Portadown RFC and the Sportsground in Galway play host to the two opening fixtures of this season’s IRFU Women’s Interprovincial Championship as Ulster entertain Leinster and Connacht tackle defending champions Munster. Kate Rowan previews Saturday’s games.
IRFU WOMEN’S INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Saturday, August 22
ROUND 1 –
ULSTER v LEINSTER, Portadown RFC, 3pm
CONNACHT v MUNSTER, the Sportsground, 3pm
Ulster suffered a winless interprovincial run in 2014 but with the arrival of Philip Doyle, who coached Ireland’s Women to the 2013 Grand Slam and the semi-finals of the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup, as co-coach with experienced Australian Jarrett Truscott, there could be a reversal of fortunes.
The coaching team is not the only exciting aspect as Ulster boast a gritty forward pack including captain Lesley Megarity playing at hooker, who has developed a terrific reputation for leading by example.
A highlight of Ulster’s match-up against Leinster will be the hosts’ back-line which mixes exceptional experience with likes of former Ireland internationals Grace Davitt, Eliza Downey and Amy Davis as well as explosive young talent such as scrum half Kathryn Dane who was involved in Ireland Under-18 Sevens side last season and is seen very much as a star of the future.
Leinster, however, boast the star power in this fixture as six of their starting team were involved in the Ireland side that won the Six Nations earlier this year. One of the stand-out performers of the Six Nations campaign, tighthead prop Ailis Egan, will captain the Blues while many eyes will be on Sophie Spence starting at blindside flanker – she has been shortlisted for the 2015 World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year award.
Connacht will have plenty of motivation for their round 1 encounter with Munster as it is the reigning champions who struck with a late penalty to deny the westerners the interprovincial title last season.
Connacht’s captain and Six Nations-winning loosehead Ruth O’Reilly is unavailable for this fixture due to injury, but with the likes of dynamic hooker Ciara O’Connor and scrum half Mary Healy both knocking on the door for international selection, expect the West to be very much awake.
From a Munster perspective it is difficult to overlook the selection of their captain Niamh Briggs at out-half rather than at full-back where she has made her name on the international stage, and what this will bring to the Munster game-plan.
ULSTER: Teah Maguire (Cooke); Amy Davis (Cooke), Grace Davitt (Cooke), Claire McLaughlin (Queen’s University), Eliza Downey (Cooke); Jemma Jackson (Queen’s University), Kathryn Dane (Enniskillen); Ilse van Staden (Cooke), Lesley Megarity (Cooke) (capt), Nikita Armstrong (Cooke), Colette Broome (Queen’s University), Naomi McCullagh (Omagh), Niamh Fitzgerald (Old Belvedere), Imogen Porter (Queen’s University), Lauren Maginnes (Queen’s University).
Replacements: Jamie Love (City of Derry), Sorcha Chipperfield (Cooke), Shannon Heapes (City of Derry), Amy O’Neill (Blackrock), Noreen Nethercott (Enniskillen), Stacey Sloan (City of Derry), Zoe Templeton (Queen’s University), Peita McAlister (Queen’s University).
LEINSTER: Jeamie Deacon (Blackrock); Martina McCarthy (Railway Union), Elise O’Byrne White (Old Belvedere), Aine Donnelly (Port Dara), Amy Cotter (Suttonians); Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere), Ailsa Hughes (Railway Union); Fiona O’Brien (Old Belvedere), Sharon Lynch (Old Belvedere), Ailis Egan (Old Belvedere) (capt), Ciara Cooney (Railway Union), Orla Fitzsimons (St. Mary’s), Sophie Spence (Old Belvedere), Jennie Finlay (Railway Union), Paula Fitzpatrick (St. Mary’s).
Replacements: Ann-Marie Rooney (St. Mary’s), Cliodhna Moloney (Railway Union), Ruth McElroy (Old Belvedere), Mairead Holohan (Blackrock), Susan Fogarty (Railway Union), Meg Parkinson (Carlow), Vikki McGinn (Blackrock), Janice Daly McGrath (Old Belvedere).
CONNACHT: Aine Staunton (UL Bohemians); Ursula Sammon (Castlebar), Mairead Coyne (Galwegians), Emma Clery (Galwegians) (capt), Niamh Ni Dhroma (Buccaneers); Nicole Fowley (Railway Union), Mary Healy (Galwegians); Laura Feely (Galwegians), Ciara O’Connor (Galwegians), Eimear Murphy (Ballina/Carlow), Rita Breen (St. Mary’s), Marion Sheridan (Tuam/Galwegians), Edel McMahon (NUIG/Galwegians), Grainne Egan (St. Mary’s), Christine Arthurs (Tralee).
Replacements: Ciara Farrell (Tullamore), Amanda Kelly (Tuam), Ruth O’Reilly (Galwegians), Carol Staunton (Galwegians), Catriona Cassidy (Carlow), Jill Draper (Tullamore), Sene Naoupu (Galwegians), Clare Raftery (Galwegians).
MUNSTER: Valerie Power (Shannon); Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird (Highfield), Niamh Kavanagh (UL Bohemians), Nicola Scully (Highfield), Laura O’Mahony (Tralee); Niamh Briggs (UL Bohemians) (capt), Ellen Murphy (Highfield); Fiona Reidy (UL Bohemians), Amy Desmond (Highfield), Leah Lyon (Highfield), Gerda Coyne (Highfield), Elaine Anthony (Highfield), Siobhan Fleming (Tralee), Ciara Griffin (Tralee), Heather O’Brien (Highfield).
Replacements: Zoe Grattage (Highfield), Maura Collins (Abbeyfeale), Niamh English (Highfield), Róisín Ormond (Highfield), Chloe Pearse (Shannon), Mona Fehily (Highfield), Jayne Pennefather (Highfield), Edel Murphy (UL Bohemians).