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U-18 Women’s Interprovincial Championship: Round 1 Preview

U-18 Women’s Interprovincial Championship: Round 1 Preview

U-18 Women’s Interprovincial Championship: Round 1 Preview

Connacht forward Hannah Johnston is tackled by Leinster's Judy Bobbett during last season's Interprovincial title decider at MU Barnhall RFC ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Mirroring the senior competition, this season’s IRFU Under-18 Women’s Interprovincial Championship will also have semi-finals and a final in addition to the three round robin matchdays. The series kicks off at MU Barnhall RFC and Irish Independent Park on Saturday.

IRFU UNDER-18 WOMEN’S INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP – ROUND 1: Saturday, August 17

LEINSTER U-18 WOMEN v CONNACHT U-18 WOMEN, Parsonstown, MU Barnhall RFC, 2pm

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MUNSTER U-18 WOMEN v ULSTER U-18 WOMEN, Irish Independent Park, 1pm

Leinster and Connacht return to MU Barnhall RFC, the scene of the westerners’ historic title triumph last season, for an intriguing encounter. Niall Neville’s charges will be out for revenge as all four provinces aim to establish a consistent streak across the newly-extended competition.

14 different clubs are represented in the extended Leinster squad, which is captained from number 8 by Dundalk’s Ellie Meade. Mullingar’s Ava Jenkins is playmaker-in-chief and one of the returning players whom head coach Neville feels will lead by example.

“We are really seeing the work that is being done on the ground coming through clubs, areas teams and then into our squad for the Interprovincial series. The quality of player is improving every year,” he admitted.

“This is key for us, with the extended series moving from three to five games, is that the strength and depth of every squad will be tested. Thankfully we have some key players returning this year. Rachel Murtagh, Holly Leach and Ellie in the pack, and Ava, Kathryn Dempsey and Caoimhe O’Callaghan in the backs, are all sure to leave their mark.”

O’Callaghan and Kate Farrell McCabe miss the first round due to their involvement with the Ireland U-18 Sevens girls in this weekend’s Home Nations tournament in Swansea. The Connacht U-18s are without three players with Grace Browne Moran, Ava Ryder and Ivana Kiripati all travelling to Wales.

Last year’s trophy win will certainly inspire Fraser Gow’s current crop which includes players from ten different clubs. “The girls have worked extremely hard throughout the summer,” said the Connacht boss. “It was tough to narrow the group to the final 30 players as all the girls have showed they are capable at U-18 level.

“It’s a cliché but the best teams do the basics really well and that is what we focused on in our first block. The second training block was about adding the detail by increasing pressure, focusing on decision-making and running scenarios.

“It’s a real positive for us how difficult the squad selection was – it shows that girls rugby in Connacht is in a good place. The 30 selected have earned their spots and are ready to go, whoever is called upon. As coaches we can’t wait to see them grow as players through each game.”

LEINSTER U-18 WOMEN: Lauren Patterson (North Meath); Laura Carty (Edenderry), Ciara Faulkner (Tullamore), Kathryn Dempsey (New Ross), Rachel Conroy (Tullamore); Ava Jenkins (Mullingar), Katie Whelan (Enniscorthy); Rachel Murtagh (Naas), Emily Slater (Arklow), Megan Collis (Greystones), Holly Leach (MU Barnhall), Dara Yore (North Meath), Erin King (Naas), Aoife Wafer (Enniscorthy), Ellie Meade (Dundalk) (capt).

Replacements: Ellen Murray (Naas), Emily Jo White (North Meath), Eimear Douglas (Wicklow), Ivanna Dempsey (Naas), Hannah Foxe (Tullamore), Beth Roberts (Wicklow), Emma Kelly (Tullamore), Orla Hayes (Ashbourne).

CONNACHT U-18 WOMEN: Caoimhe English McNamara (Westport); Katie Hogan (Westport), Alana Roche (Connemara), Maeve Muldoon (Ballinasloe), Fodhla Ni Bhraonain (Corinthians); Megan Walsh (Connemara), Olivia Haverty (Portumna); Mary McLoughlin (Westport), Emily Gavin (Ballinasloe), Zara Grehen (Ballinasloe), Eva McCormack (Westport), Aisling Hahessy (Claremorris Colts), Mollie Starr (Portumna), Hannah Johnston (Sligo), Faith Oviawe (Buccaneers).

Replacements: Molly Ager (Claremorris Colts), Aimee Kelly (Buccaneers), Leah Hogarty (Ballinasloe), Rachel Larkin (Ballinasloe), Aisling Browne (Westport), Caoimhe Geraghty (Corinthians), Katelyn Bourke (Ballina), Nina McVann (Ballina).

Kanturk hooker Sarah Murphy leads Munster in the first of two double-header fixtures in Cork for the province. They are determined to make the most of home advantage and achieve a high seeding for the semi-finals, driven on by new coaches Fiona Hayes, Mairead Kelly and Niamh Briggs.

Following on from their provincial league and cup double, Ennis are well represented in the starting XV to play Ulster. The Clare club have Aoife Corey, Alan McInerney and Aoibhinn O’Loughlin in the back-line, with Eilish Cahill pairing up with Listowel’s Aine Enright in the second row.

The Skibbereen trio of Vivienne O’Donovan, Emma Connolly and Eimear Minihan slot into the pivotal positions of full-back, out-half and number 8 respectively. Hayes’ young squad had their first training session at Cork Institute of Technology on July 2, and Ulster have come through a similar build-up under coaches Charlie Farrell and Zoe Templeton.

Ulster’s Interprovincial preparations included a 17-13 win over the touring Midwest Thunderbirds, a scrappy game during which Virgina’s Ava Fannin, the team captain, and Enniskillen duo Lucy Thompson and Zara Flack all touched down.

Farrell’s side will miss influential Virginia centre and vice-captain Amanda McQuade, who is away on Ireland Sevens duty along with Mya Alcorn and Lucy Turkington. Dundalk’s Sophie Kinghan, the younger sister of Ireland Sevens new cap Lucinda Kinghan, features in a back-line led by Larne’s Toni Macartney.

His squad may be light on 15s experience, but Farrell says they are ‘a really talented bunch of girls’ and that he’s ‘really excited to see how they go’ during the coming weeks. Vice-captain and Monaghan product Ella Garland is one of the province’s brightest prospects along with Enniskillen’s India Daley, a try scorer during last September’s 31-5 victory over Munster.

MUNSTER U-18 WOMEN: Vivienne O’Donovan (Skibbereen); Aoife Corey (Ennis), Saskia Morrissey (Kilrush), Alana McInerney (Ennis), Aoibhinn O’Loughlin (Ennis); Emma Connolly (Skibbereen), Courtney Duhig (St. Mary’s); Eileen Gleeson (Nenagh Ormond), Sarah Murphy (Kanturk) (capt), Erika Kiely (Carrick-on-Suir), Eilish Cahill (Ennis), Aine Enright (Listowel), Aaliyah Te Pou (Shannon), Faye Dowling (Fethard & District), Eimear Minihan (Skibbereen).

Replacements: Rebecca Collins (St. Mary’s), Chloe Ann O’Driscoll (Skibbereen), Niamh Thornton (Skibbereen), Marea Walsh (Shannon), Alex O’Sullivan (Skibbereen), Clodagh McMahon (Kilrush), Roisin Houlihane (Ballina/Kilaloe), Jennifer Fogarty (Fethard & District).

ULSTER U-18 WOMEN: Farrah McCloskey (Enniskillen); Sophie Kinghan (Dundalk), Zara Flack (Enniskillen), Moya Hill (Enniskillen), Lucy Thompson (Enniskillen); Toni Macartney (Larne), Sarah Shrestha (Dungannon); Ella Garland (Cooke), Aoife Cahill (Malone), Ava Fannin (Virginia) (capt), Kim Johnston (Dungannon), Taryn Schutzler (Malone), Sophie Barrett (Enniskillen), Erin Carson (Malone), India Daley (Enniskillen).

Replacements: Cara O’Neill (Malone), Hannah Cooney (Malone), Delyth Cook (Ballyclare), Samantha Cassidy Campbell (Ballyclare), Rachel McGee (Ballyshannon), Lauren Kilfedder (Enniskillen), Emma Ryan (Virginia), Jenna Corkey (City of Armagh).

2019 IRFU SENIOR & UNDER-18 WOMEN’S INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIPS:

Round 1 – Saturday, August 17

Leinster U-18 Women v Connacht U-18 Women, Parsonstown, MU Barnhall RFC, 2pm
Leinster Women v Connacht Women, Energia Park, 5.30pm

Munster U-18 Women v Ulster U-18 Women, Irish Independent Park, 1pm
Munster Women v Ulster Women, Irish Independent Park, 3pm

Round 2 – Saturday, August 24

Connacht U-18 Women v Munster U-18 Women, the Sportsground, 1pm
Connacht Women v Munster Women, the Sportsground, 3pm

Ulster U-18 Women v Leinster U-18 Women, Palace Grounds, City Of Armagh RFC, 3pm
Ulster Women v Leinster Women, Palace Grounds, City Of Armagh RFC, 7pm

Round 3 – Saturday, August 31

Ulster U-18 Women v Connacht U-18 Women, Queen’s Sport, Upper Malone, 1pm
Ulster Women v Connacht Women, Queen’s Sport, Upper Malone, 3pm

Munster U-18 Women v Leinster U-18 Women, Irish Independent Park, 1pm
Munster Women v Leinster Women, Irish Independent Park, 3pm

Semi-Finals – Saturday, September 14

Finals – Saturday, September 21