Just over six month after beating then World Champions New Zealand, Ireland repeated the trick at Ashbourne on Friday evening by defeating England, the current World Champions.
'That Winning Moment!' Niamh Briggs' penalty wins Ireland the match (Inpho Photography)
A blustery February evening in Ashbourne is a long way from Paris in August, and both teams had changed significantly since they last met in the World Cup semi-final. Yet this game also had its element of sudden death - with both having already lost one game, a second defeat would end that team's championship hopes.
Despite having to play into the wind in the first half, Ireland initially started the strongest but England held firm and on their first serious foray into the Irish half gained a penalty. Katy McLean went go for goal but pushed the ball wide. Despite this, the initiative now switched and a short while McLean had another chance and this time the penalty that crept just inside the posts.
Niamh Briggs soon brought Ireland level with a penalty of her own to pull the score level, and for a short while threatened the English line again with Sophie Spence was making a nuisance of herself at the breakdown for Ireland before Jenny Murphy made a blinding break down the right before being hauled down, but again the pressure produced no reward.
In contrast when England returned to the offensive Ireland their efforts were rewarded. Initially Ireland defended well, and even came up with the ball after England had the put-in in a five-metre scrum. However Ruth Laybourn was looking dangerous whenever she had the ball, and only desperate cover tackling prevented her from scampering over the line after a kick-and-chase, and from the resulting play England did make good on that period of pressure as Millar-Mills rumbled over following a powerful scrum.
McLean could not convert with what was the final act of the half, and England went in 8-3 ahead.
Ireland were the fastest out of the blocks after the break and England were unable to barely escape from their own half in the first ten minutes before Muldoon leveled up the scores after a quick tap and go. That seemed to wake the visitors up they chipped away into the Irish 22, Tamara Taylor and Ceri Large with powerful carries, though again they failed to hold onto the ball with the try-line looming. The impressive Murphy then won the ball back after England had zigzagged deep into Irish territory and when a favourable bounce finally put the visitors under the cosh, inaccuracy - this time a knock-on - spoiled another promising move.
For most of the rest of the game it was near stalemate before, with the clock in the stands nearing 40 minutes, Ireland were awarded a penalty for coming in at the side of a ruck, It seemed a straightforward kick, but Briggs needed treatment for cramp before she stepped forward and slotted the ball home six minutes from time.
England Acting Head Coach Nicky Ponsford said: “We knew it was going to be a really tough game against Ireland on a Friday night – this one is always a hard one. In a lot of respects we fronted up pretty well. At the end of the day our execution wasn’t good enough. The team put in a great effort defensively and both teams defended their lines under huge amounts of pressure. But I am really pleased with the way the girls dug in to survive when Ireland were driving forwards five or six times and we put into practice what we have been working on.
“The wind was incredibly difficult to deal with but they probably played the conditions better than we did. It really disrupted our passing and handling. This side has come a long way from the Wales performance in our opening game and we managed to put together a lot more passages of play.”
Ireland Women: 15 Niamh Briggs (capt)(2P); 14 Hannah Tyrrell, 13 Jenny Murphy, 12 Katie Fitzhenry, 11 Alison Miller; 10 Nora Stapleton, 9 Larissa Muldoon(T); 1 Ruth O'Reilly, 2 Gill Bourke, 3 Ailis Egan; 4 Sophie Spence, 5 Marie-Louise Reilly; 6 Paula Fitzpatrick, 7 Claire Molloy, 8 Heather O'Brien.
Bench: 16 Sarah Mimnagh, 17 Fiona Hayes, 18 Fiona O'Brien, 19 Orla Fitzsimmons, 20 Katie Norris, 21 Tania Rosser, 22 Jackie Shiels, 23 Sene Naoupu.
Replacements used: Hayes for O'Reilly 48, Rosser for Muldoon 71, F.O'Brien for Egan 80.
Tries: 1 - Muldoon. Kicking: Briggs (Conv 0/1, Pens 2/2).
England Women: 15 Lauren Cattell; 14 Ruth Laybourn, 13 Abbie Brown, 12 Ceri Large, 11 Sydney Gregson; 10 Katy McLean (capt)(P), 9 Bianca Blackburn; 1 Rochelle Clark, 2 Victoria Fleetwood, 3 Laura Keates; 4 Tamara Taylor, 5 Abbie Scott; 6 Alexandra Matthews, 7 Hannah Gallagher, 8 Harriet Millar-Mills(T).
Bench: 16 Amy Cokayne, 17 Heather Kerr, 18 Justine Lucas, 19 Rowena Burnfield, 20 Hannah Field, 21 Fiona Davidson, 22 Megan Goddard, 23 Amber Reed.
Replacements used: Reed for Laybourn 75, Field for Matthews 78, Davidson for Blackburn 80, Goddard for Brown 80.
Tries: 1 - Millar-Mills. Kicking: McLean (Conv 0/1, Pens 1/3).
Scoring sequence: 13' McLean (P) 0-3, 26' Briggs (P) 3-3, 40' Millar-Mills (T) 3-8, 50' Muldoon (T) 8-8, 79' Briggs (P) 11-8.
Referee: Leah Berard (United States). Attendance: 2000.