A second half fightback from Connacht in Cork on Saturday ensures that the IRFU Women’s Interprovincial Championship is poised on a knife edge ahead of the final weekend of action, writes Aisling Crowe.
IRFU WOMEN’S INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Saturday, December 10
ROUND 2 –
MUNSTER WOMEN 12 CONNACHT WOMEN 8, Irish Independent Park
Scorers: Munster: Tries: Eimear Considine, Deirbhile Nic A Bhaird; Con: Edel Murphy
Connacht: Try: Alison Miller; Pen: Clare Raftery
HT: Munster Women 12 Connacht Women 3
Despite losing 12 -8 to the defending champions, Connacht earned a losing bonus point that gives them a slim chance of glory next Saturday. Munster are in pole position in the race for the top, leading by two points from Leinster who have six, but Connacht are just a point behind them in third.
Munster’’s first half dominance made it two wins from two games in the 2016 series and it was a trio of UL Bohemians backs who were to the fore in Cork. Flying wingers Eimear Considine and Deirbhile Nic A Bhaird ran in first half tries with full-back Edel Murphy landing a conversion.
Considine replied to a third minute penalty from Connacht number 10 Clare Raftery with a tremendous solo run from halfway, hurtling onto Heather O’Brien’s cleverly delayed pass to shoot past three initial defenders, evade the grasp of Shannon Touhey and then step around the covering Mairead Coyne to finish near the left corner.
Into the second quarter, Wayne Falvey’s side were clinical again – this time in the Connacht 22 – as out-half Valerie Power’s pop pass sent the elusive Nic A Bhaird weaving through the midfield traffic to touch down under the posts, with Murphy converting.
Munster failed to add to their 12-point tally in an equally hard-fought second half. Connacht had increasing threats in their back-line with Ireland internationals Nicole Fowley and Alison Miller both sprung from the bench.
Precise passing gave Portlaoise flyer Miller enough space on the left wing to run in a 72nd minute try and although they could not get any closer, the losing bonus point does keep Connacht’s title hopes alive.
Speaking to Irish Rugby TV afterwards, Munster captain Siobhan Fleming said: “We did very well in the first half and the start of the second half, but come the latter part of the second half, we were under serious pressure and we did very well to hold them out there in the end.
“Credit to Connacht, their line speed was excellent. They gave us no room to manoeuvre. I suppose we played into them, we didn’t take that to our advantage and start moving them around the park – we started playing straight-up rugby. So that’s something we’ll have to bring back to the drawing board and address for Leinster next weekend.”
MUNSTER WOMEN: Edel Murphy; Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird, Niamh Kavanagh, Nicola Scully, Eimear Considine; Valerie Power, Ellen Murphy; Fiona Hayes, Gill Bourke, Leah Lyons, Chloe Pearse, Orlaith Buckley, Siobhan Fleming (capt), Anna Caplice, Heather O’Brien.
Replacements: Zoe Grattage, Fiona Reidy, Nuala O’Connor, Ciara Griffin, Christine Arthurs, Mona Fehily, Áine Staunton, Laura Sheehan.
CONNACHT WOMEN: Mairead Coyne; Orla Dixon, Shannon Touhey, Emma Clery (capt), Jill Draper; Clare Raftery, Mary Healy; Laura Feely, Ciara O’Connor, Anne-Marie O’Hora, Amelie Roux, Marion Sheridan, Heather Cary, Grainne Egan, Carol Staunton.
Replacements: Eimear Murphy, Valerie Mitchell, Tara Buggie, Nichola Fryday, Shannen Lane, Nicole Fowley, Alison Miller, Ursula Sammon.
LEINSTER WOMEN 46 ULSTER WOMEN 0, Donnybrook
Scorers: Leinster: Tries: Katie Fitzhenry 2, Ailsa Hughes, Paula Fitzpatrick 2, Hannah Tyrrell, Niamh Byrne; Cons: Jenny Murphy 4; Pen: Jenny Murphy
HT: Leinster Women 17 Ulster Women 0
Leinster will go into their final round showdown with Munster riding the crest of a wave thanks to a 46-0 bonus point success against Ulster under the Donnybrook floodlights on Saturday evening.
The visitors opened brightly and were on the front foot in the early phases of the game, Railway Union full-back Nikki Caughey shining under the dark December sky and they had a try ruled out when prop Ilse van Staden was pinged for crossing.
That seemed to rouse Leinster and Portlaoise teenager Eimear Corri almost scored her team’s opening try but for a foot in touch. The first points of the match came through the boot of Kilcullen woman Jenny Murphy who fired over a penalty on 19 minutes after scrum half Ailsa Hughes was taken out at a ruck.
Soon after, winger Katie Fitzhenry received an excellent pass from her Ireland Sevens colleague Kim Flood to cross the whitewash in the left corner and fit-again centre Murphy added the conversion.
Hughes then made a run for the line from 40 metres out and somehow scrambled over to score Leinster’s second converted try, giving Adam Griggs’ side a 17-0 lead at half-time.
Caughey was outstanding in defence for Ulster and her brave intervention prevented a try shortly after the break, but Fitzhenry was not to be denied a second and she got it on 50 minutes.
Ireland number 8 Paula Fitzpatrick made sure the forwards got in on the scoring act and the first of her two tries secured Leinster’s bonus point on the hour mark from a driving maul.
Out-half Hannah Tyrrell and Niamh Byrne, who came on as a replacement for Corri, made it a ‘magnificent seven’ of tries to set up a thrilling clash with their arch rivals next Saturday at Donnybrook (kick-off 2.30pm).
LEINSTER WOMEN: Kim Flood; Eimear Corri, Jenny Murphy, Michelle Claffey, Katie Fitzhenry; Hannah Tyrrell, Ailsa Hughes; Lindsay Peat, Jennie Finlay, Joanna Mahon, Marie Louise Reilly, Susan Fogarty, Ciara Cooney, Carmela Morey (capt), Paula Fitzpatrick.
Replacements: Caoimhe Molloy, Cliodhna Moloney, Fiona O’Brien, Katie Norris, Juliet Short, Niamh Griffin, Niamh Byrne, Meaghan Kenny.
ULSTER WOMEN: Nikki Caughey; Emma Jordan, Peita McAlister, Claire McLaughlin, Amy Davis; Jemma Jackson, Kathryn Dane; Ilse van Staden, Lesley Megarity, Sorcha Mac Laimhin, Naomi McCullagh, Storm Cobain, Gemma McCutcheon (capt), Ashleigh Baxter, Lauren Maginnes.
Replacements: Brigid Collins, Shauna Martin, Beth Cregan, Aishling O’Connell, Hannah Beattie, Brittany Hogan, Leah McGoldrick, Maeve Liston.