Kinross graduate Grace Hamilton and her Wallaroos produced a heroic performance in Thursday morning’s (AEST) Rugby World Cup opener, but were still edged out by hosts Ireland, ultimately losing out 19-17.
In a titanic pool C confrontation, the Wallaroos led 10-7 with just nine minutes to go but two late tries for Sophie Spence and Ciara Griffin gave the Irish a 19-10 lead, with full-time looming.
Australian prop Hilisha Samoa crashed over with five minutes to go and set up a tense finish but the Irish, ranked No.5 in the world, remained firm in defence to hold on and notch a two-point victory.
“We left those two points out there but we can build from that,” Wallaroos skipper Shannon Parry said.
“It basically came down to execution, being able to take those crucial chances and we fell a little bit short this time.
“It was a very tight, physical encounter played in an incredible atmosphere.”
Hamilton started at No.8 in a blockbuster Australian back row, in a tension-packed first half in front of a sold out UCD Bowl the Wallaroos won the territorial battle and raided the Irish line on the back of that.
But it was the hosts that scored first, after settling into their work.
Halfback Larissa Muldoon plunged over from short range after some beautiful lead-up work from her forwards, taking advantage of a defensive error one-off the ruck, Nora Stapleton tapping over the conversion.
The lead was short-lived, with Mahalia Murphy scoring after a quick line-out, showing the speed which has pushed her into the elite echelons of sevens players, it went unconverted and slashed the deficit to two points.
The pressure-cooker atmosphere only intensified in the second half.
Australia took a 10-7 lead when Parry crashed over in the 56th minute, again it went unconverted.
But on the back of a mountain of possession Ireland hit back, then hit back again.
Spence and Griffin scored within minutes of each other, one was converted to give the hosts – who finished second in the European Six Nations – a 19-10 lead.
Samoa’s 75th minute try, converted, gave the Aussies a sniff but ultimately only a losing bonus point as Ireland closed out the win expertly.
“We’re very, very pleased that we got the result,” Irish coach Tom Tierney said.
“It was a bruising encounter, the Aussies are massively physical, we have to recover now ahead of Japan on Sunday.
“They put us under pressure at the ruck area and we’ve definitely got to work on that.”
Hamilton in particular was superb. She got through a mountain of work and was particularly strong in the carry.
She went within inches of scoring from a pick and drive late in the first half, which gave her side front foot ball and led to Parry’s try.
Samoa’s five-pointer came on the back of a barnstorming Hamilton run close to the line too. Again, it pushed her side on to the front foot and Samoa took advantage, carrying two back-pedalling Irish defenders over the line with her.
Australia faces France next, at 4.45am on Monday morning (AEST).