A weekend which promises to be hugely exciting stretches in front of us as the four provinces prepare for the second round of games in the IRFU Women’s Interprovincial Championship, writes Michael Gallagher.
Between the white lines, Leinster and Connacht, the two unbeaten sides from the first round, will be looking to take a big step towards the title, while Munster and Ulster will be striving for a win to get them back in the race. Throw in the fact that Leinster will live stream their clash with Connacht on their Facebook page and this promises to be a truly memorable weekend of Irish Women’s rugby.
IRFU WOMEN’S INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP – ROUND 2: Saturday, December 9
MUNSTER WOMEN (3rd) v ULSTER WOMEN (4th), Dooradoyle, 2pm
Both sides come into this encounter looking for the opportunity to get back into contention at the top of the table. Victory will give the winners a shot at winning the series in the final week, while defeat will leave the losers facing a battle to avoid the wooden spoon.
After their narrow 19-15 defeat to Connacht, Munster make one personnel change and one positional switch. Laura O’Mahony, the scorer of Munster’s opening try last week, moves from the wing to full-back and her UL Bohemians club-mate Laura Sheehan comes into the starting line-up. Valerie Power makes way and is named among the replacements, which also include Highfield’s Linda McNamara who could make her first interpro appearance.
The Munster women are determined to get their campaign back on track. Captain Siobhan Fleming is leading from the front as usual and epitomises the Munster spirit, setting the standards at training. The ultimate team player, she hopes to pick her squad back up after the disappointing loss in Galway and take to the pitch with confidence tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Ulster retain 13 of the starters who were beaten by Leinster, for this pivotal encounter. Malone’s Neve Jones, captain of the Ulster Under-18 Girls who were Interprovincial champions in 2016, will make her first senior start following a debut appearance off the bench last week. Jones will wear the number 2 jersey alongside the experienced Ilse van Staden and Sorcha Mac Laimhin in the front row.
Hannah Beattie and Rebecca Smyth are retained in the second row, while a reshuffle in the back row sees Beth Cregan move from hooker to blindside flanker, with Gemma McCutcheon shifting to openside. Lauren Maginnes continues at number 8.
The Old Belvedere-Railway Union half-back partnership of Kathryn Dane and captain Larissa Muldoon also remain in situ. Malone’s Peita McAlister is the other personnel change as she comes in to join Brittany Hogan in midfield. Ireland 15s and Sevens international Nikki Caughey moves to full-back alongside wingers Eliza Downey and Emma Jordan in the back-three.
MUNSTER WOMEN: Laura O’Mahony (UL Bohemians); Laura Sheehan (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), Valerie Power (Shannon), Linda McNamara (Highfield).
ULSTER WOMEN: Nikki Caughey (Railway Union); Emma Jordan (Cooke), Brittany Hogan (Cooke), Peita McAlister (Malone), Eliza Downey (Cooke); Larissa Muldoon (Railway Union) (capt), Kathryn Dane (Old Belvedere); Ilse van Staden (Cooke), Neve Jones (Malone), Sorcha Mac Laimhin (Cooke), Hannah Beattie (Cooke), Rebecca Smyth (Cooke), Beth Cregan (Cooke), Gemma McCutcheon (Cooke), Lauren Maginnes (Cooke).
Replacements: Lesley Megarity (Cooke), Helen McGhee (Cooke), Aishling O’Connell (Co. Cavan), Amanda Maginn (Ballynahinch), Storm Cobain (Ballynahinch), Amy Graham (Cooke), Vicky Irwin (Cooke), Teah Maguire (Cooke).
LEINSTER WOMEN (1st) v CONNACHT WOMEN (2nd), Donnybrook, 5pm
The meeting of undefeated Leinster and Connacht should be an enthralling one at Donnybrook. The home side go into the game as hot favourites given their impressive bonus point win over Ulster and their strength in depth, but Jarleth Naughton’s westerners make the trip to the capital in buoyant form and will play the game with little pressure on their shoulders.
The Leinster women, who will field an unchanged team, are looking forward to the round 2 tie and have no injury worries after the 34-10 victory in Ulster. Suttonians’ Nicole Carroll is back from the Dubai 7s and could make her debut for the province. Head coach Adam Griggs is taking nothing for granted against an ever-improving Connacht side and wants an improved performance tomorrow evening.
“We will have to be careful in our defence, as Connacht played some really good rugby to come from 10-0 down to beat Munster. We will be up against it,” he said. “We need to step up one more level. They have threats all across the park and we will have to be ready for them.”
Connacht have been training well all week after their hard-fought success at home to Munster, but team manager Mark Moran knows that they face a massive challenge in the capital.
“Training has been great this week, but we know that this will be another step up for us. We’re expecting a very difficult game against a powerful Leinster side and need to build on our performance from last week, everyone will need to perform for the full 80 minutes on Saturday,” he said.
“We have reviewed our game from last weekend and highlighted areas we must improve on and also areas we thought worked quiet well. Leinster will be a huge challenge but one that the squad is relishing and we’re really looking forward to the game.”
Meanwhile, for those who cannot get to Donnybrook for Leinster v Connacht, the action will be streamed live on the Leinster Women’s Facebook page.
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: Jennie Finlay (Old Belvedere), Christy Haney (St Mary’s), Caoimhe Molloy (Gorey), Meg Kendal (Railway Union), Rachel Horan (CYM), Megan Parkinson (Wicklow), Meaghan Kenny (Railway Union), Nicole Carroll (Suttonians).
CONNACHT WOMEN: Mairead Coyne (Galwegians); Orla Dixon (NUI Galway), Shannon Touhey (Tullamore), Jane O’Neill (Old Belvedere), Alison Miller (Old Belvedere); Hilary Griffin (Tullamore), Mary Healy (Galwegians); 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), Shannen Lane (NUI Galway), Susan Shirley (Old Belvedere), Clodagh Dunne (Old Belvedere).
TOP SCORERS AFTER ONE ROUND:
15 – Aimee Clarke (Leinster)
5 – Edel McMahon (Connacht), Ciara O’Connor (Connacht), Amelie Roux (Connacht), Lindsay Peat (Leinster), Michelle Claffey (Leinster), Susan Vaughan (Leinster), Laura O’Mahony (Munster), Fiona Hayes (Munster), Edel Murphy (Munster), Eliza Downey (Ulster), Teah Maguire (Ulster)
3 – Aimee Clarke (Leinster)
1 – Edel McMahon (Connacht), Ciara O’Connor (Connacht), Amelie Roux (Connacht), Lindsay Peat (Leinster), Michelle Claffey (Leinster), Susan Vaughan (Leinster), Laura O’Mahony (Munster), Fiona Hayes (Munster), Eliza Downey (Ulster), Teah Maguire (Ulster)