IRELAND’S WOMEN HAVE claimed the Six Nations Grand Slam after a 6-3 win over Italy in poor conditions on Milan on Sunday.
Niamh Briggs’ two penalties won the game, and the tournament, for the jubilant visitors, whose stellar performances in this year’s competition has been in marked contrast to the miserable form of their male counterparts.
Italy enjoyed the better start and took the lead inside just two minutes. The home side won a penalty in midfield for Ireland failing to roll away, and Veronica Schiavon duly kicked her side into a 3-0 lead.
Ireland went on the attack, they were initially subdued by some stoic Italian defending, but their constant driving finally resulted in a penalty out on the left after 12 minutes.
Niamh Briggs made no mistake and the scores were equal.
There was a huge let off for the visitors at the mid-point of the half.
Maria Diletta Veronese rampaged through the Irish defence and only a last ditch tackle from Alison Miller prevented the opening try of the game.
Briggs missed Ireland’s best try scoring chance of the half, following good work from Lynne Cantwell and Niamh Kavanagh. Briggs won the foot race but mistimed her dive for the ball, which squirted over the end line.
Ireland started the second half well, Joy Neville charging at the Italians and winning a penalty for her side. Fiona Coghlan chose to go down the line instead of for goal, using their territorial advantage to keep Italy on the back foot.
As Neville lay injured in the next flurry, Ireland had another penalty just under the posts. The obvious choice was to kick and Briggs landed her second, crucial penalty of the game.
Conditions in Milan were dire underfoot, with neither side able to engage in free flowing rugby. Schiavon had a great chance to level the game up from another penalty but her attempt fell short, Marie Louise Reilly gratefully claiming the ball and kicking clear.
Italy were penalised for holding on late in the game, Briggs finding a superb touch, and from that point on it never looked like the Grand Slam attempt.
So it proved, as the jubilant girls in green made it a St. Patrick’s Day to remember, Ireland making five out of five for the first time in the tournament’s history.