 Con Niamh Briggs IRE 14 – 11
65 Pen Kelly Brazier NZ 14 – 14
70 Pen Niamh Briggs IRE 17 – 14

However, the coaching team of Philip Doyle, Greg McWilliams and Peter Bracken have forged a squad of steely warriors and the Green Machine dug deep and worked their way back up the pitch. A period of constant pressure on the New Zealand line finally delivered precious points when the impressive Heather O’Brien touched down at the foot of the post to give Ireland their first score. Niamh Briggs added the extras and it was game on with the score reading Ireland 7 New Zealand 8 as the teams went into the break.

New Zealand came out with all guns blazing at the start of the second half and it was their turn to dominate. Unlike Ireland, their pressure yielded an early penalty to push their lead to four points and when Ashleigh Baxter slipped off tackle out wide it looked as though the Black Ferns would extend their lead further. However great work by Tania Rosser held the ball up over the line and when Ireland rebuffed the resultant scrum you could see the confidence surging through the team and New Zealand looked rattled.

With the Irish girls in their opponents faces the normally slick Ferns began to make mistakes and when a loose kick bounced in mid field up popped Briggs to set up Ireland’s second score. The classy fullback brushed aside the midfield defence and drew the last defender before feeding the onrushing Alison Miller who outpaced the cover in the race for the corner. Briggs added a magnificent conversion from out wide and Ireland led 14 – 11.

Four minutes later it was all square when Brazier knocked over her third penalty for the Ferns, somewhat against the run of play. Ireland refused to panic and kept in their faces yielding another penalty chance for Briggs who knocked it over to put Ireland three in front with ten minutes to go.

The clock ticked down, somewhat slowly for those watching, but Ireland held firm ending the game deep in the New Zealand half to “produce one of the biggest shocks in Women’s Rugby!”

The Front Row Union Player of the Match goes to captain Fiona Coghlan. We’d mentioned the belief that the coaches have given this team over the years but the leadership from Coghlan is the glue that binds it all together on the pitch. A wonderful player and now surely one of Irish Rugby’s greatest ever captains.

Ireland: Niamh Briggs, Ashleigh Baxter, Lynne Cantwell, Grace Davitt, Alison Miller, Nora Stapleton, Tania Rosser, Fiona Coghlan, Gillian Bourke, Ailis Egan, Sophie Spence, Marie Louise Reilly, Paula Fitzpatrick, Claire Molloy, Heather O’Brien, Sharon Lynch. Replacements: Fiona Hayes, Laura Guest, Siobhan Fleming, Larissa Muldoon, Jenny Murphy, Vikki McGinn.

New Zealand: Selica Winiata, Renee Wickliffe, Huriana Manuel, Amiria Rule, Honey Hireme, Kelly Brazier, Emma Jensen, Kathleen Wilton, Fiao’o Fa’amausili, Aleisha Nelson, Eloise Blackwell, Jackie Patea, Rawinia Everitt, Linda Itunu, Casey Robertson. Replacements: Stephanie Te Ohaere-Fox, Ruth McKay, Justine Lavea, Aroha Savage, Kendra Cocksedge, Claire Richardson, Shakira Baker.

As They Stand: Pool B
Ireland 2 2 0 0 40 31 4 3 0 8
New Zealand 2 1 0 1 93 22 14 3 2 6
USA 2 1 0 1 64 30 10 3 2 6
Kazakhstan 2 0 0 2 12 126 2 21 0 0