Two closely-contested matches on the opening weekend of this season’s IRFU Women’s Interprovincial Championship ended in hard-fought wins for Connacht and Munster, writes Aisling Crowe.
IRFU WOMEN’S INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Saturday, December 3
ROUND 1 –
CONNACHT WOMEN 8 LEINSTER WOMEN 5, Tuam RFC
Scorers: Connacht: Try: Mairead Coyne; Pen: Clare Raftery
Leinster: Try: Eimear Corri
HT: Connacht Women 5 Leinster Women 0
Leinster travelled west hoping to begin a successful title challenge in Tuam with a third successive victory over Connacht, but they found themselves faced with a team determined to exorcise the ghosts of those near misses.
Five of Connacht’s starting line-up were making their debuts for the province, including Tullamore forward Nichola Fryday who won two Ireland caps last month, while Galway Gaelic footballer Orla Dixon took her Connacht bow on the wing.
Full-back Mairead Coyne was instrumental in Connacht’s thrilling three-point win, scoring the decisive try that gave the home side a 5-0 half-time lead. At the 20-minute mark, the westerners’ forwards took the direct route and showed good ball retention before the Leinster defence was sucked in and the ball moved wide for Ireland international Coyne to finish.
Leinster, who were missing quite a few of their internationals, came back at Connacht after the break and the Connacht defence, which had held firm despite everything thrown at them, buckled as Leinster’s teenage winger Eimear Corri flew in from halfway for an excellent 54th-minute try. Jenny Murphy’s conversion attempt fell just short.
However, a sin-binning for Leinster lock Susan Fogarty was followed by a well-struck penalty from Clare Raftery, nudging Connacht back in front and they held on in a tense finish.
“We had lots of possession but we should have been more clinical with it,” said head coach John-Paul Walsh, the former Connacht Junior and Under-17 coach who enjoyed a perfect start to his tenure with the Connacht Women’s side on Saturday.
“We have been back in training since the middle of June and that has stood to the team. There was one defensive blip in the second half which ended up in a try scored against us but the girls played very well.
“I’m pleased with the result. The squad is small with only 25 players so any injuries put us under pressure but everyone is driving each other on to step up to the next level.”
For Leinster’s new head coach Adam Griggs, it was how Connacht used the ball that was the decisive factor in their success. The New Zealander admitted: “It was a close enough contest but when Connacht had the ball, they controlled it better than us and did more with it than we did when we were in possession.”
CONNACHT WOMEN: Mairead Coyne; Orla Dixon, Shannon Touhey, Emma Clery (capt), Ursula Sammon; Clare Raftery, Jill Draper; Laura Feely, Ciara O’Connor, Anne-Marie O’Hora, Amelie Roux, Mar Sheridan, Heather Cary, Grainne Egan, Nichola Fryday.
Replacements: Eimear Murphy, Valerie Mitchell, Caroline Staunton, Tara Buggie, Carol Staunton, Shannen Lane, Mary Healy, Niamh Connolly.
LEINSTER WOMEN: Ali Coleman; Eimear Corri, Niamh Byrne, Jenny Murphy, Meaghan Kenny; Michelle Claffey, Ailsa Hughes; Manuela McCarthy, Jennie Finlay, Fiona O’Brien, Susan Fogarty, Mairead Holohan, Katie Norris, Dawn Smith, Carmela Morley (capt).
Replacements: Ann-Marie Rooney, Lindsay Peat, Joanna Mahon, Ciara Cooney, Juliet Short, Niamh Griffin, Nora Stapleton, Shauna O’Brien.
ULSTER WOMEN 3 MUNSTER WOMEN 16, Kingspan Stadium
Scorers: Ulster: Pen: Jemma Jackson
Munster: Tries: Leah Lyons, Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird; Pens: Ellen Murphy, Edel Murphy
HT: Ulster Women 3 Munster Women 8
Defending champions Munster made the trip north to Belfast in possession of a pack laden with internationals, seven of the eight who started have experience of Test rugby, with Niamh Kavanagh, a try scorer against New Zealand last Sunday, slotting in at outside centre. Winger Eimear Considine, who is a member of the Ireland Sevens squad, made her debut for Munster.
This Ulster team is vastly inexperienced compared to Munster, boasting Claire McLaughlin as their sole current Ireland international but they were not overawed by the challenge they faced.
Indeed, Ulster’s defence held firm, rebuffing Munster’s attacks for much of the first half and restricting their opponents to a solitary try in the opening 40 minutes which finished 8-3 in Munster’s favour. Ireland front rower Leah Lyons piled over the line in the 24th minute after the visitors had put width on the ball and then built through the phases closer in.
Centre McLaughlin broke through the Munster defence to set up a 34th minute penalty which Jemma Jackson converted, but the defending champions restored their five-point lead with a place-kick from Ellen Murphy.
Ulster, who lost 43-0 in last year’s corresponding fixture, were unable to transfer their second half pressure onto the scoreboard and it was the Munster girls who scored next through an Edel Murphy penalty with five minutes to go.
With time running out, a cruel bounce of the ball deceived the Ulster cover and allowed winger Deirbhile Nic A Bhaird to run in a breakaway try in the right corner, giving Munster a 13-point winning margin in the end.
Philip Doyle, who coaches the Ulster girls along with Jarrett Truscott, was happy with their team’s performance, saying: “I’m delighted with how the team performed. Munster had a lot of possession and we were defending a lot but the team played extremely well under pressure.
“The scoreline flattered Munster but they were the better team on the day and deserved their win. We are getting close to the standard required, and we turned the corner last season and are on the road to getting where we need to be.”
In next Saturday’s second round, Leinster will host Ulster at Donnybrook while title holders and current table toppers Munster are at home to Connacht at Irish Independent Park in Cork.
ULSTER WOMEN: Maeve Liston; Peita McAlister, Eliza Downey, Claire McLaughlin, Amy Davis; Jemma Jackson, Kathryn Dane; Ilse van Staden, Lesley Megarity, Sorcha Mac Laimhin, Naomi McCullagh, Hannah Beattie, Storm Cobain, Gemma McCutcheon (capt), Lauren Maginnes.
Replacements: Brigid Collins, Shauna Martin, Beth Cregan, Aishling O’Connell, Vicky Irwin, Emma Jordan, Leah McGoldrick, Imogen Porter.
MUNSTER WOMEN: Aine Staunton; Deirbhile Nic A Bhaird, Niamh Kavanagh, Nicola Scully, Eimear Considine; Valerie Power, Ellen Murphy; Fiona Reidy, Gill Bourke, Leah Lyons, Chloe Pearse, Orlaith Buckley, Siobhan Fleming (capt), Anna Caplice, Heather O’Brien.
Replacements: Zoe Grattage, Fiona Hayes, Nuala O’Connor, Sara Hartigan, Christine Arthurs, Mona Fehily, Edel Murphy, Laura Sheehan.