Blackrock College and Railway Union will be looking to gain a psychological edge when they face off ahead of the Energia All-Ireland League Women’s Division final next week.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE – WOMEN’S DIVSION TOP FOUR:
ROUND 5: Saturday, February 19
Kick-off 5pm unless stated –
BLACKROCK COLLEGE (1st) v RAILWAY UNION (2nd), Blackrock College 4G pitch
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Blackrock College: LWWWWWLWWWWWW; Railway Union: WWDWDWWWWWLWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Blackrock College: Points: Hannah O’Connor 73; Tries: Michelle Claffey 11; Railway Union: Points: Nikki Caughey 111; Tries: Aoife Doyle 9
Preview: Blackrock and Railway will both give opportunities to members of their wider squad when they meet in the final round of the Top Four series. It is a dress rehearsal for next Saturday’s decider.
Railway director of rugby and head coach John Cronin commented: “It’s a good opportunity to rotate the squad and give some game-time, especially given how little games were played in the Leinster League this year.”
Their most notable changes are all in the pack, with Emma Fabby and Shannah Tiffoney making their first All-Ireland League starts. Prop Grainne O’Loughlin and number 8 Grace Moore are both back from injury.
Railway are hoping to avenge a recent 16-13 home defeat to Blackrock, and while defending their title is top of the agenda, Cronin also gave special mention to Sligo RFC for their role in developing players.
“Tiffoney is a product of the excellent age-grade system at my former club, Sligo RFC. Gabriel Gormley and all the team there are doing some really fantastic work and it’s fast becoming a hotbed at girls age-grade rugby.
“With (starting second row Sonia) McDermott and O’Loughlin also from Sligo, it’s a great representation of the county on the field this weekend.”
Meanwhile, international scrum half Emily Lane returns to action with Blackrock, just a few weeks on from helping the Ireland Women make World Sevens Series history in Seville.
“Emily’s dynamism will be great to see on the 15s pitch for Blackrock,” said team captain Michelle Claffey. “We’ve a young and exciting back-three too – Maeve Liston, Meabh Deely and Maggie Boylan.
“There are a few injuries which have allowed other members of the squad to step up in key positions. Ali Coleman returns to the back row, alongside Dorothy Wall and Hannah O’Connor.”
Following her brace against Old Belvedere, centre Claffey is the league’s top try scorer with 11 tries. Closing out the Top Four with a fifth straight victory would be a big statement of intent.
“The (Top Four) games this side of Christmas have been so tough, but each game we have taken a bit of learning in order to make the team better,” she added.
“We are incredibly excited at the prospect of the final next week. It’s a very proud moment for me to get this opportunity to captain this side which is full of talent.”
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, September 25, 2021: Blackrock College 11 Railway Union 25, Stradbrook; Saturday, January 22, 2022: Railway Union 13 Blackrock College 16, Park Avenue
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Blackrock College to win
OLD BELVEDERE (4th) v UL BOHEMIANS (3rd), Energia Park
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Old Belvedere: WWLWWWLLLLLLL; UL Bohemians: WWWLWWWWWLWLL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Old Belvedere: Points: Clare Gorman, Jemma Farrell 45 each; Tries: Clare Gorman 9; UL Bohemians: Points: Nicole Cronin 71; Tries: Chloe Pearse 10
Preview: Old Belvedere will be doing their utmost to end a frustrating seven-match losing streak when they wrap up the Top Four series with a game against UL Bohemians. It has been switched to Energia Park.
Belvedere are boosted by the availability of two returning Ireland Sevens internationals, as Brittany Hogan and Erin King slot into the second row and back row respectively. Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird switches to number 8.
Elise O’Byrne-White’s selection on the left wing is the only change behind the scrum. ‘Belvo fell away in the second half against Blackrock last week, and will want to lay down a marker ahead of next Saturday’s 3rd-4th place play-off against UL.
The vastly-experienced Louise Costello joins Enya Breen at half-back for Bohs, in the only change to the side that lost 31-14 to Railway. Captain Chloe Pearse is on ten tries for the campaign so far.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 9, 2021: UL Bohemians 46 Old Belvedere 17, UL Arena; Saturday, January 22, 2022: UL Bohemians 41 Old Belvedere 7, UL Arena
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: UL Bohemians to win
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE – WOMEN’S DIVSION CONFERENCE:
ROUND 5: Saturday, February 19
Kick-off 5pm unless stated –
GALWEGIANS (2nd) v BALLINCOLLIG (3rd), Creggs RFC
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Galwegians: LLLWWLWLWWWLW; Ballincollig: WLWLDLLLLWWWL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Galwegians: Points: Emma Keane 41; Tries: Orla Dixon, Mairéad Coyne 7 each; Ballincollig: Points: Heather Kennedy 30; Tries: Heather Kennedy 6
Preview: This is the match of the day in the Conference as Galwegians and Ballincollig both bid to join Suttonians in the inaugural Conference final. ‘Wegians are two points ahead of the Cork side in the table.
The Blue Belles will be out to make the most of home advantage again, albeit weather conditions have forced the fixture to be held at Creggs RFC. Nicole Fowley will start at out-half, with Emma Keane held for an impact role off the bench.
‘Wegians manager Lisa Anglim commented: “It’s an extremely exciting weekend for us and for the whole club. Our preparation hasn’t changed much but an extra edge is added knowing that it is a ‘must win’.
“We were happy with our improvements last week but Ballincollig have had an excellent run of form after Christmas and we know they are dangerous and clinical from all areas of the pitch.
“We were beaten well by Ballincollig (31-17) earlier in the season, so we know that we’ll have to put on a complete performance for 80 minutes to get a result.”
Ballincollig have experienced centre Mona Fehily back from injury, and their only other change is at number 8 where Kira Fitzgerald gets the nod ahead of Denise Redmond this week.
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, October 9, 2021: Ballincollig 31 Galwegians 17, Tanner Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Galwegians to win
MALONE (5th) v COOKE (6th), Gibson Park
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Malone: WLDLLLWLLLLLL; Cooke: LWLLLLLWWLLLL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Malone: Points: Holly Brannigan 34; Tries: Holly Brannigan 6; Cooke: Points: Aishling O’Connell 30; Tries: Aishling O’Connell 6
Preview: Two teams who will meet each other over successive weekends, as Malone and Cooke, the Conference’s bottom two finishers, wrap up the league season with a couple of mouth-watering Belfast derbies.
Malone are much changed from last week’s heavy loss in Galway, with centre Ella Durkan, winger Anna Stanfield and scrum half Rachael McIlroy all coming in behind the scrum.
Positional changes for Cara O’Neill and Shirelle Wilson see them join Emma Taylor in the back row, Chloe McIlwaine and Rebecca Greenaway combine in the engine room, and Ashleigh Currie is selected at hooker.
Teah Maguire’s inclusion on the wing is Cooke’s sole change to the side that lost late on against Wicklow. Beth Cregan feels they can build on that performance with a stronger squad available this week.
“Hopefully having the likes of Ilse van Staden and Naomi McCord available again after sickness will provide us with some added impact from the bench,” said Cregan, who was a try scorer against Wicklow.
“We want to continue to improve our systems and work on our links within the team to hopefully take that into the final play-off game next week.
“We always look forward to playing Malone, I think both teams really bring their best when playing each other because so many of the players know each other so well.
“We know Malone are a hard, physical team with a very quick back-line if given space, so we just need to be wary of that.
“We are just looking to focus on us and continue to make the massive improvements that we have seen in the past two to three games in the Conference.”
Recent League Meetings – Sunday, October 20, 2019: Cooke 12 Malone 7, Shaw’s Bridge; Saturday, December 11, 2021: Cooke 19 Malone 10, Shaw’s Bridge
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Cooke to win
WICKLOW (4th) v SUTTONIANS (1st), Ashtown Lane
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Wicklow: LLLWLWLLLLLWW; Suttonians: LLWLLLWWLWWWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Wicklow: Points: Beth Roberts 31; Tries: Sarah Gleeson, Ella Roberts 3 each; Suttonians: Points: Mary Healy 40; Tries: Mary Healy 8
Preview: Ireland Sevens team-mates Lucy Mulhall and Kate Farrell McCabe will come up against each other when an ever-improving Wicklow play host to Conference finalists Suttonians.
Suttonians have their sights set on a perfect five-out-of-five record in the Conference, but head coach Stephen Costelloe rates this Wicklow side highly and was impressed with their two recent wins in Belfast.
“Wicklow have grown week on week, they’re a well-coached side with a great mix of youth and experience. We expect a very physical contest and they like to move the ball around too,” he said.
“It should be a very exciting game. We are expecting a very different contest to the one before Christmas (a 38-6 win), that’s for sure. As always, we will focus on what we need to and on how we want to play.”
Jessica Kelleher comes in at out-half for Sutts, with Nicole Carroll moving to full-back and Lena Kibler brought in on the left wing.
An entirely new front row of Julia Bauer, Julia O’Connor and Katie Reel will pack down together for the table toppers. Brenda Barr reverts to the second row, while Ciara Farrell is selected at number 8.
Costelloe continued: “We’re giving a few people the opportunity to put their hand up for next week (the final), but we want to keep that momentum up.
“Kate Farrell McCabe (who scored four tries against Ballincollig last week) adds another dimension to our back-line and has the ability to punish any mistakes by the opposition. She’s also a brick wall in terms of defence.”
Meanwhile, it will be a home debut for Mulhall after she enjoyed a successful first start in the Wicklow midfield away to Cooke. Talented teenager Vicky Elmes Kinlan joins her in the centre.
“Great result last weekend, away to Cooke, with our first bonus point win of the season, scoring two late tries,” explained Wicklow head coach Jason Moreton.
“We are fortunate to be able to put out our strongest team this season. We hope to give Suttonians a very tough match before the play-offs next week.”
Emily Ryan is back at openside flanker, Jessica Schmidt switches to lock, and Elmes Kinlan’s return in the backs sees their joint-top try scorer, Sarah Gleeson, move out to a wing position.
Excited by the back-line’s potential, Moreton added: “The back-line is very young – there’s two 19-year-olds at 10 and 13 in Beth (Roberts) and Vicky – so it’s great that we can slot Lucy into 12 to help manage their games.
“Erin McConnell, our scrum half and captain, is training with Leinster and growing with more confidence every week.”
Recent League Meeting – Saturday, November 27, 2021: Suttonians 38 Wicklow 6, JJ McDowell Memorial Grounds
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Suttonians to win