A #Grand Slam decider, as the Six Nations' two heavyweights, battled it out to be crowned queens of northern hemisphere rugby. But in the end, there was only ever going to be one winner.
Despite the zeal of the Irish players and the exuberance of the Donnybrook crowd, nothing was going to stop England seizing the Grand Slam. It is now more undeniable than ever that the Red Roses stand head and shoulders above the chasing pack, professionalism giving them an insurmountable edge.
To give credit to Tierney's charges, they held firm for as long as possible. Although England enjoyed the lion's share of possession in the first 15 minutes, Ireland's defence gave no quarter, and their luck seemed to be in when Scarratt missed a shot at goal on 14 minutes. However, the onslaught continued, and there was a sense of the inevitable when Wilson-Hardy scampered over the line following a period of sustained pressure.
Ireland rallied and were dominating both the scrum and lineout. With Lyons' shrewd darts and Reilly imperious in the air, the lineout maul seemed a potent weapon for the home team, and they came oh-so-close to equalising before half-time. A clever angle from Naoupu nearly saw her reach the line, with the ball held up on the following phase. The resulting 5-metre scrum saw captain Fitzpatrick pick from the base and surge over the line only to be held up again, and the visitors' defence managed to retain their slender lead until half-time.
Strong second half
With the strong wind favouring the away team throughout the first half, it seemed like anybody's game at the interval. However, the fully professional English outfit has a tendency to overpower opponents in the second half. Women's rugby union is more developed in England than in the rest of the northern hemisphere, and their depth of personnel counts for more and more as matches wear on.
Middleton rang the changes at half-time, replacing both props in order to shore up the scrum and moving Reid from twelve to ten. The difference was instant, with the away team far more assertive up front and more fluent out back. Their dominance told on 54 minutes when Keates dived over after backrowers Hunter and Packer had both come close.
While Scarratt missed another kick, her all-round play was outstanding as both she and hard-running second row Millar-Mills grew ever more unmanageable. A mazy run from the former led Ireland's replacement full-back, Coyne, to deliberately knock-on and deny her opposite number Waterman a certain try.
Already struggling, Coyne's yellow was more than Ireland could deal with as England quickly racked up 10 points. Scarratt kicked a simple penalty, and a wayward Stapleton up-and-under was followed by quick hands from Keates, Cornborough, and Scarratt sending hooker Cokayne on a free run to the line.
Ireland had a mountain to the climb but weren't waving any white flags just yet. With props Van Staden and O'Reilly introduced, the pack finally pushed over on 65 minutes, Lyons' tireless efforts being justly rewarded with a touchdown.
With 15 minutes to overturn a 13-point deficit, it might have seemed like the crowd was in for a grand finale, but the comeback was short-lived. England again showed their quick handling skills to counter attack from an Ireland kick, Waterman feeding Wilson-Hardy whose well-timed pass sent Scaratt in for a bonus point. The result was all but confirmed at this stage, with replacement winger Thompson's solo score making it look all too easy for the women in white.
With Scarratt splitting the posts to make it 7-34, all that was left was the handing out of the accolades. Millar-Mills fairly collected Player of the Match, and as the clock ticked past 80 Reid booted the ball into touch so that England could claim their prize. Indisputable Six Nations champions, and a Grand Slam to boot; if they can replicate this kind of performance in the World Cup they could well be lifting another trophy on the Emerald Isle this year. #Rugby Union #Women's Six Nations