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Home / News / Staying in the game as long as possible the Irish goal

Staying in the game as long as possible the Irish goal

Ireland’s improvement this season has been relatively easy to measure.

Beyond passing the eye test, the numbers back up the assertion that the team are on an upward curve, albeit, following a season in which there was no other direction to travel.

The WXV3 can be largely discounted due to the quality of the opposition (in name only) provided by Kazakhstan and Colombia but the Guinness Six Nations can be taken as a good metric.

France, playing with 14 for most of the game, beat Ireland 53-3 last season and scored nine tries in Cork.

This year’s clash saw Ireland emerge from Le Mans with a respectable 38-17 defeat, in which they conceded five tries and crossed for two of their own.

Ireland defended well for large spells against France

Ireland lost 24-7 to Italy in 2023, conceding three tries with only a penalty try in response. Three weeks ago they were within a score, 21-27, of winning and indeed blew a number of attacking opportunities.

The biggest turnaround, however, came against Wales last weekend. When the sides met just over 12 months ago in the season opener, the gulf in quality became obvious early on.

Wales raced into a 26-0 lead before Ireland could catch their breath; the final score was 31-5.

The tables were turned in Cork as Ireland’s fast start saw the game over as a contest before half-time. This time it was the hosts who ended up with five tries in a 36-5 win.

“All we want to keep going after is improved performance,” said head coach Scott Bemand when asked about how they have closed in on, and in the case of Wales, overtaken their rivals.

Scott Bemand was assistant with England from 2017 to 2023

“We said we want to close the gap and become a World Cup contender and that’s not going to happen overnight.

“We just need to keep taking the next steps.

“Getting a winning performance [against Wales] is part of the next step.”

For Ireland to improve on last season, or indeed any of the last three ties (0-48 in 2023), (69-0 in 2022) and (27-0 in 2020), they just need to score.

England, however, are on a different level to any opposition Bemand’s charges have faced so far and they do most of their defence by being on the attack.

Their stats underline how big a task Ireland, without co-captain and Gloucester-Hartpury lock Sam Monaghan, face today.

England, ranked number one in the world, have won their last 27 games in the championship and have beaten Ireland in all of 11 meetings at home.

Their winning streak, going all the way back to 2018, comes with an average of 50 points per game.

Ellie Kildunne at England training on Thursday

This season alone they’ve beaten Italy (0-48), Wales (46-10) and Scotland (0-46). Full-back Ellie Kildunne has scored six of her side’s 24 tries.

She’s also the championship’s top carrier (441 metres) and linebreaker (7).

But Ireland have some record holders of their own and hooker Neve Jones tops the tackle charts with a 100% return from 43 attempts.

Combined Ireland have the best dominant tackle count (51), with Linda Djougang (below, l) accounting for 14, twice as many as any other player in the Six Nations.

They are going to need that mettle against an England outfit who are determined to put on a show in front of their home fans.

Worryingly, scrum-half Mo Hunt reckons they haven’t hit their straps yet.

“We just want it to click for us,” said the Gloucester-Hartpury back.

“There are 47,000 in Twickenham from what I have been told and we want to put on a show.”


Bemand makes one unenforced change with Aoife Dalton starting in the centre and Enya Breen on the bench. Hannah O’Connor comes in for Monaghan.

John Mitchell, likewise, makes two switches from their last outing.

Captain Marlie Packer is restored at flanker with Zoe Aldcroft going to the second row. Lark Atkin-Davies returns at hooker for the suspended Amy Cokayne.

Ireland are playing catch-up and the problem is that England are head of the pack, a dot on the horizon from an Irish point of view.

Keeping in touch for as long as possible and quietening a crowd of close to 50,000 at Twickenham is the goal.

Bemand’s inside knowledge – he was lead coach for eight years with the Red Roses before taking up with Ireland last year – will come in useful but it will be largely used up on the back foot.

Defence coach Declan Danaher spoke during the week about the Irish players going to a “dark place” to stop England running riot here and keeping the score respectable, and making the hosts work hard for their tries will be a good return.

Verdict: England by 30

England: Ellie Kildunne; Abby Dow, Megan Jones, Tatyana Heard, Jess Breach; Holly Aitchison, Natasha Hunt; Hannah Botterman, Lark Atkin-Davies, Maud Muir; Zoe Aldcroft, Rosie Galligan; Sadia Kabeya, Marlie Packer (capt), Alex Matthews.

Replacements: Connie Powell, Mackenzie Carson, Kelsey Clifford, Morwenna Talling, Maddie Feaunati, Lucy Packer, Emily Scarratt, Sydney Gregson.

Ireland: Lauren Delany; Katie Corrigan, Eve Higgins, Aoife Dalton, Béibhinn Parsons; Dannah O’Brien, Aoibheann Reilly; Linda Djougang, Neve Jones, Christy Haney; Dorothy Wall, Hannah O’Connor; Aoife Wafer, Edel McMahon (capt), Brittany Hogan.

Replacements: Clíodhna Moloney, Niamh O’Dowd, Sadhbh McGrath, Fiona Tuite, Shannon Ikahihifo, Molly Scuffil-McCabe, Enya Breen, Méabh Deely.

Referee: Aurélie Groizeleau (FFR).

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