South Wales Echo
PRO DEALS KEY AS WALES STUN IRISH
WALES halted a run of seven straight Women’s Six Nations defeats with a pulsating win over Ireland at Dublin’s RDS Arena. A late double from replacement prop Donna Rose helped to seal the win for Ioan Cunningham’s side, who are coming into their first campaign since handing professional contracts to 12 players at the start of the year.
Tries from Aimee-Leigh Murphy Crowe and Linda Djougang seemed to have set the hosts on their way in a breathless first half, with Wales responding through Carys Phillips.
But Wales rallied after the break. Jasmine Joyce darted over with a moment of magic just eight minutes after the restart, although Stacey Flood’s try seemed to keep Ireland in control.
But Rose’s try 15 minutes from time put the wind in the sails of Wales, and Ireland began to fall apart under the pressure.
Eimear Considine was yellowcarded as the contest reached its climax, and the visitors took full advantage as Rose bundled over once more, before Hannah Jones sealed the victory with a blistering solo effort late on.
It’s a significant statement from Wales, who were, of course, hammered 45-0 the last time they took on their hosts, but they were more than a match for their opponents from the off here.
Wales flanker and player of the match Alisha Butchers believes her team’s stunning comeback is vindication for professional and semi-pro contracts being introduced.
Twelve have been full-time since January and a dozen more Wales players are on part-time retainer contracts with the WRU.
Butchers received the Women’s Six Nations player of the match award on Saturday in recognition of her influence on the game, particularly in the second half.
Asked post-match if the performance was vindication for getting contracts, the Bristol Bear replied: “Absolutely. We felt a little bit more pressure today and rightly so.
“I’m lucky enough to have a fulltime contract so I can put all my energy into this game.
“I feel super lucky to be part of this squad and we showed a performance. I’m ecstatic.
“The growth in the last 12 months has been incredible.
“I think we’ve done ourselves proud today and we can go back and reflect and grow from this performance.”
Initially, a combination of sloppy handling and some impressive Irish pressure in the breakdown put paid to any hopes of an early Welsh breakthrough, and they were punished on 17 minutes.
Murphy Crowe, one of the stars of Ireland’s recent Sevens World Series campaign, darted over in the corner to give her side the lead after Flood’s fine pass, with Nicole Cronin adding the extras.
But Wales responded and hit back just over 10 minutes later. A clinical drive from the lineout allowed Phillips to crash over the whitewash – but their jubilation would last only a few moments.
A fine offload from Sam Monaghan teed up Djougang, who bulldozed her way under the posts, and Ireland looked firmly in control.
But Wales started on the front foot after the break and were rewarded when Joyce darted over the line following some fine work from Elinor Snowsill.
Back came Ireland, albeit courtesy of a bizarre mistake from Kayleigh Powell as a quick lineout was seized on by Considine, who helped kick off a move that eventually saw Flood race away to score.
But Wales still refused to throw in the towel and remained a threat in the driving lineout. Indeed, it was a typically physical drive that afforded Rose her first try of the game.
Four points in it and Ireland were rocking, with Considine then seeing yellow after failing to roll away from a tackle, and Wales went for the kill as Rose powered over for a second, before Jones added the icing on the cake with a blistering 50m break to score one last try.