This season’s IRFU Women’s Interprovincial Championship promises to be another keenly-contested competition, with Munster bidding for their sixth title in-a-row and Leinster leading an ever-improving chasing pack.
2011/12 IRFU WOMEN’S INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP:
ROUND 1 FIXTURES:
Saturday, September 3 –
CONNACHT v MUNSTER, Corinthians RFC, 2.30pm
ULSTER v LEINSTER, Ravenhill, 3pm
Munster look like the team to beat once again, especially with their two final group matches being played on home soil. Ireland number 8 Joy Neville captains a squad boasting nine Ireland internationals for the opening weekend’s trip to Connacht.
As ever, the all-conquering UL Bohemians dominate the side with the likes of Niamh Briggs, Niamh Kavanagh and Olivia Stapleton now firmly established at this level.
It is also encouraging to see girls involved from Division 2 South clubs Tralee and Clonmel and Munster Development League outfit Waterford City, who were only formed last season.
The Bristol-based Gillian Bourke adds experience to the reigning champions’ pack, along with lock Heather O’Brien and flanker Laura Guest.
Gary Walsh has taken over the reins as Munster’s head coach this season from John O’Sullivan, with Ben Martin assisting as backs coach.
Connacht’s selected squad, coached by Colm Power and Emer O’Dowd, has been bolstered by the return of players from Tralee and Portlaoise alongside familiar local faces and some new.
Corinthians’ home ground will be a hive of activity on Saturday afternoon with organisers putting on a festival of girls and women’s rugby.
In addition to the senior match at 2.30pm, a Connacht Youth Girls team will take on their Munster counterparts at 12pm and a Connacht Women’s Selection will also face Munster opposition at 1pm.
Meanwhile, the Ulster Women will be hoping to make a winning start to their campaign against Leinster. They have seven new faces in the squad.
There is also the welcome return of Emma Lowe at hooker as part of an all-Cooke front row. She takes the place of Ireland international Stacey Lea Kennedy, who is unavailable for Saturday’s game.
Enniskillen’s exciting young talent Gemma McCutcheon gets her first start in the back row, having featured off the bench last season, alongside Cavan’s Hilary Quinn and the experienced Nikita Armstrong from Cooke.
Division 1 outfit Cooke dominate a back-line that will be marshalled by club-mates Grace Davitt and Imogen Porter at half-back.
The selected back-three includes the returning Eliza Downey at full-back and Belfast Harlequins duo Zoe Templeton and Ashleigh Baxter, with the latter making her debut for the province.
Admission for the interpro opener in Belfast is £6 for adults and £3 for children and is payable at the gate.
Visitors Leinster are led again by Ireland captain Fiona Coghlan and boast plenty of quality in the backs. Watch out for the Blackrock centre combination of Amy Davis and Shannon Houston, and Nora Stapleton and the fit-again Tania Rosser form a very talented half-back pairing.
Up front, it will be interesting to see how former St. Mary’s captain Paula Fitzpatrick gets on in her new position of hooker. She lined out at out-half in last December’s Interpro final at Donnybrook.
Top flight sides Blackrock, St. Mary’s, Navan and Old Belvedere form the back bone of the chosen line-up, but members of the Garda, Wexford Wanderers and Cill Dara clubs also feature.
It is great to see Garda RFC represented at interprovincial level, with Sharron Lynch, Alana Lowe and Áine Ní Chatháin all selected on the bench for Leinster.
Garda won the Leinster League Division 3 title last season and will be competing in Division 2 North of the All-Ireland League from next month.
CONNACHT WOMEN (v Munster): Yvonne Delaney (Portlaoise); Amy O’Callaghan (Highfield), Alison Miller (Portlaoise/Galwegians) (capt), Christine Arthurs (Tralee), Louise Kavanagh (St. Mary’s); Clare Rafferty (Galwegians), Sorcha Ní Chadhain (Galwegians); Maire Hanly (Longford), Natasha Hayword (Galwegians), Ruth O’Reilly (Galwegians), Heather Cary (Galwegians), Yvonne Dowd (Longford), Niamh Fitzgerald (St. Mary’s), Claire Molloy (Bristol/Galwegians), Carol Staunton (Galwegians).
Replacements: Ailish Toner (Young Munster), Karen Lennon (Longford), Leanne McCarty (Tralee), Michelle Barry (Tralee), Nuala Ní Chadhain (Galwegians), Tanala Kehoe (Portlaoise), Elma Beirne.
MUNSTER WOMEN: Niamh Briggs (UL Bohemians); Ashling Hutchins (UL Bohemians), Niamh Kavanagh (UL Bohemians), Nicola Scully (Highfield), Olivia Stapleton (UL Bohemians); Laura O’Mahony (Tralee), Louise Costello (UL Bohemians); Donna Hughes (Highfield), Chris Fanning (Highfield), Gillian Bourke (Bristol), Orlaith Buckley (Highfield), Heather O’Brien (Highfield), Siobhán Fleming (Tralee), Laura Guest (Highfield), Joy Neville (UL Bohemians) (capt).
Replacements: Noreen Cleary (Tralee), Maeve D’Arcy (UL Bohemians), Elaine Anthony (Waterford City), Fiona Hayes (UL Bohemians), Clara Bracken (Clonmel), Claire Keohane (UL Bohemians), Geraldine Rea (Highfield).
ULSTER WOMEN (v Leinster): Eliza Downey (Cooke); Zoe Templeton (Belfast Harlequins), Laura Nicholl (Cooke), Claire McLaughlin (Cooke), Ashleigh Baxter (Belfast Harlequins); Grace Davitt (Cooke), Imogen Porter (Cooke); Lizzie Ballentine (Cooke) (capt), Emma Lowe (Cooke), Lauren Day (Cooke), Glenda Mellon (City of Derry), Brigid Reynolds (Cavan), Gemma McCutcheon (Enniskillen), Hilary Quinn (Cavan), Nikita Armstrong (Cooke).
Replacements: Laura Feely (Sligo), Poppy Cleall (Bristol), Caroline Kelly (Cooke), Shirelle Wilson (Cooke), Larissa Muldoon (UWIC), Rachael Fleming (City of Derry), Nikki Caughey (Belfast Harlequins).
LEINSTER WOMEN: Gill Nolan (St. Mary’s); Katie Fitzhenry (Wexford Wanderers), Amy Davis (Blackrock), Shannon Houston (Blackrock), Ciara Kennedy (Navan); Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere), Tania Rosser (Blackrock); Fiona Coghlan (UL Bohemians) (capt), Paula Fitzpatrick (St. Mary’s), Emer McManamly (Blackrock), Orla Fitzsimmons (St. Mary’s), Deirdre O’Brien (Blackrock), Debbie Clarke (Blackrock), Aoife Ryan (Navan), Louise Austin (Blackrock)
Replacements: Sharron Lynch (Garda), Alana Lowe (Garda), Áine Ní Chatháin (Garda), Ailish Egan (Old Belvedere), Carmela Morey (Cill Dara), Laura Hailey (Old Belvedere), Tammy Breen (Blackrock).
MATCHES TO COME:
Saturday, September 10 –
MUNSTER v ULSTER, Garryowen FC, 1pm
LEINSTER v CONNACHT, Ashbourne RFC, 6pm
Saturday, September 17 –
ULSTER v CONNACHT, Ballymoney RFC, 2.30pm
MUNSTER v LEINSTER, Highfield RFC, 3pm