Connacht’s Alison Miller grabbed a first half hat-trick of tries as Ireland created history at Ashbourne RFC with their first ever win over England when they defeated the reigning Grand Slam champions 25-0…

Ireland put 17 previous defeats to England behind them with an accomplished display at their County Meath home venue, with full-back Niamh Briggs adding a second half try to Alison Miller’s memorable hat-trick.

The Portlaoise flyer showed supreme finishing skills as the hosts cut the English rearguard to shreds, following up some excellent approach work from the likes of Lynne Cantwell, Jenny Murphy and Nora Stapleton.

Briggs added one conversion to an earlier penalty to give Philip Doyle’s side a well-merited 20-0 advantage at the break.

England, 76-0 winners over Scotland last weekend, had the wind behind them in the second period but an immediate sin-binning for their experienced loosehead prop Rochelle Clark kept them on the back foot.

Ireland’s ability to take their scoring chances was evident once more as Joy Neville and Larissa Muldoon combined off a scrum to put Briggs storming over in the right corner.

The Six Nations title holders were thwarted time and again by Ireland’s enveloping defence, Marie Louise Reilly, inspirational captain Fiona Coghlan and first-time starter Siobhan Fleming standing out in this regard.

Roared on by a passionate home crowd, the girls in green confidently protected their lead with an eager bench emptied on a famous day for Irish women’s rugby.

The result leaves Ireland just 80 minutes away from their first ever Triple Crown, and puts them in pole position to challenge for the Championship in the coming weeks and confirm their stop at the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup.

This is a hugely significant victory for Doyle’s charges as England are the standard bearers of women’s rugby in the northern Hemisphere – this was only a second defeat for them in their last 40 Six Nations matches.

The 25-point loss also ends England’s 13-match winning streak which they embarked on after drawing 8-8 with World Cup champions New Zealand in December 2011.

The gap between Ireland and England has been closing in recent years – last March in Esher the English needed a brilliant 57th minute try from captain Katy Mclean to break the Irish resistance as they won 23-6 to claim their sixth Grand Slam in seven seasons.

With England now putting considerable focus on the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series, they travelled to Ashbourne without a large chunk of their regular squad.

Ireland stamped their authority on the game early on, forcing a series of turnovers with the strong first-up tackling of Claire Molloy, Gillian Bourke and Ailis Egan typical of the aggressive defence on show.

As with their male counterparts, the choke tackle was a very useful weapon for the hosts and they did not have long to wait for their first try.

Seven minutes in, Briggs got over the gainline and a penalty was booted to touch. Lineout ball was switched into midfield where great hands from Stapleton and Cantwell released Miller for a terrific try in the left corner.

Briggs, with the wind behind her, was unable to convert from a difficult position. The UL Bohemians star gave another glimpse of her ability with ball in hand, ghosting through on the right to combine with the supporting Cantwell.

Ireland flooded forward and won a subsequent penalty which Briggs knocked over with a crisp strike from a central position outside the 22.

England responded with a penalty to touch and a Victoria Fleetwood-piloted maul. But Ireland kept them out of the 22 and a turnover led to a monster kick downfield from Briggs.

Miller, who produced some try-saving heroics in Wales, got over the English line for the second time in the 27th minute. She burst onto the ball at pace and her balance and poacher’s instinct saw her evade three defenders before touching down in the right corner.

Briggs’ conversion attempt went narrowly wide to the left. 13-0 down, England looked rattled and they struggled for any scraps of possession and territory with the physicality of the Irish forwards seeing them boss the breakdown and tackle area.

After a block from prop Coghlan kept England in their half, further indiscipline at the breakdown led to Briggs hammering a 40-metre penalty through the uprights.

There was no let-up from the girls in green who were clinically in using turnover ball to add to their try tally five minutes before the break.

Their sharpness with ball in hand left England for dead as tremendous hands from Cantwell and Stapleton put Miller over in the left corner. Briggs’ well-struck conversion finished just inside the right hand post for a 20-0 scoreline.

England needed a big response in the third quarter, but the loss of Clark after repeated ruck infringements was another setback to deal with.

Ireland continued to look comfortable in possession with second rows Reilly and Sophie Spence starring in the lineout and the loose and the back row trio maintaining a huge work-rate around the pitch. Inside centre Murphy also made her presence felt.

The platform provided by the forwards teed up the fourth try. Number 8 Neville broke to the right from a scrum, linking with scrum half Muldoon whose neat delivery allowed the onrushing Briggs to blast over from 10 metres out.

The try went unconverted, but the pressure was unrelenting on England with their full-back Kay Wilson knocking on a couple of balls before she was replaced.

The English reserves did make their mark, particularly quick-passing scrum half Georgina Gulliver and strong-carrying flanker Harriet Millar-Mills, and Ireland had to show as much accuracy in defence as they did in attack.

They went close to scoring a fifth try when Muldoon was held up in the right corner following a lineout maul. There were some lovely touches before that as Miller made ground on the left and out-half Stapleton’s well-judged punt was gathered on the bounce by Ashleigh Baxter.

As the minutes ticked by and Ireland continued to hold England at bay near the halfway line, there was an obvious determination amongst the home side to ‘nil’ the perennial Six Nations winners – England were last held scoreless in 2004.

Grace Davitt and Reilly pulled off some thumping hits late on and Baxter’s replacement Niamh Kavanagh had the measure of the dangerous Sally Tuson on two occasions out on the right wing.

Miller showed tremendous commitment to bundle Fiona Pocock into touch and halt an English surge. The unfortunate Pocock crashed into an advertising hoarding and had to be stretchered off the pitch.

When play resumed, Ireland squeezed the space on the English again. There was no way past the green-shirted defensive wall and the final whistle sparked jubilant celebrations for those on the pitch and off it.


15: Niamh Briggs (UL Bohemians/Munster)
14: Ashleigh Baxter (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster)
13: Lynne Cantwell (Richmond/Exiles)
12: Jenny Murphy (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
11: Alison Miller (Portlaoise/Connacht)
10: Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
9: Larissa Muldoon (UWIC/Exiles)

1: Fiona Coghlan (UL Bohemians/Leinster) CAPTAIN
2: Gillian Bourke (UL Bohemians/Munster)
3: Ailis Egan (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
4: Sophie Spence (Mowden Park Sharks/Exiles)
5: Marie Louise Reilly (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
6: Siobhan Fleming (Tralee/Munster)
7: Claire Molloy (Bristol/Exiles)
8: Joy Neville (UL Bohemians/Munster)


16: Stacey-Lea Kennedy (City of Derry/Ulster)
17: Fiona Hayes (UL Bohemians/Munster)
18: Lauren Day (Waterloo/Exiles)
19: Leigh Dargan (Saracens RFC/Exile)
20: Laura Guest (Highfield/Munster)
21: Amy Davis (Blackrock College/Ulster)
22: Grace Davitt (Cooke/Ulster)
23: Niamh Kavanagh (UL Bohemians/Munster)