The feelgood factor surrounding Irish Women’s rugby is sure to extend to the IRFU Women’s Interprovincial Championship, with increased crowds expected to watch the provinces battle it out for the title between September 6 and 20.
2014/15 IRFU WOMEN’S INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP:
ROUND 1 – Saturday, September 6
CONNACHT WOMEN v LEINSTER WOMEN, Crowley Park, Galwegians RFC, 3pm
ULSTER WOMEN v MUNSTER WOMEN, Kingspan Stadium, 3pm
Connacht Women will heed little history on Saturday as they open their campaign against Leinster at Galwegians RFC. While recent results favour the visitors, little separated the two in last week’s pre-season clash. The only gaps of any consequence to captain Ruth O’Reilly this week are those she and her colleagues will seek to exploit.
“This is a mobile squad. We have a gameplan to suit that mobility, and we’ve seen glimpses of it against Ulster and Leinster in the past few weeks,” said O’Reilly.
“We’re all confident we can up the ante further and there’s no more worthy an occasion than an interpro opener at home.”
Buoyed by 2013 Six Nations success and a best ever World Cup finish, Connacht Women’s rugby is also riding high. Aside from a Branch contribution, the westerners have also secured corporate assistance from Galway-headquartered ‘The City Bin Co.’
And while City Bin’s iconic red colour scheme suggests allegiance to one of the other camps, marketing and online profile manager Oisin Browne said The City Bin Co. allegiance lay firmly with the locals.
“Women’s rugby in Ireland is on the up. Our office is full of rugby fans and we share a common thread with these girls in that they’re looking to make history, shake up the status quo, and take on the heavyweights. We wish them all the very best for September and we’re right behind them,” he said.
Forwards coach George Naoupu, a Super Rugby graduate from rugby stronghold Christchurch, has plied his trade to full effect over two stints with Connacht. Charged with steering the Galwegians Women last winter, he and 12 of this year’s Interpro squad enjoyed All-Ireland Cup success in 2014.
“It’s a big jump up in standard from club to rep rugby but it’s great so many of this squad have tasted national success. You don’t win All-Ireland medals by accident and all those involved know what it took to get there,” explained Naoupu.
“They know they’ve a few fairly serious weeks ahead but they also know how to build a successful result from 80 short minutes of good footy. You do it in the first minute, and you do it through to the last.”
Meanwhile, Leinster head coach Robert Forbes will have to do so without a long list of absentees for the Championship. Ireland captain Fiona Coghlan has retired. So too have Fionnuala Gleeson, Alana Lowe and Carmela Morley. Sarah Cranley, Michelle Claffey and Chrissy Doyle have fallen to injury.
Coghlan’s World Cup colleagues Ailis Egan, Marie Louise Reilly, Sophie Spence, Paula Fitzpatrick, Tania Rosser, Nora Stapleton and Jenny Murphy have been withheld by the player welfare programme. Shannon Houston, Hannah Tyrrell and Katie Fitzhenry are away with the Ireland Sevens squad.
However, Ireland’s Vikki McGinn, Orla Fitzsimons and Sharon Lynch did not play enough in last month’s World Cup to merit their withdrawal and they will be central characters for this Donnelly Fruit & Veg-sponsored Leinster side.
“It is what it is. Every coach and every player wants to win. From the IRFU’s perspective, there is a dual purpose in that they are looking to develop players and manage the rest period for those at the World Cup. That is understandable,” explained Forbes.
“I think it would be fair to say the Interpros are more open this year because we are all going in a touch blind, knowing less about each other than ever before”.
Hooker Ann-Marie Rooney takes over the captaincy from the injured Claffey and Ruth McElroy will be expected to set the terms of reference for Leinster’s physicality whereas half-backs Ailsa Hughes and Aoife Tyrrell will have to provide direction in a squad drawn together from thirteen clubs representing a wide rural spread through the likes of Tullamore, Cill Dara, Portlaoise, Tullow and Carlow.
“We’re building a new squad at Leinster. That’s the position we’re in. Long term, it should be very beneficial for us when we get the internationals back together with the girls who develop this season.
“They (the new players introduced) will have a very low rugby mileage on the clock. The experience is going to be phenomenal for them. They have worked exceptionally hard to get where they are. It has been a great adventure for them,” he added.
CONNACHT WOMEN: Emer O’Mahony (Tralee); Niamh Ni Dhroma (Buccaneers), Emma Clery (Galwegians), Lisa McDonagh (Galwegians), Jill Draper (Tullamore); Nicole Fowley (Sligo), Mary Healy (Galwegians); Laura Feely (Galwegians), Ciara O’Connor (Galwegians), Ruth O’Reilly (Galwegians) (capt), Rita Breen (NUIG), Marion Sheridan (Tuam/Galwegians), Grainne Egan (St. Mary’s), Heather Cary (Galwegians), Christine Arthurs (Tralee).
Replacements: Jean Moore (Portlaoise), Edel Durkin (Tuam), Edel McMahon (NUIG/Galwegians), Darwyn O’Halloran (Castlebar), Catriona Cassidy (Portlaoise), Rhona Julian (NUIG), Jacqui Mulligan (Sligo).
LEINSTER WOMEN: Vikki McGinn (Blackrock College); Sara Phelan (Clondalkin), Elise O’Byrne-White (Old Belvedere), Claire Ryan (Railway Union), Janice Daly (Old Belvedere); Aoife Tyrrell (Blackrock College), Ailsa Hughes (Tullamore); Ruth McElroy (Old Belvedere), Ann-Marie Rooney (St. Mary’s College) (capt), Fiona O’Brien (Old Belvedere), Ciara Cooney (Tullow), Ciara Munnelly (NUIM Barnhall), Katie Norris (Blackrock College), Jennie Finlay (Navan), Sharon Lynch (Old Belvedere).
Replacements: Joanna Mahon (County Carlow), Orla Fitzsimons (St. Mary’s College), Aoife Maher (Railway Union), Niamh Fitzgerald (St. Mary’s College), Meg Parkinson (County Carlow), Aine Donnelly (Cill Dara), Amy O’Neill (Blackrock College), Kim Flood (Railway Union).
The Ulster Women’s team – sponsored by the Errigle Inn – to play Munster in Saturday’s first interprovincial game includes a number of newcomers to this level.
Head coach Jonathan Gillespie has handed first competitive starts to talented Queen’s University backs Peita McAlister and Emma Jordan, as well as Cooke flanker Hannah Kilgore and Exiles full-back Vicky Irwin.
That inexperience is offset by the inclusion of the experienced Ilse van Staden, Sorcha Chipperfield and captain Nikita Armstrong.
In addition, there are six new faces on the bench in the form of Shannon Heapes, Sabrina Higgins, Stacey Sloan, Steffi Clarke, Laura Johnston and Rebecca Smyth.
Speaking ahead of the round 1 clash, Gillespie said: “Everyone involved is really looking forward to the series and particularly the opening game against Munster – it will be a great marker to see where we are at.
“It’s exciting to see new players involved and that is testament to the great work carried out by Ulster Rugby’s Female Rugby Officers, as well as the many coaches and volunteers in our clubs and schools. I’d like to thank everyone for their support so far and I’m sure that will continue throughout the Interpros.”
Children under 16 will gain free entry to the Ulster Women v Munster Women fixture, with adult tickets available for just £5. You can click here to buy tickets now to avoid lengthy queues at the gate. Please note that entry to this game is not valid with an Ulster Rugby Season Ticket.
Free parking is available within Kingspan Stadium and can be accessed only via the Mount Merrion entrance. It is strongly recommended that anyone who plans to park within the grounds should purchase tickets in advance for themselves and any passengers.
Supporters who do not require parking can enter the ground via the Onslow Parade entrance only. Gates will open 90 minutes before kick-off (3pm).
Meanwhile, players from Highfield and UL Bohemians make up the bulk of a youthful Munster squad coached by Wayne Falvey and sponsored by Keanes Jewellers. A number of the province’s Ireland internationals are not included after an exhausting World Cup in France.
Head coach Falvey took the reins in June and he has been happy with the standard set in training over the last number of weeks.
“There is a young squad there and they are in there because they’re the best players and they’ve trained very well over the last few weeks,” said Falvey.
“And hopefully now they can take their chance in the red jersey. Only two of the girls from the international set-up are after coming back – Fiona Hayes and Laura Guest, who captains the side. The rest are ruled out after so much involvement at the World Cup.
“There’s definitely young talent coming through and there’s a great opportunity now for them to stake their claim.
“There is big potential in the squad for the next generation of international players so this is their opportunity to show what they’re made of.
“It’s a difficult task going up to Ulster for the first game but if we can play the way we’re training at the moment the result will follow and hopefully that will have a knock-on effect for the following weekend against Leinster and we can start off on a strong note.”
ULSTER WOMEN: Vicky Irwin (Ormskirk); Emma Jordan (Queen’s University), Pieta McAlister (Queen’s University), Claire McLaughlin (Queen’s University), Zoe Templeton (Queen’s University); Jemma Jackson (Queen’s University), Imogen Porter (Queen’s University); Ilse van Staden (Belfast Harlequins), Lesley Megarity (Belfast Harlequins), Nikita Armstrong (Cooke) (capt), Sorcha Chipperfield (Cooke), Lizzie Ballentine (Cooke), Shirelle Wilson (Cooke), Hannah Kilgore (Cooke), Lauren Maginnes (Queen’s University).
Replacements: Shannon Heapes (Finn Valley), Janine Mullan (Queen’s University), Sabrina Higgins (Carrick), Laura Johnston (Cooke), Rebecca Smyth (Belfast Harlequins), Noreen Nethercot (Enniskillen), Steffi Clarke (Queen’s University), Stacey Sloan (City Of Derry).
MUNSTER WOMEN: Mairead Kelly (UL Bohemians); Deirbhile Nic A Bhaird (Highfield), Ger Rea (Highfield), Nicola Scully (Highfield), Ashling Hutchings (UL Bohemians); Laura O’Mahony (Tralee), Mona Fehily (Highfield); Fiona Hayes (UL Bohemians), Amy Desmond (Highfield), Leah Lyons (Fermoy), Gerda Coyne (Highfield), Elaine Anthony (Highfield), Roisin Ormond (Highfield), Ciara Griffin (Tralee), Laura Guest (Highfield) (capt).
Replacements: Kate Sheehan (UL Bohemians), Maura Collins (Abbeyfeale), Leah Barbour (UL Bohemians), Maeve Darcy (UL Bohemians), Marie Eviston (UL Bohemians), Ayesha Roche (Tralee), Mollie O’Donnell (UL Bohemians), Michelle Barry (Tralee).