Saturday’s Women’s AIL final at Waterpark RFC (3pm) between Shannon and UL Bohs promises to be a fiercely fought Limerick derby featuring almost half the Ireland squad for next month’s World Cup
The crowd may be reduced by the distance to the venue and the fact that the game clashes with both clubs’ semi-final play-offs in Divisions One and Two of the men’s AIL respectively, but it promises to be a cracking contest
between the country’s top two teams.
Shannon are the defending champions having beaten Highfield 12-0 in last
season’s decider in front of a bumper four-figure crowd at Thomond Park, but UL Bohs have proved most impressive new kids on the block. The University of Limerick has served as a real rugby nursery for many of the current Shannon team over a number of years, but it has only been this season that UL Bohs has fielded a senior side in women’s AIL One. Bolstered by the signing of two student Shannon stars, peerless Ireland fullback Sarahjane Belton and her fellow international, centre Patrique Kelly, UL Bohs actually finished top of the league table in their first term as a top flight team.
They beat Shannon 6-5 when these sides met during the league proper earlier in the season, two penalties from the prolific Belton giving UL Bohs victory and helping ensure that her former club had to settle for runners-up spot.
UL Bohs and Shannon had comfortable wins over Belfast club Cooke and Blackrock respectively in last month’s play-off semi-finals, to set up this weekend’s mouth-watering decider.
Ireland women’s coach Donal O’Leary, incidentally Director of Rugby Development at the University of Limerick, will be hoping that the many internationals on parade come through unscathed with the World Cup in Spain now only four weeks away. Even in the absence of Irish lock Maeve Quirke, who missed last Friday night’s final Six Nations match in France with a damaged collarbone and O’Leary’s heavily pregnant wife, Jennifer, UL Bohs can still field no fewer than eight capped players plus three current A internationals.
As well as the brilliant Belton and impressive captain Kelly, UL Bohs have been fortunate, through the O’Leary link, to pick up three internationals from Connacht following the demise of their former club, Corinthians, and veteran Ireland hooker Elaine Collins, a former exile.
Shannon, by contrast, have only six full internationals, plus a couple capped at A level, but boast a big, hard tight five which should give them the edge in the close-quarter combat up front.
Hardwoman Olivia Brown anchors an all-international frontrow which also
features new Ireland sensation Jean Lonergan and the formidable Joss Hanrahan, still considered by most to be the country’s top No 2 when fully fit.
Brown’s sister Rosemary, Shannon’s skipper for the second season running,
forms a very solid engineroom pairing with Irish lock Rosie Foley and, with the incomparable Fiona Steed in the back row, the defending champions have a great pack.
They also possess two very physical centres in teenage full international Rachel Tucker and the powerful Sinead Delany, a player who seems set to wear the green jersey in the future. Ireland A players Denise Tracey (pictured) and
Amanda Greensmith line out at flyhalf and fullback respectively.
Much will depend on Collins and Connacht international loose forwards Mary O’Loughlin and Carmel Murphy if UL Bohs are to contain Shannon up front but, in the absence of Quirke, a big contribution is also needed from
Ireland A squad members Fiona Coughlan, Lysa Coburn and Caroline Mahon.
If UL Bohs do get enough ball, their Ireland halfbacks Louise Beamish and Connacht Kiwi Rochelle Howell are capable of bringing the dangerous Belton, Kelly and Lynn Cantwell into play.
This one could be a classic.
The big game is actually the third final of the day at Waterpark, following the Development League decider between Trinity and Athboy (noon) and the Division Two clash between Cork clubs, Clonakilty and Midleton.