A poorly prepared Ireland side continued to struggle in the 2017 Women’s World Cup, this time scrapping out a 24 – 14 win against, pool minnows, Japan.
Prior to the tournament Ireland coach Tom Tierney and Director of Women’s Rugby Anthony Eddy often offered up their assessment that this is the best-prepared Irish squad for a Women’s Rugby World Cup. However after the first two results, the first against an inexperienced Australia and the second against the diminutive Japan the poor quality of that preparation is obvious. For the second game in a row Ireland had to throw away the play book and resort to the tried and tested pick and drive game to grind out a result.
The biggest disappointment was the scrum. The Irish starting pack was 11.5Kg (25lbs) per person heavier than their Japanese counterparts. Over 14 stone heavier in total. The only reason that a pack with such a weight advantage would concede a penalty try from the set piece is that they have not been coached correctly. By the end of the game it was a 20 stone advantage but even then, what should have been a rumbling destructive machine, just about held parity with the rapidly tiring Japanese.
The difference between the two sides in the first half was simply astounding. On one side you had a well coached well drilled Japanese side with a game plan, the sum of the whole truly greater than the sum of the parts. Ireland, in comparison, looked like a group of players sent out to give it a lash. Any game plan they may have had quickly disappeared when their scrum and line outs were destroyed and they looked to be carrying passengers all over the pitch as the players struggled to get involved.
Japan took the lead on the 27th minute as their scrum shunted Ireland back towards their try line to win a penalty try, the conversion giving the Blossom’s a 0 – 7 lead.
Worse was to come as Japan continued to pile on the pressure for the remainder of the half and with Ireland continually tackling too high Japan’s fullback Mayu Shimizu slipped under another head high tackle to cross for their second, the full back converting her own score to give Japan a 0 – 14 lead at the break.
Ireland rung the changes at half time but it was still a disjointed performance, Ireland’s only weapon of attack being the pick and drive from the much bulked up pack, replacement Paula Fitzpatrick leading the charge.
Ireland went down to 14 players, with Katie Fitzhenry taking one for the team after a succession of high tackles, but crucially, despite the deficit, wing Alison Miller opened the scoring in the second half after a rumble to the try line by Fitzpatrick. Stapleton converted to bring the score to Ireland 7 Japan 14.
Much to the relief of the home crowd Fitzpatrick crossed for her first try in the 63rd minute, after a series of pick and drives close to the line. Stapleton again converted to equal the score.
Stapleton added a penalty to give Ireland the lead in the 72nd minute and Fitzpatrick crossed again with the last play, Stapleton converting to give Ireland a somewhat flattering 24 – 14 win.
Ireland: Mairead Coyne, Hannah Tyrrell, Katie Fitzhenry, Sene Naoupu, Alison Miller, Nora Stapleton, Nicole Cronin, Lindsay Peat, Cliodhna Moloney, Ciara O’Connor, Ciara Cooney, Sophie Spence, Ciara Griffin, Ashleigh Baxter, Claire Molloy. Replacements: Leah Lyons, Ruth O’Reilly, Ailis Egan, Paula Fitzpatrick, Anna Caplice, Larissa Muldoon, Jeamie Deacon, Louise Galvin.
We said in our preview, “I suspect it’ll be a disjointed game as various players try to find their feet at this level. However Ireland’s determination and their experienced core should see them scrap out another win to keep their campaign on track.” And that’s pretty much how it panned out. However, you have to ask what the coaching team have been doing for the last three years as the standard of play has gone dramatically backwards on this evidence.
That said, while the nature of this win was unsatisfactory, the actual result means that they are still alive and kicking and the success of this campaign will be judged on their final Pool C match against France on Thursday evening.
There are still enough of the well coached core from the previous World Cup campaign to cause the rampant French problems and their pathway to the semi-finals has definitely been clarified.
Win by whatever means possible. #BRINGIT