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Energia Women’s All-Ireland League: Top Four & Conference Previews

Energia Women’s All-Ireland League: Top Four & Conference Previews

Energia Women’s All-Ireland League: Top Four & Conference Previews

Lucy Mulhall is pictured in action for Ireland during the recent HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournament in Malaga ©INPHO/Martin Seras Lima

Ireland Women’s Sevens captain Lucy Mulhall and a number of her team-mates have been released to play in the latest round of the Energia Women’s All-Ireland League.

ENERGIA WOMEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE – TOP FOUR:

ROUND 4: Saturday, February 12

Kick-off 2pm unless stated –

UL BOHEMIANS (3rd) v RAILWAY UNION (2nd), UL Arena

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: UL Bohemians: WWWLWWWWWLWL; Railway Union: WWDWDWWWWWLW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – UL Bohemians: Points: Nicole Cronin 71; Tries: Chloe Pearse 9; Railway Union: Points: Nikki Caughey 105; Tries: Aoife Doyle, Niamh Byrne 7 each

Preview: Former Ireland international Niamh Kavanagh makes a welcome return to the bench for UL Bohemians’ ‘must win’ tussle with Railway Union. They trail the defending champions by two points with two rounds remaining.

Compared to the team that lost 31-22 to Blackrock College, Bohs switch Eimear Considine to full-back and Enya Breen moves to out-half in the absence of top scorer Nicole Cronin. Stephanie Nunan pairs up with Rachel Allen in midfield.

Following her brace as a replacement against Blackrock, Clodagh O’Halloran comes in to start in the back row. She has hit a rich vein of form, scoring five tries in as many games.

Kavanagh, Bohs’ director of Women’s rugby, commented: “To be fair, all the games after Christmas have been like cup finals. The quality of rugby (in the Top Four) and the close results have them all like finals and ‘must win’ games.

“It’s brilliant for the game and for players to have that level week in, week out. We’re expecting a very physical battle with Railway for the full 80 minutes.

“I’m very excited to be back in the matchday squad. It’s been a few months of rehab and it’s just great to be back on the pitch to play some rugby with my friends – that’s what the game is all about.”

Meanwhile, Railway travel down to Limerick with the addition of four members of Ireland’s World Sevens Series silver medal-winning squad from Seville, including leading light Eve Higgins.

Higgins returns to 15s action alongside captain Niamh Byrne in the centre, while Claire Boles and Katie Heffernan start at openside flanker and on the wing respectively. Anna McGann will provide impact off the bench.

Head coach and director of rugby, John Cronin, deemed it ‘the most difficult selection of the year’, with ‘some excellent athletes missing out on the 22’.

Having got back to winning ways against Old Belvedere, Cronin said: “We’re delighted to get some players back from injury and from international duty to bolster the squad.

“Our friends at Old Wesley allowed us to train on the 4G pitch in Energia Park on Thursday night and we had a very sharp session. There’s a great mood in the camp and we are confident that the squad selected can get the job done.”

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

OLD BELVEDERE (4th) v BLACKROCK COLLEGE (1st), Ollie Campbell Park, 3pm

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Old Belvedere: WWLWWWLLLLLL; Blackrock College: LWWWWWLWWWWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Old Belvedere: Points: Clare Gorman, Jemma Farrell 45 each; Tries: Clare Gorman 9; Blackrock College: Points: Hannah O’Connor 73; Tries: Michelle Claffey 9

Preview: Blackrock College are one win away from a place in the league final, two hard-fought victories away to Railway and UL putting Ben Martin’s side in that enviable position, topping the table by four points.

It is very much ‘head down and keep going’ for ‘Rock captain Michelle Claffey, with three of their four personnel changes this week coming in the back-line.

Lisa Mullen, fresh from her involvement in the Ireland national screening camp, slots back in at out-half, Maggie Boylan and Maeve Liston fill the wing berths, and Leinster captain Christy Haney packs down at tighthead prop.

“It’s a very exciting weekend, however there is nothing certain or being taken for granted,” said Claffey. “Old Belvedere are a quality side, they’ll present a massive test for us.

“There are elements of our game we need to be better at heading into the last two rounds. We want to consistently improve, there’s consistent competition for starting spots and that allows training to be of a high standard and quality.”

Belvedere may be out of title contention but they are determined to close out the season as best they can, with head coach Johnny Garth hoping they can build on their performance against Railway last time out.

“We played very well against Railway. It’s been a tough year against the other top three teams, so we just have to try and finish the season strongly and build for next season,” he said.

“We have a number of players unavailable (this week), it’s a young side. Hopefully the experiences gained this year will stand us in good stead as we look to progress as a team.”

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

ENERGIA WOMEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE – CONFERENCE:

ROUND 4: Saturday, February 12

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –

BALLINCOLLIG (2nd) v SUTTONIANS (1st), Tanner Park

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Ballincollig: WLWLDLLLLWWW; Suttonians: LLWLLLWWLWWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Ballincollig: Points: Denise Redmond 25; Tries: Heather Kennedy, Clare Coombes 4 each; Suttonians: Points: Mary Healy 40; Tries: Mary Healy 8

Preview: Another top of the table clash for Suttonians, coming hot on the heels of their titanic tussle with Galwegians in the last round. Ballincollig have moved into second place, matching Sutts’ three-match winning run.

The Dubliners welcome back Ireland Sevens international Kate Farrell McCabe for the trip to Cork, as they return to the scene of a frustrating 14-13 defeat from earlier in the season.

Suttonians head coach Stephen Costelloe commented: “Both teams have definitely improved since then, and I’ve no doubt it will be a very different contest this time around, both sides on a high with three from three.

“We know we’re in for a tough game. We take each game as it comes, focus on us, our plan, and executing what we need to out there. The players are focused and know what needs to be done.”

On Mary Healy and Emily McKeown’s involvement in the Ireland camp, he admitted: “Absolutely delighted for both of them, it’s a great credit to their parent club Naas, the players in our squad driving them on and to the players themselves.

“They both work tirelessly are are always looking to improve. We have a few more that will be pushing down that door to get in there and cause Greg (McWilliams) a few (selection) headaches.”

While disappointed to be without experienced centre Mona Fehily through injury, Ballincollig head coach Fiona Hayes is expecting others to grasp the opportunity ‘to shine in different positions’.

Sinead O’Reilly comes onto the left wing following her try-scoring cameo against Cooke, with Alison Kelly switching to a midfield role. Prop Alix Cunneen is the only change up front.

“Both teams are on the back of a few wins and we are aware that we will be seeing a far more confident Suttonians squad than the team we faced in the opening game of the season,” explained Hayes.

“They’re a very exciting team to watch, but we hope we can bring our own brand of exciting rugby on Saturday. We’ve been building nicely as a squad.

“We have players on the bench ready to come on and make big impacts. Hopefully home advantage will also give us an extra lift for the game.”

Recent League Meeting – Saturday, September 25, 2021: Ballincollig 14 Suttonians 13, Tanner Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Suttonians to win

COOKE (6th) v WICKLOW (4th), Shaw’s Bridge

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Cooke: LWLLLLLWWLLL; Wicklow: LLLWLWLLLLLW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Cooke: Points: Aishling O’Connell 30; Tries: Aishling O’Connell 6; Wicklow: Points: Beth Roberts 29; Tries: Sarah Gleeson 3

Preview: The big news coming out of the Wicklow camp is that Ireland Sevens captain Lucy Mulhall will make her long-awaited AIL debut, donning the number 13 jersey as they look to make it back-to-back wins over the Belfast sides.

With Vicky Elmes Kinlan nursing a slight hamstring injury, Wicklow head coach Jason Moreton is delighted to have a player of Mulhall’s calibre involved this week.

“Lucy is an exciting addition,” he agreed. “It’s been a long time coming getting her to play some club rugby. She has already lifted the intensity at training.

“Our young back-line are excited to have her on board and Ella Roberts also returns to full-back after a couple of weeks off. The win away to Malone has given the players confidence, our scrum was strong.”

He added: “Niamh Ni Dhroma (our player coach) continues to lead the pack from number 8. Co-captain Amy O’Neill is back from injury, and we’ve a strong front row of Lauren Barry, Noelle Ward and Niamh O’Leary starting.”

Cooke have players coming back from injury, their pack being strengthened considerably by Ilse van Staden, Beth Cregan and Katie Hetherington. Caitlin Fisher makes her seasonal debut on the wing.

There is also a first outing for a new-look half-back pairing. Ashleigh Orchard (formerly Baxter), an ex-Ireland Sevens team-mate of Mulhall’s, is tried out at number 10, alongside Georgia Boyce.

Cregan acknowledged: “We’re looking forward to being back at Shaw’s Bridge, we love playing on our home pitch and can’t wait to show our improvements this week.

“We knew travelling to Wicklow (in December) was going to be a hard game and it showed in the scoreline (a 20-19 win) how close it was the last time. Some of their results in the New Year have shown how much they have improved.

“We just want to focus on us and ensure we clean up a few things and take our chances when they come. We still have an impressive squad who want to push on and show what they are about.”

Recent League Meeting – Saturday, December 4, 2021: Wicklow 19 Cooke 20, Ashtown Lane

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Wicklow to win

GALWEGIANS (3rd) v MALONE (5th), Crowley Park

Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Galwegians: LLLWWLWLWWWL; Malone: WLDLLLWLLLLL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Galwegians: Points: Orla Dixon, Emma Keane 35 each; Tries: Orla Dixon 7; Malone: Points: Holly Brannigan 34; Tries: Holly Brannigan 6

Preview: Stung by their defeat to Suttonians, Galwegians are determined to bounce back against fifth-placed Malone. Maintaining their concentration for the full game has been a key area in the build-up.

“I think the lesson we took out of Suttonians game is that we have to stay switched on for the full 80 minutes against quality opposition,” said ‘Wegians coach Craig Hansberry. “We switched off for 10 minutes and the punished us by scoring two tries.”

The Blue Belles have slipped to third place but see their remaining two home matches as ‘a great opportunity’ to reach the league’s inaugural Conference final at Energia Park on Saturday, February 26.

Malone were 25-17 winners when the sides met in Belfast back in September, and ‘Wegians head coach Jarrad Butler is anticipating another ‘physical encounter against a team that will not give up for 80 minutes’.

He was really pleased to see Orla Dixon, their leading try scorer, Fiona Scally and Lisa-Marie Murphy involved in the Ireland screening camp last week as a reward for their consistent club form.

“There are plenty of players in this ‘Wegians squad who, I believe, have all the requirements to play at a higher level, and I look forward to seeing that list of Galwegians representatives grow in the near future,” added the Connacht back rower.

Two of Malone’s three Conference losses have been by two points or less. Injuries have impacted their performances of late, but head coach Jamie McMullan can still field ‘an exciting squad with a mix of youth and experience’.

“This season has very much been a development process for our squad and that still remains the same. We have identified key work-ons during the Conference games and these continue to improve,” he said.

“It’s a big challenge away in Galway. We know we are going to have to be accurate and play with intensity to come away with anything from the game.

“We have been on the wrong side of a couple of tight games in recent weeks, against Ballincollig we are very aware we did not perform and against Wicklow sadly some things did not go our way despite a much-improved performance.

“We have massive faith in the ability and nature of our squad to continue to improve and come out on the right side of these results going forward.”

Recent League Meetings – Saturday, January 11, 2020: Malone 31 Galwegians 17, Gibson Park; Saturday, September 25, 2021: Malone 25 Galwegians 17, Gibson Park

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Galwegians to win