Wicklow edged out Cooke by three tries to two in an end-to-end Energia All-Ireland League Women’s Division contest that showcased the improvements made by both teams this season.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE WOMEN’S DIVISION: Saturday, October 22
COOKE 10 WICKLOW 20, Shaw’s Bridge
Scorers: Cooke: Tries: Stacey Sloan, Megan Simpson
Wicklow: Tries: Naoise O’Reilly, Erin McConnell, Niamh Ni Dhroma; Con: Beth Roberts; Pen: Beth Roberts
HT: Cooke 10 Wicklow 8
It was a brilliant spectacle despite the rain at Shaw’s Bridge, as unconverted scores from the impressive Stacey Sloan and Megan Simpson gave Cooke a 10-8 half-time lead.
Club captain Erin McConnell and player coach Niamh Ni Dhroma led by example for Wicklow with second half tries, the latter’s coming in the 69th minute to decide the outcome in their favour.
The result means Wicklow have strung together back-to-back league wins for only the second time in their history. They did so during last season’s Conference campaign, winning at both Malone and Cooke.
It completes a terrific October spell for Jason Moreton’s charges who went unbeaten through the month, having also drawn at Ballincollig. They are now level on points with fourth-placed Galwegians, their next opponents.
There were three turnovers inside the opening minute, Wicklow exerting a good deal of early pressure but their first lineout opportunity did not go to plan and Cooke carried out of their 22.
Meagan Parkinson and Linda Dempsey both pinched possession from the hosts, and with Cooke guilty of going off their feet, the left-footed Beth Roberts split the posts with the sixth-minute penalty.
Number 8 Sloan, Cooke captain Aishling O’Connell and Ilse van Staden stood out for their ball-carrying ballast. It was no surprise to see the Belfast side using their forward power to get on the scoreboard early on.
From a close-in lineout, tighthead O’Connell was stopped short before Sloan drove through a tackle to reach over for an 11th-minute try. It remained 5-3 with Amanda Morton unable to convert from the left.
Sloan and van Staden continued to make inroads with their carries, but Wicklow hit back with a cracking try as Roisin Stone hounded a penalty out of the home side and her half-back partner Roberts took it quickly.
Ni Dhroma got her hands free in a double hit in midfield to keep the move going, and nice hands from Ella Roberts and the centres released winger Naoise O’Reilly to scorch over from the edge of the 22, evading the clutches of Caitlin Fisher.
Roberts dropped the difficult conversion short, leaving it 8-5 to the Garden County outfit. An O’Connell turnover had Cooke chasing a quick-fire response, with a lovely exchange between Katie Hetherington and Kelly McCormill adding momentum to the attack.
Wicklow managed to counter brilliantly, though, with McCormill having to track back to thwart a promising backs move. Gemma McCamley soon weaved through at the other end, only for her loose pass to go to ground.
With five minutes left before the break, Cooke went to the corner from a scrum penalty. The ball went to ground at the maul, but hooker Simpson scooped it up to attack the blindside and score under a pile of bodies.
Cooke had Wicklow on the rack as they pressed for a late third try, van Staden, McCormill and Sloan all carrying with great intent. However, Wicklow held out with Simpson guilty of a crooked throw at a five-metre lineout.
Despite the slippery ball, both teams continued to show their ambition to play with width on the restart. Opposing locks Rachel Griffey and Cara O’Kane were prominent during the early exchanges as the pace quickened again.
A lightning-quick Wicklow breakaway had Cooke reeling, as their scrum half Hannah Downey was a whisker away from gathering her own chip kick. Instead, O’Reilly swooped in and released her sister Saoirse who tore down the touchline on a barnstorming 60-metre run.
Possession was secured at the ruck, scrum half Stone attacking off the base to make it right up to the try-line. She was tackled just short but the inrushing McConnell picked and plunged her way over to edge her side in front – 13-10.
Georgia Boyce had a couple of pacy runs for the hosts, but Wicklow continued to move the point of attack, Rachel Griffey taking a quick tap, Ella Roberts offloading out of a tackle, and Aoibhin Stone jinking down the short side.
Two turnovers in defence lifted Cooke, as did a marauding run from the inspirational Sloan, yet Wicklow’s kicking and chasing applied timely pressure. They opted to go to the corner from a scrum penalty.
A crucial turnover won by Simpson kept the Cooke line intact, only for Wicklow to come again from another penalty. Beth Roberts’ quick tap set up Ni Dhroma who thundered through Chloe McMorran’s tackle to crash over beside the posts.
It was a 10-point gap thanks to out-half Roberts’ conversion, Cooke building for a strong finish when regaining the restart but Roberts’ intelligent kicking – she twice pinned back the hosts on the left side – saw Wicklow take the spoils.
COOKE: Caitlin Fisher; Tamzin Boyce, Christy Hill, Kelly McCormill, Georgia Boyce; Amanda Morton, Hannah Downey; Ilse van Staden, Megan Simpson, Aishling O’Connell (capt), Cara O’Kane, Helen McGhee, Gemma McCamley, Katie Hetherington, Stacey Sloan.
Replacements: Fiona McCaughan, Nicola Sloane, Chloe McMorran, Katie McNeill, Clare McGowan, Dolores Hughes.
WICKLOW: Ella Roberts; Naoise O’Reilly, Aoibhin Stone, Erin McConnell (capt), Meagan Parkinson; Beth Roberts, Roisin Stone; Lauren Barry, Eimear Douglas, Linda Dempsey, Rachel Griffey, Caitlin Griffey, Nicola Schmidt, Jessica Schmidt, Niamh Ni Dhroma.
Replacements: Noelle Ward, Becky Condren, Leah Murphy, Loretta Gilbert, Jocelyn Jones, Saoirse O’Reilly.