It was celebration time for unbeaten Ulster at Westmanstown RFC on Saturday after a 20-8 win over Munster saw them crowned as the first ever IRFU Under-18 Girls Interprovincial champions.
Claire Boles’ try on the stroke of half-time gave the Ulster girls a 5-3 lead, rewarding their dogged defence as they thwarted Munster’s advances on their line and leaked a lone penalty to Enya Breen.
Eugene McCarthy’s side, who had dominated for long spells of the first half, were on the defensive when play resumed. Boles and Breen’s Ireland U-18 Sevens team-mate Brittany Hogan was denied by a knock-on as she pressed for Ulster’s opening try.
However, Ulster’s inspirational captain Neve Jones from Malone soon broke through Munster’s well-organised defence for her fourth try of the tournament, Lisa Mullen converting and then adding a penalty to open up a significant 15-3 advantage.
Munster set up a grandstand finish with an unconverted effort from winger Stephanie Nunan, another member of the Ireland U-18 Sevens squad. It was just reward for some excellent passing and angled running from the lively Munster backs.
But Ulster – coached by David Chambers, Zoe Templeton and Charlie Farrell, and backboned by players from the likes of Cavan, Monaghan and Enniskillen – made certain of their victory with a deserved late try from hard-working centre Hogan, who took a straight line off a scrum to force her way over.
Meanwhile, the Leinster girls signed off with a tremendous 52-7 victory over Connacht to finish as the Interpro Series runners-up at Westmanstown. Portlaoise flyer and Ireland U-18 Sevens ace Eimear Corri starred with a five-try contribution, impressing this time at outside centre and as team captain.
Aoife Thompson’s charges proved too strong for Connacht, who battled hard throughout and had some impressive individual displays from full-back Ellie Dillane (one of five Westport players in the starting line-up), try-scoring prop Jessica Loftus and number 8 Elizabeth McNicholas from Tuam.
Leinster head coach Thompson said: “We finally seemed to have a realisation on the pitch that we should move the ball. The main difference was that we got our heads up and we realised the space was wide and we executed well.
“We knew we hadn’t performed in the first two matches. There was so much more in us. We could have been playing for a trophy. We had to settle for the win alone.”
All four provinces can be extremely proud of their efforts during this maiden competitive U-18 campaign, setting a high standard of play which will undoubtedly be built on and improved in 2017, the year that Ireland host the Women’s Rugby World Cup.
UNDER-18 GIRLS INTERPROVINCIAL SERIES RESULTS –
MUNSTER 33 CONNACHT 7, Ballincollig RFC
Scorers: Munster: Tries: Ashling Brosnan, Emily Lane, Hayley Betts, Stephanie Nunan, Enya Breen; Cons: Enya Breen 4
Connacht: Try: Mary O’Grady; Con: Kayley Mannion
ULSTER 10 LEINSTER 5, Armagh RFC
Scorers: Ulster: Tries: Neve Jones, Kelly McCormill
Leinster: Try: Eimear Corri
LEINSTER 0 MUNSTER 0, Seapoint RFC
CONNACHT 5 ULSTER 34, Buccaneers RFC
Scorers: Connacht: Try: Clare Coghlan
Ulster: Tries: Neve Jones 2, Brittany Hogan, Caolinn McCormack, Leah McGoldrick; Cons: Lisa Mullen 3; Pen: Lisa Mullen
LEINSTER 52 CONNACHT 7, Westmanstown RFC
Scorers: Leinster: Tries: Eimear Corri 5, Anna Doyle 2, Kathy Baker; Cons: Megan Burns 5, Eimear Corri
Connacht: Try: Jessica Loftus; Con: Kayley Mannion
MUNSTER 8 ULSTER 20, Westmanstown RFC
Scorers: Munster: Try: Stephanie Nunan; Pen: Enya Breen
Ulster: Tries: Claire Boles, Neve Jones, Brittany Hogan; Con: Lisa Mullen; Pen: Lisa Mullen