Ireland’s victory over the Black Ferns in the Women’s Rugby World Cup has sent shock waves through the world of women’s rugby. A three point win has been the pick of the tournament thus far, and it’s also been the closest game.
The Kiwi side took the lead early, leading 8-0 after a try from Selica Winiata, the New Zealand fullback taking advantage of some miscommunication in Irish defence to race in in the corner. However Irish heads didn’t drop and they pushed hard along the New Zealand try line before finally breaching it through Heather O’Brien. Some tough work from the Irish loose forwards was converted by Niamh Briggs, cutting the deficit to 1 point heading into the break.
A Kelly Brazier penalty extended New Zealand’s lead, with the Black Ferns growing back into the game. The 2013 Grand Slam winning side held on however. Niamh Briggs was able to latch onto a loose kick from Kiwi winger Renee Wickliffe and cut through the Black defence, before releasing Alison Miller around Emma Jensen, over in the left corner. A fantastic conversion from the aforementioned Briggs brought Ireland into a 14-11 lead. Brazier and Briggs swapped further penalties to bring the score to 17-14, and Ireland hung onto their lead to score a famous victory over the powerful Black Ferns.
The Irish side were extremely impressive in their victory. Exemplary in defence, the work they have put into their strength and conditioning has paid off wonderfully. They went about their work in defence tirelessly throughout the afternoon, and didn’t cave to the Black Ferns pressure. They also put in a solid shift at the breakdown, an area all New Zealand teams pride themselves on. The Irish fought tooth and nail and did not give their Kiwi counterparts a chance, really preventing the Black Ferns from kicking off onto the next level.
The Irish side had some extremely impressive displays of attack throughout the game, most notably led from fullback Niamh Briggs who provided a spark off the ball. The Irish willingness to mix it up out wide kept the New Zealand guessing, and aptly helped by their dominant pack, they threatened the four-time World Cup winners all day long.
What’s next? Ireland will play Kazakhstan in their final game of Pool B on Saturday. A weak Kazakhstan side will prove to be no match for Fiona Coughlan’s side. What awaits after defeating the favourites to win the Cup? France and England both loom in the knockout phases, two sides that Phillip Doyle’s women will know all but too well. They have looked impressive in their opening games and are all but sure to progress to the next round. Ireland will be looking to avenge a 7 point defeat by England a narrow loss to 2014 Grand Slam winners France.
France and England have not been hugely tested yet, although Saturday will see their biggest tests of their pool yet, as England face Canada, and France square off against Australia. France should still overcome Australia, and we expect Canada will put up a brave effort against a rampant English side before succumbing to the Red Roses. Three time finalists England are looking to break their losing streak, having come up short against New Zealand the last three World Cups in a row.
Outside of these two sides, the Black Ferns remain amongst the top and it is quite likely they’ll secure the 4th spot in the semi-final, and we could meet them again.
Women’s Rugby in Ireland has developed hugely over the years. Phillip Doyle has remarked that it is at an all-time high, and he’ll have no trouble trying to motivate Fiona Coughlan and her players. They’re desperate to prove this victory against New Zealand was not a once off, and to show that they’re genuine contenders – that they are the real deal.
If Ireland can play with the belief, aggression and discipline they showed against the Kiwis, it is hard to bet against them. Hitting form at the right time, Ireland have the potential to go all the way. But, it’s not going to easy.
Jonathan Fitzpatrick, Pundit Arena.