A number of Women’s National Talent Squad members and Ireland Under-18-capped players will feature in the opening round of the PwC IRFU Under-18 Girls Interprovincial Championship.
The tournament gets underway on Saturday, with defending champions Leinster travelling to Newforge to take on Ulster, while Connacht host Munster at Galway Corinthians RFC.
The selected Connacht U-18 Girls team includes captain Éabha Nic Dhonnacha, who is playing at her club ground, Hannah Clarke and Molly Boote (pictured below) from the IRFU’s WNTS panel which is overseen by Katie Fitzhenry, the IRFU Women’s Performance Pathway coach.
Craig Hansberry heads up the Connacht coaching team, with the westerners eager to make the most of home advantage before trips to Energia Park and Newforge in the coming weeks.
Connacht’s summer training has included a skills session with professional player Cian Prendergast and Academy coach Andrew Browne, while they enjoyed warm-up wins over North American touring side Celtic Barbarians and their Ulster counterparts.
WNTS and Ireland Under-18 Sevens pair Caitriona Finn and Kate Flannery are Munster’s starting half-backs for the first round trip to Galway. Munster Women’s Development Officer Ken Imbusch is their head coach.
Out-half Finn, who only turned 16 in June, has a strong skillset and first started playing rugby at the age of five in Nenagh. Lock and captain Saskia Wycherley is the youngest sister of Fineen and Josh from the province’s men’s team.
“They’re absolutely buzzing, the atmosphere in camp is absolutely electric,” said Imbusch. “It’s adding massively to the cohesion and the enjoyment factor. Everybody’s having fun and there’s good competition for places.
“Everybody’s training hard and have really bought into the Munster Rugby way and the Munster Rugby ethos. We’re very happy with where we’re at ahead of the first game coming up.”
Munster have a good number of players back from last year, and a crop of them also experienced winning the IRFU U-18 Girls Sevens Interprovincial Series at the IRFU High Performance Centre in April.
Greystones’ Eva Sterritt, who captained the Ireland U-18s to bronze at the recent Rugby Europe Sevens Championship, starts at outside centre for Leinster in their series opener away to Ulster.
Sterritt was on the wing when Leinster lifted the trophy twelve months ago, with four members of that victorious side – Dannah O’Brien, Leah Tarpey, Aoife Dalton and Emma Tilly – currently on tour with the Ireland senior squad in Japan.
The province’s 2021 captain, Aoife Wafer, won her first Ireland senior 15s cap during the TikTok Women’s Six Nations, while Erin King and Vicky Elmes Kinlan are both now part of the Ireland Sevens set-up, regularly playing on the World Series.
Their rapid rise up the ranks shows the impressive work being down by coaches at club, schools and provincial level, along with the early success of the inaugural WNTS programme in advancing players to a level where they can pull on the green jersey.
Navan duo Abby Moyles and Jade Gaffney are tasked with running the Leinster back-line, and Wafer’s younger sister, 16-year-old flanker Orla, is one to watch out for in the pack along with second rows Koren Dunne and Jane Neill, who were also capped by Ireland at the U-18 Women’s Six Nations Festival.
Leinster head coach Mick Bolger commented: “I’m very happy to say that we have a talented bunch of girls from a rugby point of view, and lots of very good athletes from a physical point of view and technically and tactically.
“We’ve built a strong team bond. We’re really eager to make it almost feel like a family, where we are happy to be around each other and help the girls be as accountable to themselves as we can.
“Whether it’s just coming up with a song that we can sing in the changing room after a game, or putting names on our lineouts and the backline moves, but it’s their programme. We’re just here to facilitate it.”
Ulster have two home matches at Newforge to look forward to, sandwiching a second round journey to Musgrave Park. They are coached this season by Neil Johnston. Neill Alcorn, the forwards coach, assists Fitzhenry with the WNTS programme.
Enniskillen starlet Sophie Barrett, who is part of the WNTS, packs down at tighthead prop for their first round clash. Leah Irwin and Megan Creighton, the starting half-backs, are both just 16.
Ulster always produce a couple of gems, particularly in the forwards where Malone lock Jorja Battishill emerged from last year’s competition, going on represent Ireland at the U-18 Six Nations Festival and be part of the Ireland senior team’s summer programme.
PWC IRFU UNDER-18 GIRLS INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP – ROUND 1: Saturday, August 27
CONNACHT U-18 GIRLS v MUNSTER U-18 GIRLS, Corinthian Park, Galway Corinthians RFC, 2pm
CONNACHT U-18 GIRLS: Hannah Clarke (Tuam/Oughterard/St. Paul’s); Evanna Finn (Galway Corinthians RFC/Yeats College), Molly Boote (Connemara RFC/Clifden Community College), Éabha Nic Dhonnacha (Galway Corinthians RFC/Scoil Chumsitheach Chiaráin) (capt), Emily Foley (Ballina RFC/Jesus and Mary Secondary School); Clara Barrett (Ballina RFC/St. Brendan’s Collage), Grainne Moran (Ballina RFC/Gortnor Abbey); Ella Burns (Tuam/Oughterard/Dunmore Community School), Ellen O’Toole (Westport RFC/Sancta Maria College), Roisin Maher (Creggs RFC/Convent of Mercy), Grainne Hahessy (Claremorris Colts/Mount Saint Micheal), Sarah McCormick (Ballina RFC/Gortnor Abbey), Ailish Quinn (Ballina RFC/St. Mary’s Secondary School), Beibhinn Gleeson (Tuam/Oughterard/Scoil Bhríde, Mercy Secondary School), Karly Tierney (Tuam/Oughterard/Salerno Secondary School).
Replacements: Ella Greene (Ballinasloe RFC/Ardscoil Mhuire), Niamh Corless (Claremorris Colts/Mount Saint Micheal), Jemima Adams Verling (Creggs RFC/Colaiste Mhuire), Rhona O’Dea (Claremorris Colts/Mount Saint Micheal), Laura Hastings (Tuam/Oughterard/Presentation College), Abbie Murray (Buccaneers RFC/Colaiste Chiarain), Mila Sotoparra (Ballina RFC/St. Joseph’s), Sarah Purcell (Creggs RFC/Colaiste Mhuire).
MUNSTER U-18 GIRLS: Ellen Boylan (Carrick-on-Suir RFC); Lucia Linn (Dolphin RFC), Emily O’Regan (Tralee RFC), Grainne Burke (Ennis RFC), Ellie Cournane (Iveragh RFC/Tralee RFC); Caitriona Finn (UL Bohemian RFC/Ballina-Killaloe RFC), Kate Flannery (Fethard RFC/UL Bohemian RFC); Ciara Fleming (Carrick-on-Suir RFC), Aoife Fleming (Carrick-on-Suir RFC), Megan O’Callaghan (Bandon RFC), Aimee Kelly (Bruff RFC), Saskia Wycherley (Bantry Bay RFC) (capt), Beth Buttimer (Fethard RFC), Clodagh O’Keefe (Ballincollig RFC), Aoibheann Hahessy (Ennis RFC).
Replacements: Niamh McCarthy (Bantry Bay RFC), Anna Roche (Mitchelstown RFC/Mallow RFC), Lilly Morris (Killarney RFC), Saoirse Crowe (Kilrush RFC), Sadhbh Morrison (Tralee RFC), Rebecca Rodgers (Ballina-Killaloe RFC), Emma Keane (Ennis RFC), Orna Moynihan (Ennis RFC).
ULSTER U-18 GIRLS v LEINSTER U-18 GIRLS, Newforge Country Club, Belfast, 3pm
ULSTER U-18 GIRLS: Katie Gilmour (Cooke RFC); Scarlett Keys (Enniskillen RFC), Emma McArdle (City of Armagh RFC), Tara O’Neill (Cooke RFC), Mia Ferguson (Malone RFC); Leah Irwin (Enniskillen RFC), Megan Creighton (Malone RFC); Sarah Roberts (Donaghadee RFC), Maebh Clenaghan (City of Derry RFC), Sophie Barrett (Enniskillen RFC), Cara O’Kane (Cooke RFC), Jessica Kelly (Virginia RFC), Kaitlyn Graham (City of Armagh RFC), Ruby Starrett (Larne RFC), Sadhbh McGrath (City of Derry RFC) (capt).
Replacements: Katie-Anne McCallion (Malone RFC), Maia Finane (Virginia RFC), Cara McManus (Malone RFC), Lucy Calvin (Royal School Armagh), Olivia Black (Enniskillen RFC), Ellie-Louise McCall (City of Armagh RFC), Jessica Wilkinson (Ballymena RFC), Elle Corkey (City of Armagh RFC).
LEINSTER U-18 GIRLS: Robyn O’Connor (Wexford Wanderers RFC); Sophie Woulfe (Dundalk RFC), Eva Sterritt (Greystones RFC), Cara Martin (Navan RFC), Amy Larn (Athy RFC); Abby Moyles (Navan RFC), Jade Gaffney (Navan RFC); Hannah Wilson (Old Belvedere RFC), Ava Kavanagh (Arklow RFC), Isobel Clerk (Mullingar RFC), Koren Dunne (Portlaoise RFC), Jane Neill (Arklow RFC), Prudence Isaac (Arklow RFC), Orla Wafer (Enniscorthy RFC), Amy O’Mahony (Greystones RFC).
Replacements: Lauren Fitzpatrick (Navan RFC), Kellie Burke (Mullingar RFC), Jess Griffey (Wicklow RFC), Anna Mai O’Brien (Mullingar RFC), Orla McDonald (Portarlington RFC), Eve Prendergast (New Ross RFC), Abaigeal Connon (Tullamore RFC), Emma Brogan (Navan RFC).
FORTHCOMING FIXTURES –
ROUND 2: Saturday, September 3
MUNSTER U-18 GIRLS v ULSTER U-18 GIRLS, Musgrave Park, 3pm
LEINSTER U-18 GIRLS v CONNACHT U-18 GIRLS, Energia Park, 5pm
ROUND 3: Saturday, September 10
MUNSTER U-18 GIRLS v LEINSTER U-18 GIRLS, Musgrave Park, 2.30pm
ULSTER U-18 GIRLS v CONNACHT U-18 GIRLS, Newforge Country Club, 3pm