Confident win for Ireland Women as Claire Molloy scores two tries in player-of-the-match display

Ireland Women 35 Wales Women 12, Donnybrook, 3pm

By Dave Mervyn

Claire Molloy produced her second successive Aon player-of-the-match display and scored two tries as the Ireland Women registered a confidence-boosting 35-12 bonus point win over Wales at Donnybrook.

The tireless flanker, who lives and works in Wales as a doctor, scored a scorching fifth try in the final minutes to put the seal on Ireland’s most complete performance yet under head coach Adam Griggs.

Having led 14-0 at half-time thanks to tries from Leah Lyons and Molloy, the hosts came under ferocious pressure early in the second half as Amy Evans and Sioned Harries both touched down for the Welsh, and Ireland's tigerish loosehead Lindsay Peat saw yellow for a high tackle.

However, the girls in green found an extra gear on a day when Molloy and Niamh Briggs won their 60th caps and new captain Ciara Griffin led by example. Her side wrestled back control and tore clear of Wales thanks to closing tries from Sene Naoupu (51 minutes), replacement Hannah Tyrrell (73 - pictured below) and Molloy (78).

The breeze behind Wales proved problematic for Lyons' early lineout throws, two crooked efforts were pulled up but Railway Union lock Aoife McDermott - a late inclusion on her debut for the ill Nichola Fryday - did have one well-timed take.

The pace was frenetic as openside Molloy continued to show her class in defence, while Welsh out-half Elinor Snowsill's right boot had the visitors up in the 22 twice.

It took a superb break off a scrum by Ailsa Hughes to unlock the Wales defence. She failed to spot Megan Williams in support, but successive penalties saw the Irish pack threaten from the maul, the second drive - set up by another McDermott take - ending with prop Lyons piling over for a 15th minute try.

Briggs expertly drew the conversion over from the right, and although Wales pressed from a scrum soon after, a couple of well-executed turnovers from Molloy and Griffin marched Ireland back up past the halfway line.

The game ebbed and flowed, Griffin, Claire McLaughlin and Williams growing into it with some purposeful carries. Wales attacked hard through their forwards, aided by some crossing which was missed by the match officials.

Keeping the Welsh out, Paula Fitzpatrick and McDermott combined to hold up a dangerous maul from five metres out. The resulting reset scrum was won by Ireland against the head, with number 8 Fitzpatrick making 15 metres on the carry.

Wales could not take advantage of their lion’s share of territory, with Molloy at her disruptive best at ruck time and fellow former skipper Briggs also getting in at the breakdown to win a penalty in the closing stages.

With the interval looming, Naoupu, Ireland's midfield workhorse, brilliantly pierced the Welsh defence from a Briggs pass, the fast-paced attack seeing Naoupu link with Katie Fitzhenry who was hauled down just short of the line by Hannah Bluck. Quick recycling allowed Molloy to burrow over beside the posts and Briggs’ kick made it 14-0 at the turnaround.

Nonetheless, it was back to a seven-point margin after Wales burst out of the traps at the start of the second period. Four minutes in, they threatened from a maul before determined prop Evans used her power to get over the line past McLaughlin and Lyons.

Snowsill converted and Wales had the deficit down to 14-12 barely two minutes later. Number 8 Harries evaded the clutches of Molloy, Peat and Orla Fitzsimons as she slalomed over in impressive fashion with Snowsill unable to add the extras.

Peat was guilty of a high tackle in the build-up to the try and referee Sara Cox produced her yellow card. Down to 14 players, Ireland dug deep with a superb momentum-shifting tackle from Lyons getting them back on the front foot.

Fitzhenry’s quick feet did some damage in the 22 before Briggs’ pass, on the switch, allowed Naoupu to cut through on a lovely angled run which took her to the whitewash for try number three. Briggs clipped over the right-sided conversion to settle Ireland back down at 21-12.

The Irish pack upped their intensity and physicality again as the hour mark approached, with Griffin, Fitzpatrick and replacement Cliodhna Moloney to the fore. They had the bonus point score within their grasp when Molloy plunged over from an advancing five-metre scrum, but the try was not awarded as referee Cox brought play back for an Irish penalty.

Wales defended smartly before clawing back lost territory, and their attack continued to look sharp with Mel Clay stretching her legs up the left wing. Briggs was blocked down twice in her attempts to kick clear from the 22, with replacement scrum half Nicole Cronin rescuing the situation on both occasions.

Peat and Welsh captain Carys Phillips were fortunate to avoid the sin-bin for scuffling off the ball, but Ireland got back on track with some excellent grafting at the breakdown by Griffin, who won a penalty, and a bone-crunching tackle by Lyons on winger Bluck who had to replaced.

The pressure told when lineout ball was transferred into midfield where a wraparound between Naoupu, who was now stationed at out-half, and replacement Michelle Claffey unleashed Tyrrell to cruise through a gap and bag the bonus point on her return from Sevens duty.

Kim Flood, another of the dual-code players on the pitch, stepped up to land the conversion in Briggs' absence, and Ireland saved the best for last with a tremendous final score. There was some excellent interplay between backs and forwards before well-timed passes from Laura Feely and Naoupu released Molloy who cut in and then out to burn off the covering Robyn Wilkins and cross wide on the right.

Another well-struck conversion from full-back Flood completed the scoring, as new-look Ireland gained some revenge for last August’s World Cup play-off defeat to Wales and tighten their grip on third place in the Six Nations table. They are now five points clear of Wales, with a six-point gap to unbeaten leaders England and France.

HT: Ireland Women 14 Wales Women 0

Scorers:

Ireland Women: Tries: Leah Lyons, Claire Molloy 2, Sene Naoupu, Hannah Tyrrell; Cons: Niamh Briggs 3, Kim Flood 2

Wales Women: Tries: Amy Evans, Sioned Harries; Con: Elinor Snowsill

TIME LINE: 15 minutes - Ireland try: Leah Lyons - 5-0; conversion: Niamh Briggs - 7-0; 40+1 mins - Ireland try: Claire Molloy - 12-0; conversion: Niamh Briggs - 14-0; Half-time - Ireland 12 Wales 0; 44 mins - Wales try: Amy Evans - 12-5; conversion: Elinor Snowsill - 14-7; 46 mins - Wales try: Sioned Harries - 14-12; conversion: missed by Elinor Snowsill - 14-12; 46 mins - Ireland yellow card: Lindsay Peat; 51 mins - Ireland try: Sene Naoupu - 19-12; conversion: Niamh Briggs - 21-12; 73 mins - Ireland try: Hannah Tyrrell - 26-12; conversion: Kim Flood - 28-12; 78 mins - Ireland try: Claire Molloy - 33-12; conversion: Kim Flood - 35-12; Full-time - Ireland 35 Wales 12

IRELAND WOMEN: Kim Flood (Railway Union/Leinster); Megan Williams (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Katie Fitzhenry (Blackrock/Leinster), Sene Naoupu (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Claire McLaughlin (Cooke/Ulster); Niamh Briggs (UL Bohemians/Munster), Ailsa Hughes (Railway Union/Leinster); Lindsay Peat (Railway Union/Leinster), Ciara O'Connor (Galwegians/Connacht), Leah Lyons (Highfield/Munster), Aoife McDermott (Railway Union/Leinster), Orla Fitzsimons (St. Mary's/Leinster), Ciara Griffin (UL Bohemians/Munster) (capt), Claire Molloy (Bristol/Connacht), Paula Fitzpatrick (St. Mary's/Leinster).

Replacements used: Cliodhna Moloney (Railway Union/Leinster) for O’Connor (50 mins), Laura Feeley (Galwegians/Connacht) for Fitzsimons (56-57, temp sub), Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster) for McLaughlin (60), Nicole Cronin (UL Bohemians/Munster) for Hughes, Edel McMahon (Galwegians/Connacht) for Fitzsimons (both 65), Michelle Claffey (Blackrock/Leinster) for Briggs (70), Feely for Peat, Fiona Reidy (UL Bohemians/Munster) for Lyons (both 75). Not used: Nichola Fryday (Tullamore/Connacht).

WALES WOMEN: Lisa Neumann (Scarlets); Hannah Bluck (Cardiff Blues), Kerin Lake (Ospreys), Rebecca de Filippo (Dragons), Jess Kavanagh-Williams (RGC); Elinor Snowsill (Dragons), Rhiannon Parker (Cardiff Blues); Caryl Thomas (Scarlets), Carys Phillips (Ospreys) (capt), Amy Evans (Ospreys), Siwan Lillicrap (Ospreys), Mel Clay (Ospreys), Alisha Butchers (Scarlets), Beth Lewis (Scarlets), Sioned Harries (Scarlets).

Replacements used: Hannah Jones (Scarlets) for de Filippo (43 mins), Jade Knight (Scarlets) for Parker, Natalia John (Ospreys) for Lillicrap (both 60), Cara Hope (Ospreys) for Thomas (62), Nia Elen Davies (Scarlets) for Lewis (70), Robyn Wilkins (Ospreys) for Bluck (72). Not used: Kelsey Jones (Ospreys), Meg York (Dragons).

Referee: Sara Cox (England)

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