A number of Ireland Sevens internationals will see action with their clubs today, as the Energia All-Ireland League Women’s Division begins its second block of fixtures.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE WOMEN’S DIVISION – ROUND 4:
Saturday, October 8
Kick-off 5pm unless stated –
SUTTONIANS (5th) v RAILWAY UNION (3rd), JJ McDowell Memorial Grounds, 3pm
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Suttonians: DLW; Railway Union: WW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Suttonians: Points: Órfhlaith Murray 10; Tries: Annie Buntine, Molly Fitzgerald, Sophie Gibney, Emma Jordan, Janita Kareta, Catherine Martin, Emily McKeown, Shannon Touhey 1 each; Railway Union: Points: Christine Coffey 14; Tries: Aoife Doyle, Ailsa Hughes, Deirdre Roberts, Carmen Rodera 2 each
Preview: The Ireland Sevens trio of Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Eve Higgins and Katie Heffernan will line out for Railway Union in their Energia All-Ireland League Women’s Division derby against Suttonians.
The reigning champions reintroduce a sprinkling of Sevens international talent, recent Ireland 15s new cap Leah Tarpey makes her debut at inside centre, and Molly Scuffil-McCabe shifts from full-back to out-half.
“We’re looking forward to playing our first local derby of the season,” said Railway senior coach Larissa Muldoon. “Suttonians have been improving each year, so it should be a really competitive fixture.
“We have a few new combinations, so we are excited to see the new blend of personnel.”
Suttonians, who beat Cooke 15-7 in last week’s rescheduled game, have also rejigged their back-line. Emma Jordan comes in at full-back, the versatile Emily McKeown moves to scrum half, and Meabh O’Brien and Jools Aungier join forces in midfield.
Forwards Julia O’Connor and Nicola Bolger are also drafted into the Sutts pack, with some of those changes enforced due to injuries picked up by captain Catherine Martin, Sophie Gibney, Soneva Scott and Sevens international Kate Farrell McCabe.
A target for Suttonians, coming on the back of that victory up in Belfast, is ‘being more imposing on the opposition’ and ‘keeping that focus on our game and making the opposition work for the full 80 minutes’.
Head coach Stephen Costelloe continued: “It was nice to get the win against Cooke, but we were disappointed with our execution at times. We controlled the scrum as we have done in all games, which has been great, and something we know we can build on.
“(Playing the champions), it’s the same as any other approach to be honest. We will be focused on how we want to defend and attack.
“It’s always nice to play against top players and gives our players the chance to lay down a marker to show how good we are.”
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 12, 2019: Suttonians 10 Railway Union 60, JJ McDowell Memorial Grounds; Saturday, November 6, 2021: Railway Union 62 Suttonians 3, Park Avenue
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Railway Union to win
BALLINCOLLIG (9th) v WICKLOW (7th), Tanner Park
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Ballincollig: LLL; Wicklow: LL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Ballincollig: Points: Gillian Coombes, Sarah O’Donovan 5 each; Tries: Gillian Coombes, Sarah O’Donovan 1 each; Wicklow: Points: Beth Roberts 11; Tries: Ella Roberts, Jocelyn Jones 2 each
Preview: Winger Alison Kelly and prop Clare Coombes are Ballincollig’s two changes for this evening’s crunch encounter with Wicklow. After three opening defeats, a return to winning ways on home soil would give the Cork side a big lift.
Ballincollig head coach Fiona Hayes commented: “We are gradually seeing improvements in the team’s performance in each round. We’re hoping to have more of the ball this week.
“A lot of our training focus has been on ball retention and being clinical in the scoring zone. Looking to get the first win of the season, but we understand it will take a huge performance against an exciting Wicklow team.”
Roisin Stone, Wicklow’s teenage scrum half, has typified their improved form since the start of the season. She has gained a call-up to train with the Leinster squad preparing for the Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship.
“We know our biggest test is this next set of three games and away to Ballincollig first up,” said Wicklow head coach Jason Moreton. “It’s going to really show how far we have come on from last season.
“We’re delighted with the improvements within the squad in comparison to the same time last year. Our first three games last year we played three of the top four sides. It was an eye opener, conceding 260-plus points and scoring none.
“We’ve played Blackrock and UL Bohemians in our first matches this season and delighted that we scored 41 points and picked up two bonus points against Bohs.
“Ballincollig are strong up front and like to play a powerful running game. We’ll need to continue to show the intensity on defence that we did against Blackrock and Bohs. The main goal is to play with this intensity for 80 minutes.”
Player coach Niamh Ni Dhroma remains sidelined, and Emma Curran and Saoirse O’Reilly (both knee) have been added to Wicklow’s injury list. Sevens international Vicky Elmes Kinlan and Jocelyn Jones, who touched down twice again UL, are also absent.
Wicklow’s matchday squad includes three of last year’s Under-18s – Stone, Leah Murphy and Jennifer Madden. Maya McDevitt starts her second match at hooker and Moreton also welcomes the return of Lauren Barry, last season’s Player of the Year, to the starting pack.
Ella Roberts, the scorer of two terrific solo tries so far, continues as captain, anchoring a back-three that includes Loretta Gilbert, who gets her first start on the right wing.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 6, 2021: Wicklow 15 Ballincollig 10, Ashtown Lane; Saturday, February 26, 2022: Ballincollig 0 Wicklow 31, Tanner Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ballincollig to win
BLACKROCK COLLEGE (4th) v GALWEGIANS (2nd), Stradbrook
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Blackrock College: WW; Galwegians: WDW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Blackrock College: Points: Méabh Deely 20; Tries: Michelle Claffey, Anna Doyle 3 each; Galwegians: Points: Nicole Fowley 41; Tries: Laoise McGonagle 5
Preview: Two of the league’s unbeaten teams, Blackrock College and Galwegians, collide at Stradbrook, so something will have to give in this mouth-watering top four match-up.
Beibhinn Parsons makes her long-awaited AIL debut for Blackrock in a star-studded back-line. Her Ireland Sevens team-mate Megan Burns will line out on the opposite wing.
Australian newcomer Tatum Bird, the Waratahs’ Rookie of the Year in 2022, slots in at scrum half for ‘Rock who are captained from the back row by Aoife Moore. Sevens international Emily Lane is also set to return to 15s action off the bench.
“The next block is where we want to finetune a few things and ensure we have performances that demonstrate the hard work being put in each day,” admitted Blackrock head coach Ben Martin. “Results will be achieved on the back of those performances so that is the focus.
“‘Wegians have always provided a very physical and tactical challenge with their abilities to mix power with a strong varied kicking game, so our back-three will need to be in sync.
“We’ve been working hard on creating opportunities and they’ve been created, but we have been a little off with some timings and decisions which has let us down. That will be key for us being successful against tough opposition.”
Orla Dixon and Ursula Sammon are reunited in the centre for Galwegians, who have new French signing Maelle Jouve on the replacements bench.
“Blackrock have some big names but this doesn’t faze us in the slightest. It will be 15 versus 15 at the end of the day,” said ‘Wegians assistant coach David Clarke.
“We’re expecting a lively game as both teams have had a rest weekend and will be raring to go. We’ll be looking to the whole squad for a full 80-minute performance and keeping standards high in the second half.”
The Blue Belles are without their top try scorer Laoise McGonagle, who is on rugby league duty with Ireland. Clarke said that Jouve ‘brings a lot of experience from her time with Lyon and has slotted into our squad and life in Galway well’.
Mairéad Coyne reverts to her usual full-back berth, Mollie Walsh is promoted from the bench to the left wing, and head coach Eoghan Maher is able to field an unchanged pack.
“On paper this is our toughest block of games, but the positivity taken from our strong start cannot be understated,” added Clarke.
“This is a confident team and we are well drilled in the game-plan we want to implement. The main goals for us in this block are to continue with our strong organisation and develop more consistency for the full 80 minutes.”
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 12, 2019: Blackrock College 72 Galwegians 14, Stradbrook; Saturday, November 6, 2021: Galwegians 5 Blackrock College 19, Crowley Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Blackrock College to win
COOKE (8th) v OLD BELVEDERE (1st), Shaw’s Bridge
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Cooke: LLL; Old Belvedere: WWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Cooke: Points: Dolores Hughes 7; Tries: Helen McGhee, Ilse van Staden 1 each; Old Belvedere: Points: Dannah O’Brien 38; Tries: Clare Gorman 4
Preview: Promising Cooke youngster Cara O’Kane returns from interprovincial duty with the Ulster Under-18s to start in the second row. Prop Emma Kearney also comes into the side following last week’s rain-hit 15-7 defeat at home to Suttonians.
O’Kane’s inclusion sees vice-captain Naomi McCord switch to the back row. Cooke head coach Colm Finnegan says former Ireland international Ashleigh Orchard, Megan Edwards and Chloe McMorran will add ‘strength and pace off the bench’.
“We want to continue the improvements we’ve been showing week on week and start putting some points on the board,” admitted Finnegan, with the Belfast club lying in eighth place after three opening losses.
“We need to be more clinical as a group and take the opportunities we are creating. We’ve had lots of positive attacking play that just needed a little more control to finish off.
“We’ve defended very well at times and have been able to use that as a springboard for our attack.
“Old Belvedere are a well-drilled side with a nice mix of youth and experience. They can play with pace on both sides of the ball so we’ll need to match that.”
Emma Kelly and Laura Carty will start on either wing for leaders Old Belvedere. Ireland Sevens starlet Erin King, who only turns 19 later this month, is back in ‘Belvo colours, with Niamh O’Dowd moving back to front row duty.
Johnny Garth’s charges are also boosted by the return of Brittany Hogan, who was involved in Ireland’s Rugby World Cup Sevens campaign most recently. She is a former Cooke player, having lined out for the club before earning her IRFU Sevens contract.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, October 12, 2019: Old Belvedere 19 Cooke 10, Ollie Campbell Park; Saturday, November 6, 2021: Old Belvedere 28 Cooke 21, Ollie Campbell Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Belvedere to win