Ireland held off a relentless Scotland side, in a tense and pulsating match at Donnybrook to open their Six Nations campaign with a vital 18-14 victory.
Ballinasloe and Connacht starlet Beibhinn Parsons struck a decisive intercept try with 14 minutes to go, which helped Ireland hold off Scotland’s almighty pressure in the second-half.
Ireland won just one of their matches in last year’s Six Nations and have targeted three home wins from three this year, as they intend to make Donnybrook a fortress.
The Girls in Green got off to a blistering start as the forward pack dominated early proceedings. Ireland were able to apply a ruthlessly effective mixture of powerful picking-and-going and expansive passing and running which was too much for Scotland to handle.
Cliodhna Moloney set her stall out with from the get go with a brilliant turnover within two minutes of kick-off. The Wasps hooker was central to Ireland’s early dominance with her brilliant turnovers and powerful carrying.
Ireland stretched the Scottish defence on both wings with young winger Parsons linking neatly with centre Naoupu. Possession was crisply switched back out to the right to Moloney who brilliantly dummied inside and took two defenders with her over the line for a barnstorming 25-metre run-in. This put Ireland 8-0 up after ten minutes.
Ireland were soon 13-0 up after Naoupu, on her 36th birthday, benefitted from an overlap on the right, bursting through a gap to score following Michelle Claffey’s initial break.
After a slow start Scotland found their feet in the contest as they gradually wrestled control, particularly in the scrum. A head injury to Moloney helped Scotland swing the momentum in their favour and Lisa Thomson’s try was converted on the stroke of half-time by Helen Nelson, giving Ireland a 13-7 lead at half-time.
The pattern continued into the second half, when Scotland set up camp in the Irish twenty-two and Ireland struggled to get a hold of any meaningful possession. Ireland were made soak up tackle after tackle and showed brilliant character and determination as they displayed a gutsy defensive effort.
That said, Scotland’s dominance was such that it looked inevitable that they would score the next try. With the ball spread out wide for an overlap, Scotland looked for their winger but 18-year-old Parsons showed her brilliant rugby IQ as she stepped out of the line and executed a perfectly timed intercept.
The 18-year-old winger sprinted almost the full length of the field, showing incredible pace and stamina, to put Ireland into an 18-7 lead with 10 minutes remaining.
Scotland did not throw in the towel however. Leah Lyons was sent to the sin-bin for Ireland and the Scots rampaged back down the field to score and make it a nervous last four minutes for the Irish. Lana Skeldon crossed over the try-line which was converted for Scotland to make it 18-14.
The full-time whistle was blown and it was massive and joy for Ireland as their fierce and robust defence held strong. The dramatic and crucial win will give Ireland massive confidence going into their next few games and more importantly a mental edge over the Scottish whom they face in the World Cup Qualification tournament later this year.
Next up for Ireland is Wales at home next weekend.