irb.com and James Mortimer 13.Feb.2013Getty Images
Results from the 2012 and 2013 Women’s 6 Nations will determine which two sides avoid the challenge of a tough qualifying tournament in Madrid in April by joining England and host nation France at the 2014 showcase event.
Italy now have six points from three wins across the two Championships, two more than Wales, with Ireland out in front with 10 points after five victories. Scotland have yet to register a win this timeframe and look destined for the Madrid tournament.
On the evidence of the first two rounds of the 2013 Championship Italy are on course to achieve their highest-ever finish.
Since replacing Spain in 2007 when the women’s competition came into line with the men’s, Italy have always been in the bottom two in the standings.
But wins over France and Scotland put them alongside Ireland – the only other unbeaten team – at the top of this year’s table on four points, with only points difference separating the sides.
Three points from the boot of fly half Veronica and an unconverted try from half back partner Sara Barattin were enough for Italy to see off their hosts Scotland. It was the second time in consecutive weeks that Scotland had failed to score a single point, having lost 76-0 to England the week before.
"The best day ever"
England, though, had the tables turned on them in impressive style by Ireland, who inflicted a 25-0 defeat on the seven-time defending champions at Ashbourne RFC – the first time they had beaten the Red Roses in 18 attempts.
Ireland coach Philip Doyle described it as “the best day ever” after seeing his charges hand England only their second defeat in 40 Six Nations matches, and end the Red Roses’ 13-match winning streak dating back to 2011.
England may have been missing a raft of first choice players who are focusing on RWC Sevens 2013 in Moscow, but they were played off the park by Ireland with Munster wing Alison Miller the star of the show with a first-half hat-trick of tries.
After the break, full back Niamh Briggs, who had earlier converted one of Miller’s tries and added a penalty, crossed the whitewash following a well-executed move to give her side a 25-0 advantage.
“It was a great team performance,” admitted Miller afterwards. “We really played well and I just finished off what all the other girls had done. It was amazing, I still can’t believe it.
“To win by such a margin and for them not to score is a massive thing. We knew we could win and we took that confidence in with us and brought it home.”
France bounce back
Ireland are now only 80 minutes from their first Triple Crown, but Doyle is not getting carried away on the back of this historic victory.
“It is the best day ever, but I hope we can go forward because we have just gone to the next level, that is all. We have got to move on, there are bigger fish to fry, in this Championship anyway.”
France, meanwhile, bounced back from the shock loss to Italy with an emphatic 32-0 victory over Wales in Laon on Friday evening.
Fly half Jessy Tremoulière turned in a match-winning performance as she racked up 22 points, including two tries. France’s other points came via tries from full back Caroline Ladagnous and replacement hooker Laetitia Salles.
In the next round of matches, England host France at Twickenham (after the men's match on 23 February), while Ireland travel to Scotland and Wales are away in Italy for a must-win match if their hopes of avoiding the Madrid tournament are to remain alive.