The new Top Four and Conference format of the Energia Women’s All-Ireland League kicks off today, with the centre-piece being UL Bohemians’ visit to Railway Union, the pre-Christmas table toppers.
ENERGIA WOMEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE – TOP FOUR:
ROUND 1: Saturday, January 15
Kick-off 5pm unless stated –
BLACKROCK COLLEGE v OLD BELVEDERE, Stradbrook
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Blackrock College: LWWWWWLWW; Old Belvedere: WWLWWWLLL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Blackrock College: Points: Hannah O’Connor 53; Tries: Maggie Boylan 8; Old Belvedere: Points: Clare Gorman 45; Tries: Clare Gorman 9
Preview: Fans not able to attend this Top Four opener at Stradbrook will be able to follow the action as it happens on www.irishrugbylive.ie, with commentary from the IRFU’s Ross O’Donoghue and former Ireland star Hannah Tyrrell.
Tyrrell’s former international colleague Katie Fitzhenry returns to Blackrock’s starting XV, featuring in midfield alongside captain Michelle Claffey. Laura Feely, Emma Hooban and Hannah O’Connor bolster the pack.
Fiona Tuite’s impressive recovery from a ruptured hamstring sees her return on the left wing for Old Belvedere. Sene Naoupu and Kathryn Dane will hope to create openings out wide for Tuite and the nine-try Clare Gorman.
Recent League Meetings – Thursday, March 5, 2020: Old Belvedere 3 Blackrock College 12, Ollie Campbell Park; Saturday, December 4, 2021: Blackrock College 17 Old Belvedere 7, Stradbrook
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Blackrock College to win
RAILWAY UNION v UL BOHEMIANS, Park Avenue
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Railway Union: WWDWDWWWW; UL Bohemians: WWWLWWWWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Railway Union: Points: Nikki Caughey 92; Tries: Aoife Doyle 7; UL Bohemians: Points: Nicole Cronin 55; Tries: Chloe Pearse 7
Preview: The league’s big four clubs will battle it out for the overall title in the coming weeks, and Railway director of rugby John Cronin feels that last week’s All-Ireland Cup run-out was ideal preparation for his squad.
“We had a very useful outing against Blackrock last week,” he said. “It allowed us to get a game in after the break and that should stand to us going into this weekend.
“We’ve freshened up the team this week with Siobhan and Kate (McCarthy), Niamh (Byrne) and Amanda (McQuade) coming into the starting side, and Molly (Boyne) coming onto the bench. It’s a bench that can make an impact when they come on.
“Bohs have always been tough opponents. It should be a great contest and the players are excited to get out there.”
Ireland starlet Enya Breen switches to the centre for UL Bohs, with veteran scrum half Louise Costello keeping Kerry youngster Muirne Wall on the bench.
Niamh Briggs’ charges fell to a 37-10 defeat on their most recent visit to Park Avenue. Their form has definitely improved since then, led by inspirational captain Chloe Pearse, their top try scorer with seven so far.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, January 18, 2020: UL Bohemians 31 Railway Union 26, UL Arena; Saturday, October 23, 2021: Railway Union 37 UL Bohemians 10, Park Avenue
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Railway Union to win
ENERGIA WOMEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE – CONFERENCE:
ROUND 1: Saturday, January 15
Kick-off 5pm unless stated –
MALONE v BALLINCOLLIG, Gibson Park, 12pm
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Malone: WLDLLLWLL; Ballincollig: WLWLDLLLL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Malone: Points: Holly Brannigan 19; Tries: Sarah Murphy, Holly Brannigan, Emma Jordan, Neve Jones 3 each; Ballincollig: Points: Gemma Lane 15; Tries: Gemma Lane 3
Preview: Ballincollig make the trip to Belfast eager to avenge November’s 33-19 home defeat to Malone. They are back closer to full strength with Gemma Lane and Jayne Pennefather returning behind the scrum.
Katelyn Fleming and Kira Fitzgerald come into a freshened up back row, while the strong-carrying Denise Redmond switches to lock. There is a eye-catching positional switch in the Malone line-up too.
Captain Peita McAlister shows her versatility in moving to openside flanker, as the Cregagh Red Sox begin life without Gloucester-Hartpury signing Neve Jones.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, November 27, 2021: Ballincollig 19 Malone 33, Tanner Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Malone to win
WICKLOW v GALWEGIANS, Ashtown Lane, 2.30pm
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Wicklow: LLLWLWLLL; Galwegians: LLLWWLWLW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Wicklow: Points: Beth Roberts 14; Tries: Sarah Gleeson, Aoibhin Stone 2 each; Galwegians: Points: Emma Keane 29; Tries: Orla Dixon 5
Preview: It was just six short weeks ago that these sides battled it out in Glenina where Galwegians posted a 22-7 victory. There were two tries for Mairéad Coyne, who has taken over the ‘Wegians captaincy from the injured Mary Healy.
The Blue Belles, who finished fifth in the table before Christmas, welcome back Orla Dixon, their leading try scorer with five, and Nicole Fowley, who partners Darwyn O’Halloran at half-back.
Tammy Breen and Sarah Gleeson are reunited in the centre for Wicklow, who also bring in Sue Brady on the right wing. Stradbally native Robyn Mullen reverts to hooker, in a pack anchored by player-coach Niamh Ní Dhroma.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, December 11, 2021: Galwegians 22 Wicklow 7, Crowley Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Galwegians to win
COOKE v SUTTONIANS, Shaw’s Bridge
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Cooke: LWLLLLLWW; Suttonians: LLWLLLWWL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Cooke: Points: Helen McGhee 25; Tries: Helen McGhee 5; Suttonians: Points: Mary Healy, Molly Fitzgerald, Nicole Carroll 20 each; Tries: Mary Healy, Molly Fitzgerald 4 each
Preview: Sorcha Mac Laimhin will pack down at tighthead prop for Cooke’s Conference opener against Suttonians. Captain Aishling O’Connell starts on the bench as head coach Daniel Allen reshuffles his deck.
Naomi McCord’s move to lock sees Katie Hetherington bumped up from the replacements to start at openside flanker. Suttonians posted a 28-12 victory when the sides met in Dublin in early October.
Sutts have some of their key creators and finishers on board for the Belfast mission. Emily McKeown and Shannon Touhey are the back-line changes, and Mary Healy, who continues to impress with ball in hand, Ciara Farrell and Aifric O’Brien all get the nod up front.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 30, 2019: Suttonians 39 Cooke 17, JJ McDowell Memorial Grounds; Saturday, October 9, 2021: Suttonians 28 Cooke 12, JJ McDowell Memorial Grounds
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Suttonians to win