A big win in more ways than one.
reland’s Six Nations campaign got underway for the third time as Greg McWilliams’ side dismantled Italy thanks to a vastly improved performance.
There had been encouraging signs in their first two defeats by Wales and France, but Ireland upped the ante as their free-kick fired and the penalty count dropped significantly.
With a trip to England in two weeks’ time likely to be without many of the stars on display in front of 5,039 fans at Musgrave Park, it was vital that Ireland had a win on the board here.
To put this impressive win in context, Italy are going to the World Cup, Ireland aren’t, and while the visitors were missing a few players, the importance of the win is undeniable.
“When I took on that role, I didn’t realize it (the tournament) was going to take place in another window, I didn’t realize how much attention it was going to get, to be honest,” McWilliams said.
“When we didn’t perform against France there was a bit of pressure but I think the pressure to perform is on ourselves.
“The more pressure you put on yourself, the better and stronger you become. The biggest pressure was on ourselves. It was a good test and the girls did well.
“There’s a lot more to come. All in all, I felt like it was an improvement over the last two games.”
The fact that the bonus point was already bagged in the 51st minute told its own story. If anything, Ireland will feel they have left many points as they continue on their journey.
Ireland’s Scrum trainer Rob Sweeney was unavailable this week and McWilliams was able to call on the men’s assistant, John Fogarty, who provided valuable experience. The scrum was much more solid than it had been in France a week earlier.
Sam Monaghan excelled once again as her heavy carry regularly put her side on the front foot.
“I just want to give her more of the ball,” McWilliams said.
“Our goal is for players to come into camp thinking it’s Christmas Eve and they’re looking forward to coming in. Hopefully we allow them to be themselves and express their personality.
“She’s becoming a leader. This girl is someone who has great potential for us, one of many players who are really developing.”
On the other side of the ball, Jones worked tirelessly on defense, her big hits quickly becoming the pocket rocket hooker’s trademark.
Jones scored one of Ireland’s five tries, with Lucy Mulhall, Eve Higgins and Katie O’Dwyer also scoring a point while Ireland Scrum won a penalty try.
McWilliams had made four changes to his team and each one made a difference as Hannah O’Connor helped shore up the lineup and gave the collapse a real advantage.
Kathryn Dane was a comforting presence on scrum while Beibhinn Parsons and Haney also played their parts.
It was Italy who started brighter and when Djougang was pinged for being knocked off his feet, the visitors opened the scoring thanks to a shot from Beatrice Rigoni off the post.
After a few jitters on the set piece, Lane finally fired and Ireland showed how dangerous they can be when they hit the fundamentals.
Ireland simplified the call and a mighty rolling maul was stopped short of the line.
But Ireland found their advantage when they salvaged the ball for Nicole Cronin, who threw a superb skip pass to Mulhall to end well midway through the first half.
There was no mistaking Ireland’s second try five minutes before the break.
Cronin and Monaghan, who riddled the Italian defence, were already narrowly past the home side, the pressure finally showing when Elisa Giordano was sent off for repeated infringements.
The Maul again did great damage, with Jones at the end of another well-crafted set piece giving Ireland a fully deserved 10-3 lead at half-time.
O’Connor opened the second half with flying colors to win the collapse and when the Italians were far too slow to react to Dane’s kick, Higgins made them pay by running clean to score their side’s third goal . This time, Cronin made the switch to take a commanding 14-point lead.
Ireland were rampant and didn’t let up as they clinched the bonus point just 11 minutes after the restart.
As if to mark the big improvements during the scrum, Ireland wiped out Italy and the referee didn’t hesitate to run under the posts and award the penalty try.
McWilliams emptied his bench and made a debut for 19-year-old Aoife Wafer from the back row, who received a yellow card shortly after being substituted on.
This allowed Italy to secure a late attempt at consolation from Melissa Bettoni but, not to be outdone, Ireland had the last word.
O’Dwyer was the quickest to react to a loose ball and the back-up spun expertly across the line to spark cheers and fittingly end an important win for this team.
Ireland – L Mulhall; B Parsons (A Doyle 59), E Higgins, S Flood, AL Murphy Crowe (E Breen 63); N Cronin, K Dane (A Reilly 70); L Djougang (C Pearse, 65), N Jones (E Hooban, 61), C Haney (K O’Dwyer, 59); N Fryday (Captain) (B Hogan 59), S Monaghan; D Wall (A Wafer 59), E McMahon, H O’Connor.
ITALY – V Ostuni Minuzzi; Furlan M, D’Inca A, Rigoni B, Magatti M; V Madia (S Stefan ht), S Barattin; G Maris (V Vecchini 59), M Bettoni (E Stecca 76), L Gai (S Seye 76); S Tounesi (A Margotti 73), V Fedrighi; Veronese, I Locatelli (A Frangipani 53), E Giordano.
REF- A Groizeleau (France).
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/impressive-ireland-secure-big-pressure-relieving-victory-41540224.html Impressive Ireland secure big ‘pressure’ and relieve victory