Katie Fitzhenry’s class of 2022 equalled Ireland’s best ever finish at a Rugby Europe Under-18 Women’s Sevens Championship by winning bronze in Prague.

The Ireland U-18 Women’s Sevens team (sponsored by PwC) began day two with their fourth win of the tournament, beating hosts Czechia 26-5 to guarantee themselves a medal.

An Amy Larn hat-trick was the highlight of that game, but Spain (26-5) and eventual champions France (46-0) ultimately proved too strong as the high temperatures and rigours of their first international Sevens tournament took their toll.

Still, Ireland have a number of bright prospects emerging from a squad that matched the feats of the 2018 bronze medal-winning Irish side, which included future senior internationals Beibhinn Parsons, Megan Burns, Dorothy Wall, Meabh Deely, Anna Doyle and Lucinda Kinghan.

Athy’s Larn and Hannah Clarke from Tuam/Oughterard finished as Ireland’s joint-top try scorers with five each. Tullow’s Katie Corrigan had three tries, including a brace against Belgium yesterday.

Czechia edged ahead of Ireland in the second minute of their Pool F encounter, working Julie Durychova over from close range after Molly Boote was harshly sin-binned for what was adjudged to be a high tackle.

The girls in green regrouped quickly, though, and some nice interplay between Tara O’Neill and Larn saw the latter take a return pass to score under the posts. Caitriona Finn converted.

The impressive Larn then took a lovely line to add a second score, hurtling onto a pass from Corrigan. Strong tackles from Larn and winger Clarke prevented the Czechs from responding before half-time.

12-5 became 19-5 inside 90 seconds of the restart as Larn broke from a scrum on halfway and a subsequent penalty allowed Boote to put O’Neill charging in under the posts. The extras came from Éabha Nic Dhonnacha.

There was no denying Larn her hat-trick try in the 12th minute, as she weaved over from inside the Czech 22, rewarding Nic Dhonnacha’s initial turnover and a strong carry up the left wing from Robyn O’Connor.

The home side came with a late surge, with Ireland down to six players again following a second yellow for Boote. However, Nic Dhonnacha and Ellen Boylan led a determined defence that forced a final knock-on.

It was a stalemate in Ireland’s Pool G opener until Spain broke the deadlock in the sixth minute. Ariane Torrontegi converted a two-on-one opportunity, with Carolina Rodriguez adding the extras.

Fitzhenry’s charges were unable to profit from a Larn break off a scrum, and just before the interval, Boylan surged downfield to threaten a try but her offload was knocked on by the supporting Larn.

Two converted tries at the start of the second half knocked the stuffing out of Ireland’s challenge, with Spain making breaks out wide and using good support to push into a 21-0 lead.

Rodriguez and Isis Espuga both touched down, before O’Neill lifted her team with a terrific carry from the restart. It gave Ireland a foothold in Spanish territory and eventually led to a try.

Showing her sharpness again off a scrum, Larn attacked the blindside and had the pace to get over in the right corner with just over two minutes remaining.

A stolen lineout allowed Spain to have the final say, some crisp handling on the left setting up Victoria Rosell to jink through and make it a four tries-to-one triumph (26-5).

France had been in dominant form across the first five rounds, a class apart really, and Ireland also found it tough going against them. An early turnover paved the way for Lilou Graciet to touch down to the right of the posts.

Strong running by Boylan and O’Connor gave Ireland hard-earned territory, but a breakaway score from Hawa Tounkara – while Ireland had two players needing treatment – saw France take a 12-0 lead.

Les Bleues used their advantages in terms of pace and power, another turnover seeing them attack both wings and Tounkara bagged her brace to the left of the posts.

Ireland’s frustration grew, O’Connor making a superb break from deep but she lacked support. From the resulting penalty, the French broke downfield and clinically claimed their fourth try through Enoe Neri, leaving it 24-0.

Good angles of running and passing released Lina Tuy to score the opening try of the second half. The scrum half soon completed her brace, being the beneficiary of an offload popped off the ground.

Worse followed for Ireland as Pauline Barrat crossed out wide on the right, with Corrigan yellow carded for her high tackle on the try scorer.

The French defence was tested late on, but Larn knocked on in an attacking situation and from the resulting scrum, Tuy broke free from a scrum to complete a classy hat-trick past the final hooter.

While disappointed to finish on a losing note, the Ireland U-18s can hold their heads high as they added to the IRFU Sevens Programme’s excellent medal haul and list of achievements for 2022.

IRELAND UNDER-18 WOMEN’S SEVENS Squad (2022 Rugby Europe U-18 Women’s Sevens Championship, Prague, Czech Republic, July 23-24, 2022):

Molly Boote (Connemara RFC/Connacht) WNTS
Ellen Boylan (Carrick-on-Suir RFC/Munster)
Hannah Clarke (Tuam/Oughterard RFC/Connacht) WNTS
Katie Corrigan (Tullow RFC/Leinster)
Caitriona Finn (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster) WNTS
Kate Flannery (Fethard RFC/Munster) WNTS
Éabha Nic Dhonnacha (Galway Corinthians RFC/Connacht) WNTS
Amy Larn (Athy RFC/Leinster)
Robyn O’Connor (Wexford Wanderers RFC/Leinster)
Amy O’Mahony (Greystones RFC/Leinster)
Tara O’Neill (Cooke RFC/Ulster)
Eva Sterritt (Greystones RFC/Leinster) (capt) WNTS

WNTS = member of Women’s National Talent Squad

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