In what was far from Spring-like weather, Ireland’s women became Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam champions for the first and only time in their history on the outskirts of Milan in March 2013.
The stoical 6-3 victory over Italy completed Ireland’s journey from tournament also-rans to the best in Europe, with captain and prop Fiona Coghlan leading the way.
Up until then, Ireland had failed to make much of an impression on the tournament, finishing in the bottom half of the table every year until 2009, when third place became their domain for the next four years.
TBT; on St Patrick’s Day 5 years ago, this happened. Wishing the @IrishRugby rugby men’s squad & management all the best for Saturday, in their bid for Grand Slam Glory 🍀🍀 #irishrugby #rugby #natwest6nations2018 pic.twitter.com/7CmBtFjI5g— Fiona Coghlan (@CoghlanFiona) March 15, 2018
“2012 was an important year in the sense we had some galvanising moments,” said Coghlan, who is currently on maternity leave from her job as a P.E and Maths teacher.
“We had a horrible trip to France, we flew into Paris and then had an overnight train down to Pau. We played that game and only lost by a point (8-7),” she said, citing one of those turning points for the team
“When we came back everyone was just talking about our travel arrangements and the girls were really annoyed, and I was like, ‘why is no-one was talking about the game?’
“I said we’ve basically just got to win something (to improve things) but I certainly didn’t think it would happen the next year.
“Things kind of just came together, I think it was a merging of some new young talent and some older heads and a great management team as well.”
Smash and grab rugby
Coghlan is the first to acknowledge that Ireland’s title bid could have become derailed at the first port of call, in this case, Port Talbot.
“In the first game against Wales, we robbed them basically (winning 12-10). Ali Miller got a toe under a Welsh try to stop them scoring and then we scored one of our best tries of the tournament, a real team try, to win the game.”
Miller would enjoy a fantastic Six Nations, going from try-saver to try-scorer in a real statement win against England.
“Nobody was paying much attention but then we played England next, and when you beat them 25-0, I think people sit up and take notice, particularly in Ireland,” Coghlan pointed out.
“That was just a brilliant game. We played out of our skin that day. England were missing some of their backline for the sevens but their pack was really strong and we fronted up really well.”
Showing blistering pace, Miller scorched home for a hat-trick of tries as England were beaten by Ireland for the first time in women’s rugby history.
“She said the night before she’d dreamt she’d scored a hat-trick but I don’t know about that,” said Coghlan, talking about Miller’s heroics.
“Whatever comes out of Ali’s mouth now, we take with a pinch of salt!”
Drinking in the success
After England, Ireland faced Scotland away.
“Everyone had jumped on the bandwagon and we were going for the Triple Crown,” said the loose-head, who was voted Irish Sportswoman of the Year in 2013.
“We were poor in the first half, really sloppy, but we got it together at half-time and performed really well in the second half.
“People were asking where the Triple Crown trophy was but there wasn’t one for the Women’s Six Nations. Scotland give you this little quaich (drinking vessel) so we were drinking out of that instead, pretending it was the trophy.”
By now, Ireland were just two wins away from achieving what had been unthinkable on the eve of the tournament.
“The French game was International Women’s Day, and for the first time the Irish President came to one of our games,” Coghlan said.
“It was a night game in Ashbourne, really misty and kind of eerie. It’s a small venue with only one tiny stand and you couldn’t see from one side of the pitch to the other.
“That was a brilliant game and we won that one after kicking on after a slow start.
“We knew then that we had the Championship won that weekend because of other results going our way but you don’t want to finish there, you want the Grand Slam.”
Winning is all that matters when the prize is so tantalisingly close, and that’s what Ireland did, grinding out a 6-3 win against Italy in their final game.
“Going to Italy the next week the sun was cracking stones the day before the game and we were out having coffee and it was beautiful. But when we woke up the next day, there was snow and rain,” Coghlan said.
“It was a real leveller and it was not a great game of rugby but I suppose compelling in that it was touch and go right until the end when Joy Neville won a turnover under our posts and we kicked for touch and won the lineout, and that was it, the game was over.”
It’s fair to say, the celebrations went on long into the night.
“It was such a historic and memorable moment for the women’s game in Ireland. There wasn’t much about us before that year,” said Coghlan.
“That whole journey was amazing. I knew we were getting better every year but I genuinely didn’t think we would win the Grand Slam.
“It is still huge, I am still dining out on it now!”