The battle for home advantage in next month’s semi-finals intensifies in the Energia All-Ireland League Women’s Division, with the leading two teams, Railway Union and Old Belvedere, facing off in Sandymount.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE WOMEN’S DIVISION – ROUND 7:
Saturday, November 5
Kick-off 5pm unless stated –
BLACKROCK COLLEGE (3rd) v BALLINCOLLIG (8th), Stradbrook
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Blackrock College: WWWWW; Ballincollig: LLLDL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Blackrock College: Points: Beibhinn Parsons 35; Tries: Beibhinn Parsons 7; Ballincollig: Points: Heather Kennedy 10; Tries: Heather Kennedy 2
Preview: Ireland internationals Maeve Óg O’Leary and Hannah O’Connor both return to action with unbeaten Blackrock College. O’Leary starts at blindside flanker following her recovery which saw her miss the summer tour to Japan.
There are three players included in ‘Rock’s matchday squad who are now fully contracted to the IRFU Women’s High Performance Programme – O’Leary, starting full-back Méabh Deely and replacement Natasja Behan.
Entering this final block of league matches, Blackrock head coach Ben Martin said they are ‘ramping up the intensity of training’. “Under the leadership of Michelle Claffey, high standards are expected and it has only pushed the focus and competition for places on match days even harder.
“We’ve a few niggles that we are trying to get right and that presents opportunities for some of the girls to play their way into the starting side or regain match fitness after extended lay-offs.”
It is a momentous weekend for Blackrock as they are marking the 30th anniversary of the formation of their Women’s team with a special pre-match lunch. So they will want a result to match the off-field celebrations.
“Ballincollig will provide us with a nice challenge up front. They have some exciting young backs who can be dangerous and we will need to remain patient and focused throughout,” insisted Martin.
“I think they’re a club that are young, hungry and looking to set a marker for their season. We feel we have misfired on more occasions than not this year, but also can see we’re a few moments from it all clicking.”
Meanwhile, Ballincollig put it up to UL Bohemians during their Munster derby last time out, and head coach Fiona Hayes has rewarded them for their efforts by naming an unchanged team.
The Cork side will need big performances in the tight five from co-captains Clodagh Walsh and Gillian Coombes, while industrious flanker Katelyn Fleming will be hoping to show her turnover-winning abilities at the breakdown.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, December 11, 2021: Ballincollig 0 Blackrock College 84, Tanner Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Blackrock College to win
RAILWAY UNION (1st) v OLD BELVEDERE (2nd), Park Avenue
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Railway Union: WWWWW; Old Belvedere: WWWWWL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Railway Union: Points: Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe 50; Tries: Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe 10; Old Belvedere: Points: Dannah O’Brien 62; Tries: Claire Bennett 2
Preview: Railway Union director of rugby John Cronin is confident they can win today’s top of the table clash with Old Belvedere despite a long list of absentees.
Heading into their first game of the final block of Energia All-Ireland League Women’s Division fixtures, Railway are missing 14 players due to injuries, illness and Ireland Sevens commitments.
“It’s that time of year where you’ve seasonal bugs, injuries and knocks, so it’s par for the course,” said Cronin, whose side are a point clear of Belvedere with a game in hand.
“I don’t think for one second that we are weakened though. Anyone who thinks that hasn’t been paying attention to our overall programme.
“I’ve full confidence in our programme, our coaches and our athletes. We’ve some super players coming in and I’m confident they’ll take their opportunity.”
Cronin is still able to field quite a settled team, with just four changes from their recent 57-7 victory at Galwegians. Aoife O’Shaughnessy, who starts at full-back, Christine Coffey, Chloe Blackmore and Molly Boyne come into the starting XV.
Old Belvedere are missing Aoife Dalton and captain Jenny Murphy from their midfield, but the league’s top scorer Dannah O’Brien, who is now fully contracted to the IRFU Women’s High Performance Programme, starts along with fellow Ireland youngster Emma Tilly.
Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird will captain ‘Belvo from number 8, and Elise O’Byrne-White and Emma Kelly pair up together in midfield. Alice O’Dowd returns at loosehead prop, with Katie Layde and Clodagh Dunne also promoted from the bench.
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, December 11, 2021: Old Belvedere 8 Railway Union 43, Ollie Campbell Park; Saturday, January 29, 2022: Railway Union 11 Old Belvedere 10, Park Avenue
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Railway Union to win
UL BOHEMIANS (6th) v SUTTONIANS (7th), Castletroy College
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: UL Bohemians: LLWLW; Suttonians: DLWLL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – UL Bohemians: Points: Claire Bennett 10; Tries: Claire Bennett 2; Suttonians: Points: Órfhlaith Murray, Janita Kareta 10 each; Tries: Janita Kareta 2
Preview: Vice-captain Nicole Cronin makes her long-awaited return from injury as UL Bohemians target their third win in four rounds. The talented Ireland out-half will lead Bohs this afternoon, in the absence of Chloe Pearse.
Ireland Under-18 international Kate Flannery switches to the inside centre berth, with Cronin partnered at half-back by Kerry native Muirne Wall, who came off the bench to snipe over for the match-winning try at Ballincollig last time out.
Kate Sheehan and Eilis Cahill are restored to the front row, while Red Robins boss Niamh Briggs also hands starts to lock Rebecca Reilly and influential flanker Clodagh O’Halloran, a try during last December’s 43-3 triumph at Suttonians.
Suttonians have certainly improved a good deal since then and for the trip to Limerick they welcome back Connacht prop Julia Bauer after a lengthy lay-off. Head coach Stephen Costelloe is expecting ‘a high tempo game’.
“We’ve been building slowly this season and the players have worked really hard behind closed doors,” said Costelloe, whose charges lie one place and two points behind UL in the standings.
“We just need to be a bit more controlled out there and focus on our game and how we want to impose ourselves.
“We want to finish this block on a high and this game is where we need to start. We have a lot of new players who are growing week on week, and it’s an exciting time for this group.”
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 22, 2020: Suttonians 0 UL Bohemians 32, JJ McDowell Memorial Grounds; Saturday, December 11, 2021: Suttonians 3 UL Bohemians 43, JJ McDowell Memorial Grounds
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Suttonians to win
WICKLOW (5th) v GALWEGIANS (4th), Ashtown Lane
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Wicklow: LLDWW; Galwegians: WDWLLL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Wicklow: Points: Beth Roberts 18; Tries: Sarah Gleeson, Jocelyn Jones, Ella Roberts, Suzanne Tyrrell 2 each; Galwegians: Points: Nicole Crowley 50; Tries: Laoise McGonagle 5
Preview: Lauren Barry will captain Wicklow from the front row as they look to continue their winning form against the team sitting just above them in the table. This is a fascinating clash in terms of the top four and that last semi-final spot.
Erin McConnell slips back to the bench for an impact role, as Wicklow’s joint-top try scorer Sarah Gleeson returns in the centre. Caoimhe Molloy packs down at number 8 with player coach Niamh Ni Dhroma shifting to the openside.
Galwegians won by 33 points on their last visit to Ashtown Lane last January, but Wicklow head coach Jason Moreton reckons they can make it a much tighter contest this time around if they can put their best foot forward.
“We now face our biggest group of games, playing three of the top four teams, starting with a very strong and well-organised team in Galwegians. They play a very intelligent game, with experience right across the pitch,” he said.
“We’ll need to be at our best to be competitive. Hopefully home advantage, the fantastic support of the crowd and the experience we have gained will help.
“We have a very solid pack. Rachel Griffey continues to get better every week after an 18-month spell out with a serious knee injury. Her ball carries will help. Nicola Schmidt continues to impress at number 6, she’s our most improved player.
“The backs are building nice combinations and Beth Roberts continues to call the shots at 10. We have a strong bench that will all get plenty of game-time as we know an 80-minute performance is a must against a side like Galwegians.”
Kayla Waldron, who is also now fully contracted to the IRFU Women’s High Performance Programme, will make her first start for ‘Wegians, forming a new centre partnership with Orla Dixon.
Captain Nicole Fowley is back from a calf injury to join Mary Healy in an experienced half-back pairing. Ursula Sammon comes in on the left wing, and the changes up front are Kiara Irwin, Elizabeth McNicholas, Dearbhla Canty and Nolwenn Dubois.
Speaking ahead of the crunch encounter, ‘Wegians team manager Katherine Mahon said: “Although coming off the back of a tough block, we’re confident in our ability to return to our previous form for the next two fixtures.
“We have Fiona Scally returning to the matchday squad after her long hiatus, which is a great addition given a few injuries picked up in the last block.”
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, December 11, 2021: Galwegians 22 Wicklow 7, Crowley Park; Saturday, January 15, 2022: Wicklow 3 Galwegians 36, Ashtown Lane
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Galwegians to win