SARAH LAW appeared to have liquid nitrogen coursing through her veins when she stepped forward and calmly slotted the conversion to Chloe Rollie’s last minute try which secured this famous win for Scotland over Ireland, thus securing a place in the final qualifying tournament for next October’s World Cup in New Zealand.
It wasn’t a particularly tricky kick, about five yards to the right of the posts, but the pressure was huge given what was at stake. Scotland have not been to a World Cup since 2010, and that has had a debilitating effect on efforts to develop the women’s game in this country, both in terms of its profile, and in terms of giving this talented and dedicated generation of players the exposure they need to reach the next level.
Bryan Easson‘s side will now compete in this last repechage qualification tournament against Samoa, Columbia and one of Hong Kong, Japan or Kazakhstan, at a date which is still to be confirmed. Italy, the host nation of this European World Cup qualification tournament, defeated Spain 34-10 earlier in the day, meaning they progress directly to the main event as pool winners.
It was heartbreaking for Ireland, who started the game as favourites on the basis of their recent record of 14 wins in their last 15 matches against Scotland, and who dominated long periods of this match. However, they let Scotland back into the game during the final eight minutes and paid a heavy price.
“I’m not going to say that I can’t believe it because I 100 percent always believed that this would be the outcome of today,” said elated Scotland captain Rachel Malcolm afterwards. “The heart, the passion, the work that has been put in by every one of the 28 players in this squad, and also the management, over the last how many months, meant we believed we could do that.
“We knew it might be in the last second – which is exactly what happened – but I am so proud of the fight and all the courage the girls showed today on the pitch, and I thoroughly believe we deserved that win. We never gave up.”
Ireland took the lead on 18 minutes when tight-head prop Linda Djougang scooped up a loose pass and waded through around half a dozen ineffectual Scottish tackles with almost indecent ease. It was frustrating try to lose for Scottish because they had generally done a pretty decent job of mopping up the early Iirsh pressure, however they shrugged off the disappointment and hauled themselves back into the game when Helen Nelson fired home the three points, following a yellow card for Irish openside flanker Edel McMahon for a high tackle which led to a head collision with opposite number Malcolm.
Megan Gaffney and Hannah Smith both broke clear of Ireland’s defensive line as the half-time whistle approached, before Nelson poked a perfectly weighted chip into the in-goal area which bounced up nicely for Rhona Lloyd to put her team ahead at the turnaround.
The Scots extended their lead early in the second half through Lana Skeldon from a close-range line-out, but Ireland bounced back through a Stacey Flood penalty and then began to dominate again. They regained the lead on the hour mark following a long period of pressure when replacement loose-head Lindsay Peat hit the line like a runaway train and went in under the posts, setting up a straight-forward conversion for Flood.
Another Flood penalty on 65 minutes made it a five points game, and all the momentum was now with Ireland, but Scotland hung in there, and when Rollie slipped through a gap and motored into the Irish 22 with just under 10 minutes to go, you sensed it was now or never for Easson’s side.
Eve Higgins was the second Irish player to be sent to the sin-bin for a tip-tackle on Lisa Thomson, but the penalty kicked to the corner was overcooked, which meant no attacking line-out and an Irish drop-out instead.
It could have been a decisive moment, but the Scots regathered themselves, and after several more punishing phases working their way back into striking distance, the ball was eventually shuffled out along the three-quarter line before Rollie straightened and sprinted over, setting up Law for that grandstand finish.
Ireland: E Considine (L Delany 35-40); A Murphy Crowe, E Higgins, S Naoupu, B Parsons; S Flood, K Dane (E Lane 61); L Feely (L Peat 41), C Moloney, L Djougang; N Fryday, S Monaghan (B Hogan 65), D Wall, E McMahon, C Griffin.
Scotland: C Rollie; R Lloyd, H Smith, L Thomson, M Gaffney; H Nelson (S Law 46), J Maxwell; L Bartlett (L Cockburn 64), L Skeldon, C Belisle (M Wright 68), E Wassell, L McMillan, R McLachlan (S Bonar 50), R Malcolm (E Gallagher 62), J Konkel.
Referee: C Munarini
Ireland: Tries: Djougang, Peat; Con: Flood; Pen: Flood 2.
Scotland: Tries: Lloyd, Skeldon, Rollie, Con: Law. Pen: Nelson.
Yellow cards –
Ireland: McMahon (23mins), Higgins (76mins).