Ireland overcame Zimbabwe 26-19 in a very hard fought match to put themselves into the 5th/ 6th play off against the UK on Saturday evening. Zimbabwe will face USA in the 7th/ 8th play off on Sunday morning.
It was a very close match throughout and until the last couple of chukkas there was never more than a couple of goals in it. The first chukka ended 2 all as the ladies section matched each other goal for goal, though when Joanne Lavery missed her first shot at goal Ireland’s fans must have wondered if it was going to be one of those days. However, she and the Irish ladies recovered well and after that there weren’t many mistakes from them in the whole match, certainly towards the end they were on flying form.
In the men’s section Zimbabwe have some very good, skillful players who can score some very fast goals and when they get on a run they are dangerous. Ireland’s men needed to cope with that and cope with it they did. They managed to more than match them for posessiion during the match, with Seb Chambers again doing some good work in the line out and in the goal scoring area. Luke Brandon also won ball for himself, made and scored some great goals, the Zimbabwe number 3’s threw everything at him but he took it all and still found his way through to the goal posts. Conor Doyle also had a good game in the number 2 shirt, there was one great tackle on Danie Swan followed by a brilliant offside pick up to turn over possession for Ireland, as well as a lot of hard work riding players off.
However, they were never going to stop Zimbabwe scoring altogether and for the first few chukkas the two teams pretty much traded goals and the lead. At the end of the second it was 5-4 Zimbabwe, the end of the third saw Zimbabwe lead 8-7 (though Debbie Harris did miss a couple of chances in this chukka after she had taken over the number 1 shirt) but when the hooter sounded at the end of the fourth Ireland were 11-10 in the lead after a strong chukka from their men’s section.
They stretched this lead in the fifth to 14-12 as Joanne Lavery took back the number 1 shirt and with Debbie Harris and Dara Mangan back behind her they managed to outscore the Zimbabwean ladies 3-2. Sophie Sargeant and Suzanne Sargeant combined well for some Zimbabwe goals but Ireland were winning more ball.
Zimbabwe were definitely not out of it yet and the fifth chukka saw them get on a run of goals. Ross Shand came back into the number 1 shirt, having been rested for chukka 4, and he played brilliantly, Seb Chambers couldn’t stop him scoring at all and one of the catches he made to pull in a high ball in the area was absolutely top class. However, Ireland’s men did enough to keep it level and the chukka ended with the score tied up at 17 all.
The fifth chukka proved decisive. Ireland’s ladies fired on all cylinders and when Zimbabwe got the ball they couldn’t convert. Dara Mangan was outstanding at number 3 and Joanne Lavery was now scoring very freely, with some beautiful gioals going between the posts. Debbie Harris was her normal self in the number 2 shirt, grabbing any loose ball around her and charging through the Zimbabwe defence to deliver it to Lavery. There are few number 2’s who can influence a game as much as her when she is on top form. She is a brilliant player in any postion but the fact Ireland can afford to use her as a number 2 a lot of the time, and put Managan and Lavery in at 3 and 1 respectively, means that she can have a huge impact in midfield. The chukkas ended with Ireland in the lead by 22-18.
Zimbabwe’s men needed a fight back in the last and, with players like Danie Swan, Graham Keith and Ross Shand, both sets of fans knew they were very capable of doing it. Ireland got a free throw to start the chukak though and converted it for a five goal cushion. After that they frustrated Zimbabwe, they won ball through Seb Chambers who took his time working his way up the pitch and delivering it to Luke Brandon, who also took his time to score. They repeated this a couple of times, Danie Swan tried his best in the Zimbabwean defensive area, he went on the attack against Brandon, on one occasion chasing him across the area laying in multiple tackles but Brandon held onto the ball and turned away from Swan, who overshot meaning Brandon could simply ride to the goal and add another one to Ireland’s side of the scoreboard.
The final scoreboard read 26-19 and Ireland had their second win of the world cup, which regardless of what happens in the 5th/6th play off will be one of their best results. However, they will obviously be very keen to win their last match as well, particularly seeing they face their local rivals the UK in the 5th / 6th play off