FIRST ROUND FIXTURES -
Saturday, November 6:
MUNSTER v CONNACHT, Musgrave Park, 2pm
Munster: Niamh Briggs (UL Bohemians); Olivia Stapleton (UL Bohemians), Mairead Kelly (UL Bohemians), Geraldine Rea (Highfield), Sarah Jane Cody (UL Bohemians); Helen Brosnan (Highfield) (capt), Louise Beamish (UL Bohemians); Laura Guest (Highfield), Chris Fanning (Highfield), Gillian Bourke (Bristol), Karen Casey (Highfield), Heather O'Brien (Highfield), Louise Austin (Blackrock), Siobhan Fleming (Tralee), Helen Jones (Highfield).
Replacements: Kate Sheehan (UL Bohemians), Fiona Reidy (UL Bohemians), Maeve Darcy (Clonmel), Orla Buckley (Highfield), Clara Bracken (Clonmel), Aisling Hutchings (UL Bohemians), Nicola Scully (Clonmel).
Connacht Squad: Anne O'Callaghan, Carol Staunton, Clare Rafferty, Edel Durkin, Grainne Egan, Heather Cary, Maire Murray, Natasha Hayword, Nuala Ni Chadhain, Ruth O'Reilly, Sarah Healy (all Galwegians), Ailish Toner (Young Munster), Christine Arthurs (Tralee), Cliodhna Hughes (Malahide), Emma Cleary (Galbally), Lyndsey O'Neil (St. Mary's), Jean Moore (Portlaoise), Maire Hanly (Longford), Niamh Dempsey (Tralee), Niamh Fitzgerald (St. Mary's), Hortense de Bourdoncle de Saint Salvy (Malahide), Samantha Lulham (Longford), Yvonne Delaney (Portlaoise).
Sunday, November 7 -
LEINSTER v ULSTER, Donnybrook, 2.30pm
Leinster: Gill Nolan; Tammy Breen, Nora Stapleton, Michelle Ross, Ciara Kennedy; Shannon Houston, Amy Davis; Fiona Coghlan, Yvonne Nolan, Emer McManamly, Orla Fitzsimons, Deirdre O'Brien, Carmela Morey, Laura Haley, Sinead Ryan (capt).
Replacements: Ailish Egan, Sarah Crosby, Sheena Moore, AN Other, Fionnuala Gleeson, Paula Fitzpatrick, Katie Fitzhenry.
Ulster: Eliza Downey (Cooke); Teah Maguire (Cooke), Claire McLaughlin (Cooke), Laura Nicholl (Cooke), Laura Stewart (Cooke); Grace Davitt (Cooke), Imogen Porter (Cooke); Lauren Day (Exiles), Stacey Lea Kennedy (City of Derry), Lizzie Ballentine (Cooke) (capt), Glenda Mellon (City of Derry), Christine McDowell (Cooke), Claire Knipe (Belfast Harlequins), Shirelle Wilson (Cooke), Nikita Armstrong (Cooke)
Replacements: Hilary Quinn (Cavan), Lucy Fagan (Cooke), Nicola Dickson (Cooke), Brigid Reynolds (Cavan), Zoe Tepleton (Belfast Harlequins), Kelly Holmes (City of Derry), Alana McCaffrey (Enniskillen)
Musgrave Park and Donnybrook are the places to be if you want to catch the cream of the crop in Irish women's rugby this weekend.
Beginning the defence of their IRFU Women's Interpro Championship title, Munster will entertain an improving Connacht side in their opener at Musgrave Park on Saturday (kick-off 2pm).
Now coached by former Ireland Women's boss John O'Sullivan and ex-international prop Marie Barrett, the reigning champions will once again be the team to beat.
Munster will be without star number 8 Joy Neville for Saturday's game. She is injured but, of their starting line-up to face Connacht, they can still boast eight members of Ireland's 2010 Women's Rugby World Cup squad - UL Bohemians' Niamh Briggs, Mairead Kelly and Louise Beamish, their now Bristol-based Gillian Bourke, the Highfield trio of Helen Brosnan, Laura Guest and Chris Fanning and Blackrock's Louise Austin.
Brosnan, a former Munster Women's Player of the Year award winner, captains the side from out-half, while Highfield second rows Karen Casey and Heather O'Brien, along with their club-mate Helen Jones and Tralee flanker Siobhan Fleming, will all be hoping to impress up front.
Connacht are progressing with each passing season and the success of Claire Molloy, Carol Staunton and Alison Miller on the international stage has certainly acted as a spur for their up-and-coming players.
They are well-structured with Lyndon Jones leading a coaching team that includes Jean Wynne (manager), Jamie Stephens (forwards coach), Emer O'Dowd (strength & conditioning coach) and Wendy Hickey (rugby development).
There has been some rigorous training done at Ballinasloe RFC, a home from home for this season's Connacht squad. While Galwegians continue to provide the bulk of the westerners' players, it is encouraging to see the likes of Galbally, Portlaoise and Longford represented in the panel.
Three open days were held in July and August which put a 40-strong squad in place initially. A feature of this squad is the presence of several development players who have been selected to train alongside the main squad players.
The commitment of these players, with some making long journeys back and forth to training each week, and the obvious progress being made shows you that the future is certainly bright for Connacht women's rugby.
Unfortunately for their trip to Cork, both Miller and Sorcha Ni Chadhain are both injured, while Ireland flanker Molloy is unavailable. But with increased competition for places, Connacht are sure to put in a good showing on Saturday.
Sunday afternoon sees Leinster open their Interpro campaign by welcoming Ulster to Donnybrook. Much focus for the home side will be on converted scrum half Amy Davis, who will don the number 9 jersey that Tania Rosser has worn with such aplomb.
Rosser, who is recovering from the shoulder injury that ruined her World Cup, will have to look on from the sidelines as Dan van Zyl aims for a maiden win with the Leinster girls.
van Zyl has been scanning the province for emerging young players, ably assisted by development officer Jennie Bagnall and members of the management team, Niall Neville, Dave Brennan and Noel Ferguson.
Their team to face Ulster has quite a fresh look to it, with Nora Stapleton, Houston and Davis the only backs included from the Leinster side that started last season's Interpros against Connacht.
The recently retired duo of Orla Brennan and Debbie Clarke are notable absentees in a back row which is led by captain Sinead Ryan, another member of the Irish World Cup squad, at number 8.
Old Belvedere's newly-appointed player-coach Yvonne Nolan lines out in a talented front row alongside Ireland skipper Fiona Coghlan and Emer McManamly.
Former Leinster centre Grace Davitt will start for Ulster at out-half, after her transfer to Belfast-based club Cooke. Davitt and her fellow internationals Eliza Downey and Lauren Day are hoping to inspire Ulster to new heights this season.
The province have a number of young players pushing through, those who have come up through the schools system as well as the clubs' youth ranks - representing the regional development squad at Under-19 level before graduating to the senior panel.
Ulster also have a new coach installed, in the form of Benjy Van Der Byl, who has bedded in well alongside manager Natalie Bryant and assistant coaches Joy Sparkes, Suzanne Fleming and Gareth Bronte.
Their open training sessions in the summer months were very well-attended and over 50 players put themselves in contention to make the squad for the Interpro campaign.
Strength & conditioning coach Alan Withers did some great work with the players, getting them in peak condition for the Championship run. The final squad is a mix of youth and experience, blended together by some constructive training sessions in Dungannon.
One of the most successful schemes run by the Ulster Branch, the Girls' Schools Cup, has been a major contributor to the growth of girls' youth rugby across Ulster and a number of these Schools Cup players, including flanker Shirelle Wilson, were members of the Enniskillen Collegiate side that beat Grovsenor in the Girls' Schools Cup final earlier this year.
There are number of players in the squad who have come through the youths structure having being involved in the game from Minis through to senior. Wilson's back row colleague, Nikita Armstrong, is one such player.
Armstrong started her rugby career at the tender age of seven with Carrickfergus RFC, and now lines out for Cooke.
The new Ulster management will be keen for their charges to lay down a marker in their opening match at Donnybrook. They host title holders Munster at Ravenhill next week in what could be a key game for both sides.
REMAINING FIXTURES -
Saturday, November 13:
Ulster v Munster, Ravenhill, 1.30pm
Connacht v Leinster, the Sportsground, 2.30pm
Sunday, November 28:
Connacht v Ulster, the Sportsground, 2.30pm
Leinster v Munster, Donnybrook, 1pm (tbc)
Saturday, December 4:
Finals, Leinster venue (tbc)