Black Ferns lose historic match to Ireland

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James Mortimer     06 Aug 2014     Getty Images

It was a victory that will enter the history books for Irish sport, a stunning achievement as it is only the second time that an Ireland side has defeated a New Zealand Test rugby team, with Fiona Coghlan’s troops joining the famous Munster outfit of 1978.

What makes this perhaps the most significant result in the history of the Women’s game is the fact that Ireland, who convincingly claimed the 2013 Six Nations title but were bitterly disappointed with losing their crown to France this year, were playing the Black Ferns for the first time.

With victory to the United States already in the bag, a match against Kazakhstan remains for the Irish who will be confident of their maiden World Cup success after laying down the biggest marker by some margin of the championship so far.

The heroes for Ireland were Heather O’Brien and Alison Miller, who scored crucial tries to bring friends and family in Highfield and Portlaoise to their feet, while fullback Niamh Briggs was nerveless with seven points from her boot.

The Black Ferns were on the back foot from the start of the match, with the Irish preferring to keep ball in hand, but despite clearly dominating the early exchanges Ireland were unable to register any early points.

First five-eighth Kelly Brazier struck over a penalty and shortly after Selica Winiata crossed to give New Zealand an early 8-0 lead.

It was a fortuitous margin somewhat against the run of play, as Ireland had been the stronger team in the first quarter.

The back end of the opening half saw the Black Ferns mount up possession to look as if they might take control of the match, but Ireland number eight O’Brien scored a converted try at the close of the half to make it a one point game.

New Zealand started the second half in complete contrast to the first and a second Brazier penalty re-established their control of the scoreboard.

The match turned on its head though when a loose kick downfield was gathered in by the excellent Briggs. The full back charged forward and found the onrushing Alison Miller on her shoulder with a well-timed pass and the winger raced clear of the cover defence for a fine try.

A strong Irish crowd was brought to their feet, with a hush falling over the ground in expectation of potential history.

Briggs landed a touchline conversion that the watching Johnny Sexton would have been proud of to put Ireland into a three-point lead, but that was quickly cancelled out by the boot of Brazier.

Some more good work from Briggs created another scoring opportunity 10 minutes from time and she made no mistake from the kicking tee with what proved to be the final scoring act of the match.

Four-time world champions New Zealand now face USA, the only team other than Ireland to have beaten them at a Women’s Rugby World Cup, back in the 1991 semi-final, while Ireland will be firm favourites to qualify for the knockout stages as winners of Pool B as they face bottom-of-the-table Kazakhstan in the final round of pool fixtures on 9 August.

New Zealand 14

Tries: Winiata
Penalties: Brazier (2)

Ireland 17

Tries: O'Brien, Miller
Conversions: Briggs (2)
Penalties: Briggs (1)