A look at all the happenings on the opening day of the Women’s World Cup in Dublin
Undoubtedly the pick of the first round of pool games from the Women’s World Cup was Ireland v Australia.
The hosts went into the game as overwhelming favourites, Australia having played just five Tests in the three years since the last global showpiece and been heavily beaten by England, New Zealand and Canada during the International Women’s Series in June.
Yet the Wallaroos showed a remarkable upturn in form to push Ireland all the way at UCD Bowl in Dublin, with the Irish eventually sneaking home 19-17 in the Pool C clash – much to the delight of the vocal crowd.
Having seen their scrum demolished by Canada in June, the biggest surprise was the performance of the Wallaroos forward pack. On a couple of occasions they drove Ireland off their own ball and the hosts never enjoyed the ascendency in that area that they would have expected. Australia’s physicality at the breakdown also meant Ireland struggled to introduce any flow to their game – and they didn’t help themselves by playing deep behind the gain-line.
Given the line speed of Australia’s defence, Ireland may have been better served putting boot to ball, turning those defenders and chasing hard, but it was a rarely-used option. The absence of Niamh Briggs, the full-back who was ruled out with injury last week, no doubt affected their kicking options.
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Ireland coach Tom Tierney recognised the imperfect nature of the performance but was simply relieved to get the four points. “It’s a win and that’s brilliant,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure on the girls and a there was a lot of tension before and during the game. In key areas we let ourselves down at critical times. But we got the win and personally I don’t care how we win as long as we win.”
Ireland’s failure to secure a bonus point could come back to haunt them in the battle to reach the semi-finals. Beat Japan and France in their next two games, and they will be in the last four as Pool C winners. But if they lose to France in that decisive game next Thursday, they are likely to miss out on the best runners-up spot with both New Zealand and Canada securing five-point wins on the opening day and set to do the same in round two.
France looked sharp as they ran in 12 tries in a 72-14 win over Japan, while the Black Ferns saw off Wales 44-12 and Canada fell two points short of reaching a century as they thumped World Cup first-timers Hong Kong 98-0, Magali Harvey scoring five tries.
Defending champions England kicked off their campaign with a 56-5 win over Spain. They scored ten tries in all with wing Kay Wilson bagging four of them, the second from a perfectly weighted Katy Mclean cross-kick. They will want to improve the effectiveness of their set-piece against Italy in game two on Sunday but they secured the requisite five points.
“Having been at the last World Cup, it was a typical opening game and full credit to Spain, who never stopping coming at us,” said England coach Simon Middleton. “They showed great energy and commitment, which is what you’d expect – there will be no gimmes. The score didn’t reflect how well Spain played and their endeavour. It was a great start for us but there’s plenty more to come.”
Middleton will make a lot of changes for Italy, who lost 24-12 to the USA in their first match. Every player in the 28-woman squad has been promised game time in the first two matches so those players who have not yet featured, the likes of Tamara Taylor and Natasha Hunt, will be involved against Italy.
Women’s World Cup 2017 – Day One results
New Zealand 44-12 Wales
Canada 98-0 Hong Kong
England 56-5 Spain
USA 24-12 Italy
Ireland 19-17 Australia
France 72-14 Japan
Sunday 13 August fixtures
New Zealand v Hong Kong (noon)
England v Italy (2.30pm)
USA v Spain (2.45pm)
Canada v Wales (5pm)
Ireland v Japan (5.15pm)
France v Australia (7.45pm)