The IRFU Women’s Interprovincial Championship had another nail-biting finish on Saturday as Leinster regained the title thanks to a dramatic 14-all draw with defending champions Munster at Energia Park.
Both sides finished the campaign with two wins and a draw but, with the roles reversed from last year, Leinster secured the silverware thanks to their superior scoring difference (+64 compared to Munster’s +37). Tenacious Munster almost pulled it out of the fire, however the conversion of Rachel Allen-Connolly’s levelling 80th-minute try was agonisingly missed by Niamh Briggs.
Leinster out-half Nikki Caughey led Briggs 9-6 in their place-kicking duel at half-time, with the former Ireland captain opting to go for the corner when Munster got on top early in the second half. Laura Guest’s charges were struggling to breach the home defence and Briggs’ third successful penalty in the 63rd minute levelled matters.
That left enough time for the late drama with Linda Djougang hauled down within inches of the line before Leinster reset and touched down out wide through flanker Juliet Short with her fourth try of the Championship. Munster’s siege was successful in the dying minutes with out-half Allen-Connolly capitalising on an overlap.
The joy and agony was obvious when Briggs’ right-sided conversion, with the destination of the title riding on it, narrowly missed the target, leaving the Leinster Women to collect the trophy in Ben Armstrong and captain Sene Naoupu’s first season at the helm.
Acknowledging that Munster’s try was the first leaked by his Leinster squad in 240 minutes of rugby, victorious head coach Armstrong said: “Our game is based on defence. Rather than let them in under the posts, we forced them out wide and they did score but it wasn’t an easy conversion by any means. A strange one to win (the title) by a draw, but we’ll take it for sure.”
His Munster counterpart Guest commented: “That was a great game between two great sides. The whole way through the game I thought we’d be fine. They’d score, we’d score. As soon as they scored I said we’ll get a try and we’ll convert it. Even as the ball was kicked at the end I thought it looked good so it’s difficult. I’m immensely proud of the girls. I thought they were excellent.
“There’s a lot of girls that came into their first Interpro campaign and really stood tall. That can only benefit us and Adam (Griggs, the ireland head coach) going forward. Hopefully we’ll see some of those red jerseys transform into green jerseys in November and February.”
Guest’s point about player development was echoed by Armstrong who added: “The 10 caps that we brought in at the start of this – I’d seen what was at training. I knew they were ready for this. Hopefully after three tough games including the final one here, Adam’s got some food for thought going into the autumn. I think it’s Irish Women’s rugby right in the box seat.”
Connacht secured third place in the final table with a 31-17 bonus point win at home to Ulster, the tries being shared out by Catherine Martin, Mairead Coyne, Amelie Roux, Ciara O’Connor and Anne-Marie O’Hora.
Meanwhile, Ballinasloe starlet Beibhinn Parsons’ hat-trick of tries saw the Connacht Under-18s edged out Leinster 21-19 to win the IRFU U-18 Women’s Interprovincial crown for the first time. A Home Nations Sevens Series winner with the Ireland U-18s in July, centre Parsons’ best of the lot at MU Barnhall RFC on Saturday saw her counter attack from under her own posts and cover the length of the pitch.
The final round victory completed a unique double for Connacht Rugby who now hold Interprovincial titles in both the Men’s and Women’s U-18 grades. “It means so much,” said Connacht U-18 Women’s head coach Fraser Gow. “Leinster are a very good side. We’ve had a lot of tough days over the last couple of years. That result and the series win is for everybody who has contributed.”
The Ulster U-18s defeated outgoing champions Munster with a 31-5 bonus point success in the opening game at Parsonstown. Charlie Farrell’s youngsters led 19-0 at half-time and finished with a five-try haul – Lucy Turkington, Aoife Cahill, Lisa Mullen (2) and replacement India Daley all touched down.
IRFU WOMEN’S INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP – ROUND 3: Saturday, September 15
LEINSTER WOMEN 14 MUNSTER WOMEN 14, Energia Park, Donnybrook
Scorers: Leinster Women: Try: Juliet Short; Pens: Nikki Caughey 3
Munster Women: Try: Rachel Allen-Connolly; Pens: Niamh Briggs 3
HT: Leinster 9 Munster 6
CONNACHT WOMEN 31 ULSTER WOMEN 17, the Sportsground
Scorers: Connacht Women: Tries: Catherine Martin, Mairead Coyne, Amelie Roux, Ciara O’Connor, Anne-Marie O’Hora; Cons: Nicole Fowley 3
Ulster Women: Tries: Vicky Irwin 2, Kathryn Dane; Con: Vicky Irwin
HT: Connacht 17 Ulster 5
IRFU UNDER-18 WOMEN’S INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP – ROUND 3: Saturday, September 15
LEINSTER U-18 WOMEN 19 CONNACHT U-18 WOMEN 21, Parsonstown, MU Barnhall RFC
Scorers: Leinster U-18 Women: Tries: Jessica Keating 2, Meadbh Scally; Cons: Ava Jenkins 2
Connacht U-18 Women: Tries: Beibhinn Parsons 3; Cons: Meabh Deely 3
HT: Leinster 0 Connacht 7
MUNSTER U-18 WOMEN 5 ULSTER U-18 WOMEN 31, Parsonstown, MU Barnhall RFC
Scorers: Munster U-18 Women: Try: Maggie Boylan
Ulster U-18 Women: Tries: Lucy Turkington, Aoife Cahill, Lisa Mullen 2, India Daley; Cons: Lisa Mullen 3
HT: Munster 0 Ulster 19
For a full list of Interprovincial Championship results and the final tables, click here.