By Jon Newcombe
Ireland maintained their unbeaten start to the RBS Women’s 6 Nations with a 30-3 defeat of Scotland to clinch not only a first-ever Triple Crown but also book their place at Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014.
While Ireland know they will be join automatic qualifiers New Zealand, England, Australia, hosts France, USA and Canada at WRWC 2014, Scotland face the prospect of a tough qualifying tournament in Madrid in April if they are to join their conquerors.
Red-hot wing Alison Miller scored two tries to add to her hat-trick against England in a convincing win for the Irish.
Following Miller’s brace flanker Siobhan Fleming crossed the hosts’ line for try number three, before impressive full back and kicker Niamh Briggs capped a fine individual performance with a score of her own.
“The performance wasn’t our best, but the players worked their socks off and got their rewards in the end,” said a delighted Philip Doyle, Ireland’s head coach.
“To win the Triple Crown is the stuff of dreams and the players deserve it for all the hard work they have put in in recent weeks.”
Scotland will take little consolation from the fact they scored their first points of the 2013 Six Nations thanks to an early penalty from centre Lisa Ritchie.
Indeed, it was a disappointing way for Scotland’s Women to mark the 20th anniversary of their first-ever international, also against Irish opposition, on Valentine’s Day 1993 which the Scots won 10-0.
With a hat-trick of victories Ireland are now just two wins away from completing a maiden Grand Slam.
Next up are France, host nation of Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014. France, England and now Ireland are automatically through to the global showpiece event, with either Italy or Wales set to join them via the Women’s 6 Nations qualifying route.
Results from the last two Championships count towards qualification, and Wales’s nail-biting 16-15 victory over Italy at Stadio Pacevecchia in Benevento sees them draw level with the Italians on six points from three wins.
Wales put in a determined shift up front to outscore their hosts two tries to nil and register their first win of the 2013 competition.
Tries from Catrin Edwards and Lowri Harries plus two second-half penalties from scrum half Laura Prosser proved just enough to edge out Italy, all of whose points came from the boot of fly half Veronica Schiavon.
“Fair play to the girls, they followed the game plan brilliantly and Italy didn’t have any answers,” said Wales head coach Rhys Edwards.
“I can’t single out any players because each and every player contributed to a fantastic win. There’s no reason why we should fear anyone after picking up the victory against what has been a very impressive Italian side this season.”
The weekend’s other match saw France achieve what their men’s side had failed to do earlier in the day and win at Twickenham, handing England their first ever loss at Twickenham.
Elodie Guiglion, centre Lucille Godiveau, number 8 Safi N'Diaye, prop Christelle Chobet and full back Caroline Ladagnous all crossed for tries in a 30-20 win for the visitors to condemn England to back-to-back defeats following their loss to Ireland last time out.
It France’s first victory over England in the Women’s 6 Nations since 2005 when they last claimed the Grand Slam and all but ended England’s bid to win an eighth successive title.
Wales in driving seat
England’s coaches have elected to remove a host of first choice players from the Championship to focus on preparations for Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 and the lack of experience and composure showed against a determined French outfit.
The introduction of one of these players – regular captain Katy McLean – at half time brought some much-needed experience and direction to England’s play but by that stage France held an 18-10 lead.
They could have been further ahead had fly half Sandrine Agricole been more accurate from the kicking tee. She had surprisingly been picked ahead of Jessy Tremouliere, France’s star performer with 22 points against Wales in round two, and was also guilty of coughing up possession with a series of handling errors.
Nevertheless, France continued to dominate in most facets of the game and stretched their lead to 30-13 before England flanker Hannah Gallagher crossed for a consolation try five minutes from time to add to Kay Wilson’s earlier score.
The penultimate round of matches will see Ireland tackle France on Friday, 8 March, before England host Italy a day later and Scotland seek a first Women’s 6 Nations victory since February 2010 when they host Wales on 10 March.
Wales will fancy their chances of securing the remaining place at WRWC 2014 with matches against Scotland and England in comparison to Italy’s encounters with England and Ireland to come. The side missing out will join Scotland in the six-team qualifying tournament in Madrid.
By Jon Newcombe