Ireland women claim historic Grand Slam
Ireland’s men may have narrowly avoided the wooden spoon a day earlier but their female counterparts celebrated St Patrick’s Day by claiming a first ever Grand Slam with a hard-fought 6-3 win over Italy on the outskirts of Milan.
The clean sweep was just reward for an Irish team that has set first after first in 2013 with a first ever win over England, a first ever Triple Crown and a first ever RBS Women’s 6 Nations title already in the bag before the trip to Italy.
The fact that Italy also knew that victory was a must if they were to have a chance of overhauling Wales in the race to qualify directly for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 also added an extra bit of spice to the occasion at the Stadio Rino Venegoni in Parabiago.
Fly half Veronica Schivaon – one of only three players in the Italian squad with World Cup experience from their last appearance in 2002 – kicked the hosts into an early lead, only for Ireland full back Niamh Briggs to level the scores after 12 minutes.
Both sides created scoring opportunities in the wet and muddy conditions, Briggs going closest for Ireland but was unable to gather the ball as she dived for the line, and after the full back missed a late kick the sides went in level at 3-3 at the break.
Ireland continued to enjoy the majority of possession in the second half but couldn’t make the breakthrough until a second Briggs penalty in the 51st minute, and they then heaved a sigh of relief when a Schiavon penalty dropped just short 10 minutes later.
A tense finale was therefore on the cards and with a minute to go it was Italy who impressively drove into the Irish territory, only to see their attack come to nothing and spark the Irish celebrations at the final whistle.
Wales qualify for WRWC 2014
Italy’s loss meant that Wales would join Ireland in qualifying for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 in France, the top two teams across the 2012 and 2013 Champions outside of England and France confirming their places at the showpiece of the Women’s Game.
The Italians needed to beat Ireland and hope that Wales lost to England with a point swing of more than 45 points if they were to pip the Welsh, but in the end both sides tasted defeat with former champions England snatching a 20-16 win at the death.
Italy, who recorded a first ever win over France in round one, must now regroup and negotiate the six-team qualifying tournament in Madrid next month if they are to play in a first Women’s Rugby World Cup since 2002.
Scotland have long known that they would be off to Madrid and their Women’s 6 Nations campaign ended just as it had begun with a 76-0 mauling, this time at the hands of France in Dijon on Friday.
This was Scotland’s 17th successive loss in the Women’s 6 Nations and over the last two years they have scored just 15 points and conceded 342, so will face a tough task to come through the Madrid tournament and reach WRWC 2014.
Twelve-try win for France
Scotland, who had been crushed 76-0 by England in round one, went behind in only the third minute when wing Elodie Guiglion touched down at the Stade Bourillot on Friday and France continued to run in the tries as the half progressed.
A brace by wing Julie Billes and further scores by hooker Gaëlle Mignot, centre Sandrine Agricole and number 8 Safi N’Diaye gave France a commanding 40-0 lead at half-time to the delight of the home crowd, who had earlier seen France Under 20s beat their English counterparts 15-3.
There was no let up after the break with Billes completing her hat-trick within a minute of the restart, before Agricole, full back Jessy Tremouliere (2), replacement prop Christelle Chobet and centre Lucille Godiveau crossed to complete the rout.
The try-fest would ultimately mean France finished second in the standings behind Ireland with England not able to win by a big enough margin to overhaul the side that had ended their unbeaten record at Twickenham last month.
England had seemed set for a third loss of the Championship until wing Sally Tuson scored a late try in Aberavon to deny Wales in a thrilling finish, the hosts having taken a 16-15 lead with replacement Megan York’s try in the 70th minute.
Winners of the last seven Women’s 6 Nations titles, England had gone in with a 15-8 advantage at half-time, but a penalty by Elinor Snowsill cut the deficit and Wales sensed their visitors were there for the taking and were rewarded when York touched down.
The victory, though, means England finish third ahead of Wales and Italy on point differential after both won two matches in the Championship. Scotland again claimed the wooden spoon having lost all of their matches.