The Woman’s Rugby World Cup took place from 1st-17th August 2014 in Paris
The Irish Woman’s rugby team set out for France, knowing that three wins from three in the group stage would probably be needed to progress into the semi-final. With only a total of four teams progressing from the 3 groups, the top team from each group, plus the next best ranked team, it was never going to be straight forward.
Ireland were drawn in Pool B with the USA, New Zealand and Kazakhstan.
The Three Pools at the WRWC where Ireland were seeded in Pool B
The first match for Ireland was on Friday 1st August v the USA in Marcoussis. Having lost their previous encounter with the US by 40-3, Ireland coach Phillip Doyle named a strong side with Niamh Briggs at full back. Nora Stapleton and Tania Rosser made up the half backs while Lynne Cantwell and Grace Davitt were partnered at centre. Captain Fiona Coghlan packed down at loose head with Ailis Egan and Sophie Spence making up the rest of the front row. Ireland’s lineout options were increased with the inclusion of Marie Louise Reilly in at second row.
The game was a tough opener for the Irish Woman with their American counterparts a physical opponent. However tries from Ailis Egan and full back Niamh Briggs saw the girls in green lead 20-10 at half time.
Ireland on the defence, in their opening WRWC match versus the USA
America were the first to strike in the second half but Ireland kept the pressure on with a 60th minute penalty from Briggs which helped Ireland win their opening game 23-17.
One down… Two to go!
Ireland’s next encounter was the much anticipated match with New Zealand. The Black Ferns, like their male counterparts, were the defending Champions and had just come off a convincing first round 79-5 win over fellow group opponents Kazakhstan.
There was one change for this crunch fixture which saw blindside Paula Fitzpatrick drafted in to the starting XV. Ireland didn’t start like they would have hoped. The Black Ferns, like all good New Zealand sides, turned defence into attack superbly when a loose ball was gathered on the halfway line en route to scoring the game’s first try. Their ability to put quick width on the ball was pivotal and full back Selica Winiata scampered into the left corner. Ireland needed to score next and that they did. The green army drove around the fringe which saw them gain valuable metres. Powerful no.8 Heather O’Brien with the final assault on 34 minutes as Ireland deservedly took seven points.
Tania Rosser, winning her 50th cap, looks to clear the ball from a ruck during the second round match v New Zealand.
With only one point separating the sides at half time, Ireland were in a good place. Jenny Murphy came on at centre for Davitt as Ireland looked to establish their presence once again. New Zealand kicked another penalty as the Black Ferns continued to put width on the ball. However, Ireland’s defence was nothing short of heroic as the game hung in the balance. Rosser, who earned her 50th cap, held Winiata up over the Irish line in what was surely one of the defining moments.
The highlight of the match, at least from an Irish perspective, saw Full Back Briggs make an incredible run down the left flank after a sloppy kick from New Zealand. After swerving and beating two defenders, she drew another and popped a great pass to her winger Alison Miller who still had plenty of work to do. Miller scooted down the touch line with the attention from the covering defence not enough. Even at this stage of the competition, it was a serious contender for try of the tournament!
Wonder Try! Ireland celebrate one of the tries of the tournament against the Black Ferns
Both teams traded penalties in the final few minutes of time, with Briggs trusted boot playing a pivotal role. Referee Leah Berard, to the delight of the green fans, blew the whistle for the last time and Ireland won 17-14, a historic victory.
Ireland were now really well placed to get to the semi-final of the World Cup for the very first time. There were ten changes to the side that started their final pool match against Kazakhstan. Leading 14-5 at half time, the game was by no means a straight forward win. However with some tactical substitutions in the second half by coach Phillip Doyle, Ireland won by 40 points to 5 with a total of 6 tries.
Shoulder to Shoulder! The Irish fans were fantastic in Paris
That victory saw Ireland top their group with 13 points, the second highest finishers after the host nation France, and gave them a semi-final versus England.
Ireland were in great form coming into this encounter. The starting XV reverted to the same as the one that played the Black Ferns in round two. A repeat of that performance was going to be needed against an English side who had beaten Ireland 17-10 in the Six Nations back in February.
Ireland got off to a fantastic start with some clever work at the base of the ruck from Rosser, who had been reinstalled at scrum half after her run at fly half in the previous round.
Ireland look to attack in their semi-final encounter with England
However, really strong running from the England 13 Emily Scarrett, helped her side to two quick tries in the 25th and 36th minutes.
England played with huge intensity and physicality and it was ‘as you were’ in the second half for the Red Roses. Late tries meant the score line looked more flattering than it actually was but there was no doubt the English were deserved winners with the final score 40 points to seven.
No way through! Ireland try to hold up the ball during their semi-final match
And so the dream of a World Cup Final was over. However, Ireland would still have a huge fixture in the way of France, the host nation, in the 3rd/4th place playoff. Having lost their previous match with les bleus (19-15) in this year’s Six Nations, and with both sides wanting to finish on a high, this game was always going to be an extremely close affair.
Team Spirit! Ireland have time for one last pep talk
Niamh Briggs continued her sensational form with another try in the tournament. Grace Davitt also doting down for a five pointer to give Ireland a 15-12 lead at half.
Home advantage played its part and France, led by their brilliant out half Sandrine Agricole ran out eventual winners 25-18.
So Ireland finished fourth which is an exceptional achievement. Along the way they beat the World Champions, topped their group and progressed into the semi-final, for the very first time.
The achievement was not lost on Coach Phillip Doyle who said: “It is the end of an era but the start of a new one. I’m telling you, there is a huge chance to push on and really put woman’s rugby in Ireland on a new standing. I just hope everyone involved grasps it and moves forward”.
The team arrived home to a hero’s welcome at Dublin Airport on Monday 18th August. Irish winger Alison Miller commented upon arriving home: “Before we came to this tournament the best an Irish women’s rugby team had finished was 7th in the last World Cup so to get to a semi-final was an amazing achievement. It’s great for women’s sport that we’ve gathered this much attention. It’s fantastic, it’s great for the game and it’ll increase the profile of women’s rugby, and more people will get involved because of it”. The achievement was best summed up by Phillip Doyle who proclaimed: “I’m immensely proud of what we’ve done for women’s sport in Ireland”.
Homeward bound! The girls in green were given a warm welcome upon arriving home
Three Irish players’ individual performances at this year’s tournament were rewarded with selection on to the 2014 Woman’s Rugby World Cup Dream Team.
15. Niamh Briggs (IRE)
14. Magali Harvey (CAN)
13. Emily Scarratt (ENG)
12. Andrea Burk (CAN)
11. Honey Hireme (NZL)
10. Sandrine Agricole (FRA)
9. Stephanie Bernier (CAN)
8. Kelly Russell (CAN)
7. Maggie Alphonsi (ENG)
6. Safi N’Diaye (FRA)
5. Assa Koita (FRA)
4. Marie Louise Reilly (IRE)
3. Hilary Leith (CAN)
2. Gillian Bourke (IRE)
1. Marie-Pier Pinault-Reid (CAN)