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Ireland suffer shock defeat to Spain in World Cup qualifying tournament opener

Nobody expected this Spanish inquisition.

reland’s World Cup hopes are in tatters after the Iberian minnows plundered a famous win against a shockingly below-par performance from Adam Griggs’ side.

Given Italy’s destruction of Scotland earlier in the Parma sunshine, it will now take a mammoth effort of resuscitation for the Irish side to recover their chances of making it to New Zealand later this year for the re-arranged global showpiece.

Ireland tackle Italy next Sunday but on this evidence, the hosts are overwhelming favourites to proceed directly as a winner of this round-robin.

The second-placed side of four does qualify for a repechage but even the sorry Scots might fancy their chances against Ireland on this limp evidence.

And with Beibhinn Parsons, Ireland’s try-scorer, taken off as well as the injured out-half Stacey Flood, it remains to be seen what shape Griggs’ team will be in by the weekend.

In a poor game littered with simple errors, forgivable on behalf of the Spanish but not the supposedly superior Irish, a 7-3 half-time lead was all Ireland had to show for their limited first-half efforts.

Cliodhna Moloney was held up just 90 seconds into the second-half; a try then may have given them the breathing space they needed but Sub Lea Duchier’s 72nd minute try stunned the Irish.

Still, Griggs’ side could have claimed an undeserved late win but reserve out-half Enya Breen’s late penalty effort summed up her side’s collective display.

It fell way short.

The omens were there from the beginning.

Spain’s scrum crumpled the Irish eight twice in the first five minutes and Patricia Garcia was afforded two shots at goal thanks to her pack’s pre-eminence; one snapped the post but the other was successful.

An early shocker for Adam Griggs’ side, then but, once they managed to navigate their way out of their half and into the opposition’s, they were set fair.

Beibhinn Parsons calmed Irish nerves within five minutes of the early Spanish inquisition in the humid conditions with a trademark try out in the left corner after a sweeping three-quarter line move.

Stacey Flood, Ireland’s latest out-half contender following Hannah Tyrrell’s shock retirement, added the extras after her loopy, delayed pass had provided the crucial assist.

And soon her side were soon intent on nabbing a second, with Parsons predictably prominent.

A third Spanish scrum penalty relieved the growing pressure as the Irish, aided by a superior kicking game, sought to take up permanent residency in enemy territory.

Shoddy possession undid them, though, and Griffin’s spill launched the most thrilling passage of play in the opening half as the Sevens specialists displayed some wonderful interplay.

Ireland’s breakdown nous ensured that the Spanish could not build on their pressure though and their scrum improved, notably after the referee had offered the experienced – and temporarily bemused – 40-year-old Lindsay Peat a swift tutorial at the end of the first quarter.

And yet despite growing dominance, errors, from Cliodhna Moloney’s penalty concession or Brittany Hogan’s fumbling lineout when on the Spanish five-metre line, undid an already fitful, nervy opening night display.

A sudden brace of them allowed Spain to pour forward once more and create an over-lap on the left wing of sufficient threat that Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe was compelled to make what was an effectively try-saving tackle.

If Ireland’s attacking play was uncertain, their forward efforts were also undistinguished; twice they had mauls stemmed by the doughty Spanish, augmenting their scrum efforts, albeit Amalia Argudo was binned for her illegal efforts to thwart it.

After a Moloney surge was held up five minutes before the break, Griffin’s attempt to off-load to the always lurking Parsons resulted in nothing more than another Spanish scrum.

By the end of the half, the directionless Irish were resorting to one-out runners in an attempt to inculcate some control; this return to basics was also beyond them.

The half ended with a Spanish eight whooping at their latest scrum success before another delicious back-line move threatened another incision as a bewildered Irish trudged off at the break.

A game off attack versus defence had been predicted; but the identities of these side seemed to have been switched.

Within 90 minutes of the restart, the breathing space bequeathed to them at half-time appeared to earn them some in the match.

Flood’s perfectly weighted delay in midfield to Murphy Crowe presented a scintillating try on first viewing; on second viewing, the TMO spotted a knock-on from scrum-half Kathryn Dane at the bottom of the ruck.

Despite their now creaking scrum, Spain cleared; even debutant Lucu Mulhall was suffering from the general malaise as she fumbled while trying to counter.

Thankfully, Peat was now the one punching the air as she and her side claimed a scrum penalty on half-way.

It was typical of the evening, then, that Ireland would now revert to cocking up their lineout as the errors from both sides multiplied.

In the absence of consistent set-piece solidity, Ireland were becoming increasingly unnerved and the opposition grew more comfortable in defence.

Mercifully, the Spanish were not proficient enough at the other end to take full advantage in a poor spectacle.

Luckily for them, Ireland’s reversion to ill-discipline allowed them to return to the scoring zone but yet again the Spanish, too, fluffed their lines.

Parsons would offer no more to the script, hauled off in the 55th minute while there was further disruption when Flood seemed to tweak a muscle while launching a speculative Garryowen before she was also withdrawn.

Ireland were going nowhere as the third quarter arrived; grimly clinging on to their 7-3 lead and, even though they launched some sustained phased play, they did end up going somewhere. Backwards.

At the hour, both teams parted for a water break; it seemed as if Ireland were bailing water as their ship continued to list worryingly.

They did reach calmer waters but again an inability to maximise pressure and territory saw them retreat empty-handed once more.

Strategic Cup rugby nous surely demanded a three-pointer to attempt to push the scoreboard further in their favour, given the inability to score a try.

Ireland drafted in a changed front-row but their first involvement was to accelerate backwards in an astonishing, rumbling maul.

Sam Monaghan was carded and now with 14 minutes left, Ireland were defending a lineout on their five-metre line with just 14 women.

Captain Griffin was heroic as Ireland stemmed the seemingly incessant flow.

Another ceded throw from touch immediately put them under pressure once more before Spain, almost apologetically, messed up some more good mauling.

Someone needed to break the game open and perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised that Spain did so.

Duchier’s try from her side’s quick tap in the 72nd minute regained the lead they had held 69 minutes earlier.

How would Ireland react?

Surprisingly, with composure, at first, Spain coughing up another penalty as Ireland hoisted a high ball after the restart.

But then, not unexpectedly, calamity, as they turned over another lineout.

As Spain attempted to hold out, Griffin’s smashing tackle on Almeda earned a scrum with three minutes left, a few steps inside the Spanish ten-metre line.

From the resultant scrum, some elusive quick ball prompted a Spanish offside and a penalty advantage as the clock ticked towards 78.

Enya Breen stepped up and, befitting Ireland’s evening, she fell far short of her target.

Ireland: E Considine; AL Murphy Crowe, L Mulhall, S Naoupu, B Parsons (L Delany 55); S Flood (E Breen 56), K Dane; L Peat (L Feely 66), C Moloney (N Jones 66), L Djougang (L Lyons 66), A McDermott (S Monaghan 52), N Fryday, D Wall, C Griffin capt, B Hogan (E McMahon 55.

Spain: I Echebarria; B Dominguez, A Erbina, A Argudo (E Aguirre 69), M Garcia; A De Corres, P Garcia; S Jaurena (I Rico 48), M Rodriguez, L Delgado capt (M Brust , A Puig, M Castelo (C Castelucci 55), O Fresneda, M Calvo, A Almeda.

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