Leinster completed an unbeaten three-match run in the IRFU Women’s Interprovincial Championship, drawing 14-all with Munster and regaining the title from their arch rivals on scoring difference. Also in the final round, Connacht secured third place with a 31-17 bonus point win over Ulster.
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
A last minute try from out-half Rachel Allen-Connolly to snatch a draw for Munster could not prevent Leinster from winning the IRFU Women’s Interprovincial Championship on scoring difference at Energia Park on Saturday night.
Coached this year by Australian Ben Armstrong, the Leinster Women have been bristling for a rematch after falling foul to Munster’s power game in last season’s decider in Limerick. In the current campaign’s opening two rounds they managed to see off Ulster (17-0) and Connacht (47-0) in convincing fashion without conceding a point.
The Donnybrook showdown with Munster, who were also unbeaten thanks to well-judged victories over Connacht (24-7) and Ulster (40-20), was predictably a tight tussle in which defences were on top all the way through a fiercely-contested first half.
Leinster got out to a solid start, pushing the pace of the game for number 10 Nikki Caughey to open their account in the 14th minute. Two minutes later, Munster made their way forward with a more direct approach for former Ireland captain Niamh Briggs to square it.
The back-and-forth passages of play continued and Caughey found the range again in the 18th minute. It was at this point that Leinster looked to take control as key centre and captain Sene Naoupu showed leadership both with and without the ball.
The home side got into position again for Caughey to make it 9-3 with her third successful penalty strike in the 23rd minute. Munster were true to their tradition of fighting for every inch and flanker Ciara Griffin, the current Ireland skipper, was prominent with Briggs’ kicking game taking them forward, the experienced centre landing three more points on the half hour mark.
Caughey could have made it a double-scores lead at half-time but missed the target from an acute angle to leave it 9-6 at the interval. When play resumed, the momentum slowly turned Munster’s way as their twin threats of Griffin’s work in contact and Briggs’ boot gave them the edge in territory.
Briggs missed her first chance to grab a share of the lead, but not her second from a penalty on the left for nine-all scoreline in the 63rd minute. However, it was the Waterford woman who could not resist the temptation to contest at a ruck, Leinster opting to run from the penalty instead of kick with their industrious Ireland prop Lindsay Peat carrying hard.
Leinster suddenly powered into try-scoring range with fresh-legged replacement Linda Djougang almost making the line from flanker Jeamie Deacon’s off-the-shoulder ball. A burst from hooker Emma Hooban was key to the Blues pulling the Munster defence out of shape, the ball moved left for openside Juliet Short to plunge over for her fourth try of the Championship in the 74th minute.
The missed conversion left Leinster with a 14-9 advantage. Time was not on Munster’s side but Laura Guest’s charges created one last opportunity as Briggs steered them into position and a series of drives concluded with Allen-Connolly finishing an overlap with the levelling try.
It was now all down to Briggs’ vital conversion from the right. A kick of the ball between Munster and back-to-back Interpro titles. Unfortunately for the two-time Six Nations winner, she pulled her kick narrowly to the left of the posts, leaving Leinster to celebrate as table toppers and new champions.
LEINSTER WOMEN: Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere); Gemma Matthews (Old Belvedere), Michelle Claffey (Blackrock), Sene Naoupu (Old Belvedere) (capt), Elise O’Byrne White (Old Belvedere); Nikki Caughey (Railway Union), Ellen Murphy (Old Belvedere); Lindsay Peat (Railway Union), Emma Hooban (St Mary’s), Katie O’Dwyer (Railway Union), Aoife McDermott (Railway Union), Meg Kendal (Railway Union), Jeamie Deacon (Blackrock College), Juliet Short (Railway Union), Hannah O’Connor (Blackrock).
Replacements: Chloe Blackmore (Railway Union), Christy Haney (St. Mary’s), Linda Djougang (Old Belvedere), Rachel Horan (CYM), Nicole Purdom (Suttonians), Niamh Griffin (Blackrock College), Susan Vaughan (Railway Union), Lauren Farrell McCabe (Suttonians).
MUNSTER WOMEN: Eimear Considine (UL Bohemians); Laura O’Mahony (UL Bohemians), Aine Staunton (UL Bohemians), Niamh Briggs (UL Bohemians), Laura Sheehan (UL Bohemians); Rachel Allen-Connolly (UL Bohemians), Nicole Cronin (UL Bohemians); Fiona Hayes (UL Bohemians) (capt), Kate Sheehan (UL Bohemians), Fiona Reidy (UL Bohemians), Rosin Ormond (Ballincollig), Siobhan McCarthy (Railway Union), Edel Murphy (UL Bohemians), Ciara Griffin (UL Bohemians), Chloe Pearse (UL Bohemians).
Replacements: Andrea Stock (Bantry Bay), Clodagh Cronin (Durham University), Sarah Quin (Richmond), Clodagh O’Halloran (UL Bohemians), Enya Breen (Bantry Bay), Christine Coffey (Thurles), Clarie Scanlan (St. Mary’s), Claire Keohane (UL Bohemians).
Referee: Chris Lough (IRFU)
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
The Connacht Women bounced back from two defeats to record a 31-17 bonus point victory over Ulster at the Sportsground. While their lead narrowed on occasion, the result rarely looked in doubt as the hosts dominated at set piece time.
Connacht’s strike runners helped them to build an early lead as Catherine Martin and Ireland international Mairead Coyne dotted down. The sin-binning of Denise Redmond gave Ulster an extra player and a chance to hit back through promising centre Vicky Irwin, who followed up on Ella Durkan’s right wing break and timely offload.
Irwin’s unconverted effort was cancelled out by tries either side of half-time from Connacht forwards Amelie Roux and Ciara O’Connor. Hooker O’Connor, captain Laura Feely and Castlebar’s Anne-Marie O’Hora starred up front in a dominant home pack.
Although scrum half Kathryn Dane sniped over to convert Ulster pressure into points, cutting the gap to 24-12 in the process, it was tighthead O’Hora who put the seal on the win with a deserved try, converted by Nicole Fowley who landed three of her kick at goal.
To their credit, Ulster kept probing for openings and played right to the final whistle on the back of Irwin’s second try of the afternoon and third of the tournament. Their persistence was almost rewarded with two late bonus points, but former Ireland winger Eliza Downey’s foot in touch frustratingly ruled out her last-minute touchdown.
Galwegians lock Redmond got through a huge amount of work, excelling as a ball carrier both before and after her stint in the bin for a no-arms tackle. Ireland front rower O’Connor was also hard to stop at close quarters and caused plenty of damage to the Ulster defence.
Connacht head coach Jarleth Naughton will have been pleased with the improvements shown on both sides of the ball. Having scored only seven points and conceded 71 in their outings against Munster and Leinster, the westerners made sure they finished the campaign in much better fettle.
While Edel McMahon produced some crunching tackles up front, Jill Draper and Coyne’s vocal contributions within the Connacht 22 likely proved crucial in denying the visitors two tries. The ever-willing Dane and Irwin were the pick of the Ulster backs, with Ilse van Staden, converted flanker Claire McLaughlin and Sorcha Mac Laimhin leading by example in the forwards.
CONNACHT WOMEN: Mairead Coyne (Galwegians); Jill Draper (Tullamore), Catherine Martin (Suttonians), Nicole Fowley (Galwegians), Orla Dixon (NUIG); Hilary Griffin (Tullow), Mary Healy (Galwegians); Laura Feely (Galwegians) (capt), Ciara O’Connor (Galwegians), Anne-Marie O’Hora (Castlebar), Nicola Caldbeck (Tullow), Amelie Roux (Galwegians), Denise Redmond (Galwegians), Edel McMahon (Galwegians), Nichola Fryday (Galwegians).
Replacements: Moya Griffin (Tullamore), Elizabeth McNicholas (Tuam), Julia Bauer (Suttonians), Clodagh Dunne (Old Belvedere), Tara Buggie (Galwegians), Shannen Lane (Galwegians), Ellen Taite (Mullingar), Rachel Healy (Railway Union).
ULSTER WOMEN: Larissa Muldoon (Railway Union) (capt); Eliza Downey (Cooke), Maeve Liston (Ballyshannon), Vicky Irwin (Cooke), Ella Durkan (Malone); Jemma Jackson (Cooke), Kathryn Dane (Old Belvedere); Ilse van Staden (Cooke), Neve Jones (Malone), Aishling O’Connell (Cavan), Sorcha Mac Laimhin (Cooke), Rebecca Lawlor (Malone), Beth Cregan (Cooke), Claire McLaughlin (Cooke), Lauren Maginnes (Cooke).
Replacements: Michelle Gormley-McLaughlin (City of Derry), Shannon Heapes (Cooke), Kathryn Hannah (Ballynahinch), Keelin Brady (Virginia), Peita McAllister (Malone), Fiona Tuite (Dublin University), Chloe McIlwaine (Ballynahinch), Diane Ramsey (Queen’s University).
Referee: Mike Scanlon (IRFU)
For a full list of Interprovincial Championship results and the final table, click here.
IRFU WOMEN’S INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP – TOP SCORERS:
31 – Niamh Briggs (Munster)
28 – Nikki Caughey (Leinster)
20 – Juliet Short (Leinster)
17 – Vicky Irwin (Ulster)
15 – Chloe Pearse (Munster)
10 – Eimear Considine (Munster), Lindsay Peat (Leinster)
8 – Nicole Fowley (Connacht)
4 – Juliet Short (Leinster)
3 – Chloe Pearse (Munster), Vicky Irwin (Ulster)
2 – Eimear Considine (Munster), Lindsay Peat (Leinster)
1 – Shannon Touhey (Connacht), Catherine Martin (Connacht), Mairead Coyne (Connacht), Amelie Roux (Connacht), Ciara O’Connor (Connacht), Anne-Marie O’Hora (Connacht), Lauren Farrell McCabe (Leinster), Michelle Claffey (Leinster), Hannah O’Connor (Leinster), Jeamie Deacon (Leinster), Nikki Caughey (Leinster), Fiona Hayes (Munster), Roisin Ormond (Munster), Nicole Cronin (Munster), Niamh Briggs (Munster), Rachel Allen-Connolly (Munster), Emma Jordan (Ulster), Fiona Tuite (Ulster), Claire McLaughlin (Ulster), Kathryn Dane (Ulster)