Tense finishes, nail-biting moments and some high scoring games were the order of the day for the second round of matches in the Women’s All-Ireland League, writes Aisling Crowe.
WOMEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: Sunday, September 27
COOKE 27 UL BOHEMIANS 32, Shaw’s Bridge
BLACKROCK 6 OLD BELVEDERE 5, Stradbrook
HIGHFIELD 20 ST. MARY’S 5, Woodleigh Park
RAILWAY UNION 48 QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY 0, Park Avenue
The most dramatic conclusions were played out in two contrasting games as Blackrock came out on top by the narrowest of margins in a thrilling Dublin derby, overcoming defending champions Old Belvedere by a single point at Stradbrook.
The reigning queens of Irish rugby, Old Belvedere were besieged by their capital city rivals in the opening 40 minutes as the first half was played mainly in ‘Belvo territory. Despite their territorial dominance, it took Blackrock until the stroke of half-time to get off the mark.
Michelle Claffey (pictured below), making her comeback from the cruciate ligament injury she sustained last season, was nerveless when confronted with a penalty kick to put send her side into a 3-0 lead.
Old Belvedere regained their composure at the interval and returned to the pitch a vastly different side. The title holders turned the screw on the leaders and Blackrock cracked, Debbie Clarke receiving a yellow card after 48 minutes for persistent infringements around the breakdown by her team.
Ireland international Ailis Egan crossed for the game’s only try with an hour played. From a scrum on the 22, the Belvedere prop gathered the ball and broke down the left to score. Her international colleague Nora Stapleton was unable to add the conversion.
The Stradbrook air crackled with tension as the seconds counted down. With two minutes remaining, Old Belvedere conceded a penalty. Claffey duly put over the three-pointer and proved the returning heroine for Blackrock with her two penalties at the end of each half winning the game.
Sunday’s action began in Belfast with newly-promoted Cooke opening their campaign against UL Bohemians.
It was a pulsating battle with the newcomers proving they are comfortable sitting at the top table. The momentum swung first one way and then the other in a thrilling encounter that saw ten tries amid plenty of attacking verve.
A hat-trick of tries from player of the game, Liz Burke, two more by Edel Murphy and a penalty and two conversions from Ireland’s Six Nations-winning captain Niamh Briggs helped UL Bohs to win 32-27 but their hosts almost snatched victory in their first game at this level.
After the Limerick side took an early lead, Cooke settled into the game and scrum half Beth Cregan becoming their first player to score in Division 1 this season. Hooker Lesley Megarity crashed over for a second Cooke try and another front rower, Ilse van Staden, added a third before the half-time.
UL Bohs came charging back at the northerners and regained the lead early in the second half, but prop Nikita Armstrong grabbed a try, converted by back rower Hannah Kilgore.
The Limerick outfit regained the lead and with six minutes left to play it looked like all the points were heading south. Out-half Eliza Downey (pictured above) got Cooke’s fifth try after 78 minutes to set up a grandstand finish, but Bohs clung on for a hard-fought win while Cooke had to settle for two bonus points.
At Park Avenue, Railway Union whitewashed a beleaguered Queen’s side. The Dubliners ran in eight tries, including a brace from Ireland Sevens international Martina McCarthy (pictured above), as part of their 48 unanswered points.
Highfield opened their win account with an encouraging performance at home to St. Mary’s, running out 20-5 winners over the Dubliners.
ROUND 3 FIXTURES: Sunday, October 4
Kick-off 1pm unless stated –
GALWEGIANS v HIGHFIELD, Crowley Park
OLD BELVEDERE v RAILWAY UNION, Anglesea Road
QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY v COOKE, Dub Lane
ST. MARY’S v BLACKROCK, Templeville Road
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