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Women’s Interpros: Round 1 Preview

Women’s Interpros: Round 1 Preview

As Christmas comes over the horizon and the Women’s All-Ireland League season is taking a mid-season break, it is now time for the IRFU Women’s Interprovincial Championship to take centre stage, writes Michael Gallagher.

This promises to be the most spectacular Interprovincial Championship to date, with hugely entertaining matches expected in every round. The spread of Women’s rugby throughout the land is evidenced by the fact that players from 26 different clubs are represented in the four provincial squads.


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CONNACHT WOMEN v MUNSTER WOMEN, the Sportsground, 2.30pm, Saturday
The series kicks off in Galway tomorrow when Connacht host Munster in the Sportsground. This promises to be a thriller with great flair on both sides. Connacht will be hoping to make home advantage count but Munster, who are guided by new head coach Laura Guest, are eager to get the series off to a positive start.

Munster team manager Maeve D’Arcy said that preparations have been going well and spirits are high in camp, stating: “Our recent match in Thomond Park against a strong Barbarians side gave Laura the opportunity to really test the players on a big occasion. It was a chance to try out combinations against an international-level side and that magnified what worked and what needed to be tweaked.

“After a very disappointing third place finish in last year’s campaign, the girls are keen to get off to a good start this week. Their aim is to contend for the title by putting in three quality performances back-to-back.

“It will be a huge challenge but one that the squad is relishing. UL Bohs are flying high at the top of the Women’s AIL table and a large number of their players are involved with the province. With the best of the other clubs in the province joining them, hopefully the good form and winning ways translate into the red of Munster.”

However, Connacht are equally bullish about their chances. Team manager Mark Moran explained that Saturday’s round 1 match will be battle from start to finish. “We’re really looking forward to it. Training has been going well for the last couple of months,” he said.

“There is a new coaching team in place consisting of Jarleth Naughton (head coach), Jason East (forwards coach) and Brian Murphy (backs coach). We have quite a few new players who are excited to play interprovincial rugby.

Grainne Egan will captain the squad for the series and Laura Feely is vice-captain. Both players have great experience and very strong leadership qualities. They will have strong support from the other senior players within the squad, including recently-capped Barbarians player Edel McMahon.

“Everyone is really looking forward to the games ahead. We’re expecting a tough encounter against what should be a very strong Munster team. The girls have trained well and are looking to start the season with a home win. It should be a very tight game as both teams should be somewhat familiar with one another, coming up against each other at both interprovincial and club level.”

Tralee flanker Siobhan Fleming captains the Munster team with seven clubs represented as 11 UL Bohemians players are included in the starting XV with four players set to make their interpro debuts.

Valerie Power starts at full-back with Laura O’Mahony and Syphonia Pua, who will make her interpro bow after featuring against the Barbarians last month, on the wings. Niamh Kavanagh and Aine Staunton start in the centre with Rachel Allen making her interpro debut at half-back alongside Ellen Murphy.

The vastly-experienced trio of Fiona Hayes, Gillian Bourke and Fiona Reidy make up the front row, while Siobhan McCarthy, another newcomer to the interpros, and Chloe Pearse combine in the second row with Fleming joined by Edel Murphy and Ciara Griffin in the back row.

Replacement Linda McNamara from Highfield is set to get her first taste of interpro action, with Leah Lyons, Maura Collins, Zoe Grattage, Roisin Ormond, Anna Caplice, Christine Arthurs and Laura Sheehan completing the bench.

CONNACHT WOMEN: Mairead Coyne (Galwegians); Orla Dixon (NUI Galway), Shannon Touhey (Tullamore), Jane O’Neill (Old Belvedere), Alison Miller (Old Belvedere); Hilary Griffin (Tullamore), Shannen Lane (NUI Galway); Laura Feely (Galwegians), Ciara O’Connor (Galwegians), Anne-Marie O’Hora (Castlebar), Amelie Roux (Galwegians), Nicola Caldbeck (Tullow), Edel McMahon (Galwegians), Grainne Egan (Railway Union) (capt), Nichola Fryday (Tullamore).

Replacements: Lisa Anglim (Galwegians), Katie O’Dwyer (Railway Union), Denise Redmond (Galwegians), Michelle Ring (UL Bohemians), Sabina Egan (Galwegians/Buccaneers), Mary Healy (Galwegians), Susan Shirley (Old Belvedere), Clodagh Dunne (Old Belvedere).

MUNSTER WOMEN: Valerie Power (Shannon); Laura O’Mahony (UL Bohemians), Aine Staunton (UL Bohemians), Niamh Kavanagh (UL Bohemians), Syphonia Pua (UL Bohemians); Rachel Allen (UL Bohemians), Ellen Murphy (Old Belvedere); Fiona Hayes (UL Bohemians), Gillian Bourke (UL Bohemians), Fiona Reidy (UL Bohemians), Siobhan McCarthy (Railway Union), Chloe Pearse (UL Bohemians), Edel Murphy (UL Bohemians), Siobhan Fleming (Tralee) (capt), Ciara Griffin (UL Bohemians).

Replacements: Leah Lyons (Highfield), Maura Collins (Tralee), Zoe Grattage (Highfield), Roisin Ormond (Ballincollig), Anna Caplice (UL Bohemians), Christine Arthurs (Highfield), Laura Sheehan (Highfield), Linda McNamara (Highfield).
The second match in the series takes place at Dromore RFC on Sunday at 2pm when Ulster host defending champions Leinster in a match that may have a big bearing on the outcome of the entire competition.

The Leinster Women are a powerful outfit with talent all over the paddock, but Ulster are determined to give a very good account of themselves according to their team manager and former Ireland international, Gillian McAlister.

“The new squad of players and management team have been working hard over the last few months in preparation for playing Leinster on Sunday. The group have made steady improvements on the training pitch and are ready and excited about the challenge ahead. With two home matches in this series, the players are fully focused on doing their jobs efficiently, and that starts this weekend at Dromore.”

Ulster’s all-new coaching team of Derek Suffern, Davy Chambers and James McBriar have named an experienced side, captained by Ireland scrum half Larissa Muldoon who dons the number 10 jersey in an exciting half-back pairing with Kathryn Dane.

Muldoon’s international team-mate Ilse van Staden starts at loosehead prop, and she will be joined in the front row by tighthead Sorcha Mac Laimhin and Derry native Beth Cregan, who is the current captain of Cooke.

Hanna Beattie, one of five players who have progressed from the Ulster Under-18 Girls team that won the U-18 Interprovincial title last year, is named in the second row along with Rebecca Smyth. Former captain Gemma McCutcheon starts at blindside flanker, with fellow back rowers Lesley Megarity and Lauren Maginnes completing an all-Cooke starting pack.

Ireland 15s and Sevens international Nikki Caughey will wear the number 12 jersey, and she will be joined in midfield by Brittany Hogan, who will be fresh off the plane from playing for the Ireland Women’s Sevens Development team in Dubai.

In the back-three, former Ireland winger Eliza Downey starts on the left, with Emma Jordan on the right and Vicky Irwin stationed at full-back. Malone’s Neve Jones, captain of the all-conquering Ulster U-18 Girls side from 2016, is set to make her senior debut from the bench, as are Helen McGhee and Amanda Maginn.

Meanwhile, Leinster’s Adam Griggs, the recently-named new Ireland Women’s head coach, has spread the new far and wide in search of the best talent to fill the blue jerseys this season.

A lengthy process of evaluation concluded with Griggs choosing 34 players from eleven different clubs around the province, stretching from Gorey to Navan, with Old Belvedere leading the way with a dozen representatives, including Ireland stars Sophie Spence, Jenny Murphy and Sene Naoupu.

Now, the preparations are over and it is time to play which New Zealander Griggs is delighted about. “It’s funny, in the last couple of weeks our preparations have gotten bumpy because of players involved with the Irish Sevens and a few injuries from the club rugby,” he said.

“We are still pretty confident about putting out a decent side on Sunday. We have a couple of returning players that are anchors for us, like Michelle Claffey and Sene Naoupu, who will be a big player for us. Our biggest injury blow is Jenny Murphy, who is unavailable due to concussion, but we’re really looking forward to the game.”

Paula Fitzpatrick, who was recently confirmed as Leinster captain, will start in the back row at number 8 with Spence named at blindside flanker and Railway Union’s Ciara Cooney at openside. Orla Fitzsimons from St. Mary’s will be joined in the second row by the uncapped Aoife McDermott.

Ireland internationals Lindsay Peat and Cliodhna Moloney will start in the front row with Old Belvedere’s Fiona O’Brien selected at tighthead. Naoupu is set to make her first appearance in Leinster blue in the number 10 jersey, featuring in a half-back partnership with Ailsa Hughes.

The back-three are all uncapped at provincial level. In fact, Aimee Clarke, who starts on the left wing, only began playing rugby with Railway Union this year and has also featured for the Leinster Under-18s and Ireland U-18 Sevens teams this season. Experienced Sevens player Megan Williams, on the right wing, and former Sevens international Susan Vaughan, at full-back, complete the back-three.

Old Belvedere’s Ireland-capped centre Aine Donnelly starts in the number 13 jersey alongside Blackrock’s Michelle Claffey, while three players on the bench could make their Leinster debuts on Sunday – CYM’s Rachel Horan, Christy Haney from St. Mary’s and Meg Kendal who was drafted into the squad from Railway.

ULSTER WOMEN: Vicky Irwin (Cooke); Emma Jordan (Cooke), Brittany Hogan (Cooke), Nikki Caughey (Railway Union), Eliza Downey (Cooke); Larissa Muldoon (Railway Union) (capt), Kathryn Dane (Old Belvedere); Ilse van Staden (Cooke), Beth Cregan (Cooke), Sorcha Mac Laimhin (Cooke), Hannah Beattie (Cooke), Rebecca Smyth (Cooke), Gemma McCutcheon (Cooke), Lesley Megarity (Cooke), Lauren Maginnes (Cooke).

Replacements: Aishling O’Connell (Co. Cavan), Neve Jones (Malone), Helen McGhee (Cooke), Amanda Maginn (Ballynahinch), Storm Cobain (Ballynahinch), Amy Graham (Cooke), Peita McAlister (Malone), Teah Maguire (Cooke).

LEINSTER WOMEN: Susan Vaughan (Railway Union); Megan Williams (Old Belvedere), Aine Donnelly (Old Belvedere), Michelle Claffey (Blackrock), Aimee Clarke (Railway Union); Sene Naoupu (Old Belvedere), Ailsa Hughes (Railway Union); Lindsay Peat (Railway Union), Cliodhna Moloney (Railway Union), Fiona O’Brien (Old Belvedere), Aoife McDermott (Railway Union), Orla Fitzsimons (St. Mary’s), Sophie Spence (Old Belvedere), Ciara Cooney (Railway Union), Paula Fitzpatrick (St. Mary’s) (capt).

Replacements: Christy Haney (St. Mary’s), Jennie Finlay (Old Belvedere), Caoimhe Molloy (Gorey), Meg Kendal (Railway Union), Rachel Horan (CYM), Megan Parkinson (Wicklow), Meaghan Kenny (Railway Union), Maria Kenny (Old Belvedere).

2017/18 IRFU Women’s Interpro Fixtures