Disappointing weekend for various Irish rugby teams
By Daire Walsh
IT proved to be a disappointing weekend for Irish rugby in general, after three of the international sides fell short of their intended targets.
First off was Joe Schmidt’s senior men’s side, who were playing their final test of the Tour of South Africa in Port Elizabeth on Saturday. After letting their second encounter with the Springboks slip from their grasp, it was very much a case of do-or-die for Ireland in their final game of the 2015/16 season.
With Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw ruled out of contention because of injury, their places in the starting line-up were taken by Connacht’s Tiernan O’Halloran and Ulster’s Luke Marshall.
Naas’ Jamie Heaslip was joined in the back-row by the returning CJ Stander and Jordi Murphy, while Eoin Reddan – who revealed during the week that he would be retiring as a player and moving into the aviation finance sector – was selected on the replacements bench for his last game of professional rugby.
A try from Marshall, as well five points from the boot of Paddy Jackson, did move Ireland into the ascendancy for large spells of the first-half, but thanks to a converted touchdown by JP Pietersen just before the break, they were facing into a 10-13 interval deficit.
With everyone bar Sean Cronin and Finlay Bealham introduced from the bench in the second period, Ireland certainly weren’t lacking in endeavour, but a six-point winning margin ultimately enabled South Africa to claim the overall series with their second consecutive win over the Irish.
Saturday was also a big day for the Ireland U20s, as they contested the World Rugby U20 Championship decider with England at the AJ Bell Stadium in Salford.
A tremendous semi-final triumph over Argentina helped Ireland to book their place in the showpiece with the hosts – whom they had defeated in this year’s RBS Six Nations.
Kildare natives Jimmy O’Brien and Adam Coyle (as they did against the Argentinians) saw action in the second-half, but even though Nigel Carolan’s charges recorded tries through Adam McBurney, Shane Daly and Max Deegan, an impressive English outfit secured top honours on a score of 45-21.
Meanwhile, there was mixed results for the Ireland Women’s Sevens side at the Women’s Global Sevens Qualification Tournament in UCD at the weekend.
A semi-final defeat to Russia meant that their Olympic prospects came to a heartbreaking end, but their success against Kazakhstan in the Bronze Match ensures that they will compete in next season’s World Sevens Series.
With Alison Miller and Amee Leigh Murphy-Crowe in fine form, Ireland claimed top spot in Pool C on Saturday with consecutive triumphs over Trinidad & Tobago, Portugal and China, and they began Sunday with a comprehensive 38-0 win against Tunisia in the Championship quarter-final.
They fell short against Russia (19-10) despite registering tries through Aoife Doyle and Miller, but with the aforementioned Doyle recording a ten-point haul against Kazakhstan, they concluded the two-day rugby festival with a respectable third-place finish.