A repeat of last season’s final sees Railway Union and Blackrock College put their unbeaten records on the line, while Wicklow, on a brilliant three-match winning run, face a semi-final-bound Old Belvedere.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE WOMEN’S DIVISION – ROUND 8:
Saturday, November 12
Kick-off 5pm unless stated –
RAILWAY UNION (1st) v BLACKROCK COLLEGE (2nd), Park Avenue, 3pm
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Railway Union: WWWWWW; Blackrock College: WWWWWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Railway Union: Points: Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe 50; Tries: Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe 10; Blackrock College: Points: Méabh Deely 39; Tries: Beibhinn Parsons 7
Preview: Railway Union’s hopes of peaking for December’s play-offs are still on track as they head into the final two rounds of the Energia All-Ireland League Women’s Division in pole position.
Railway showed their battling qualities to sting Old Belvedere with a last-minute match-winning try last week, and an even bigger test awaits on Saturday afternoon against Blackrock College in a repeat of last season’s final.
These teams know each other very well with four meetings last season alone. Railway won September’s season opener 25-11 at Stradbrook and the February final at Energia Park (24-18), with two Blackrock wins during the Top Four campaign.
Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s Park Avenue encounter, Railway Union senior coach Larissa Muldoon said: “Blackrock has become the game we always look forward to. They’re very physical and skilful, it’s a top of the table clash and a repeat of last year’s final.
“We’ve been evolving and improving game by game. It’s been a huge squad effort, we’ve used 35 players in seven games so far. We’re building every week and aiming to peak in December.”
Ireland internationals Molly Scuffil-McCabe and Leah Tarpey bolster Railway’s back-three, with Aoife O’Shaughnessy switching to a midfield role and Aoife Doyle reverting to the left wing.
Tullamore native Ailsa Hughes also returns at scrum half, while versatile American forward Emerson Allen packs down at number 8 with former Ireland prop Lindsay Peat, who turned 42 last Saturday, still the driving force of the defending champions’ pack.
Blackrock bring in Natasja Behan and fellow Ireland international Enya Breen at full-back and out-half respectively, with Aoife Moore the final change at loosehead prop. Hannah O’Connor and Méabh Deely are held in reserve.
“We’re excited to be meeting the current holders at a crucial part of the closing stages of the league,” admitted Blackrock boss Ben Martin. “It will give us a very tough and realistic view of where we are.
“We’ve had two mixed performances against the other two semi-finalists from last season, so a good performance is what we are looking for. If the execution is there, we would be always confident results aren’t far behind.
“Railway have been the benchmark for a number of years and their squad is jammed full of top quality players. A change in their coaching will provide an interesting challenge both tactically and physically as always.”
He added: “We’ve been able to welcome Enya back after a rest last week, and we’re looking forward to her combining with Tatum (Bird) in the halves to give us a balanced all round threat.”
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, February 19, 2022: Blackrock College 39 Railway Union 7, Stradbrook; Saturday, February 26, 2022: Final – Blackrock College 18 Railway Union 24, Energia Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Railway Union to win
SUTTONIANS (7th) v BALLINCOLLIG (8th), JJ McDowell Memorial Grounds, 3.30pm
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Suttonians: DLWLLL; Ballincollig: LLLDLL
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Suttonians: Points: Janita Kareta, Órfhlaith Murray 10 each; Tries: Janita Kareta 2; Ballincollig: Points: Heather Kennedy 10; Tries: Heather Kennedy 2
Preview: Ballincollig make their first All-Ireland League trip to the JJ McDowell Memorial Grounds, determined to put a frustrating run of results behind them. Hosts Suttonians are in a similar boat with three losses on the bounce.
Sutts’ execution let them down against UL Bohemians in the last round, the final scoreline not telling the full story of what was a competitive game. Again, captain Catherine Martin and Janita Kareta led by example and will be key figures tomorrow.
Australian Annie Buntine reverts to centre for Suttonians’ penultimate round clash with Ballincollig. Forwards Brenda Barr and Nicola Bolger also start, lining out in the second row and back row respectively.
Sutts head coach Stephen Costelloe commented: “I think every game is important to try get the win and Ballincollig will be a tough side. I don’t think results have necessarily reflected both teams’ performances this season. We’re looking forward to an exciting game.
“We are looking to put in a performance that shows what we can do. We haven’t even looked at the play-offs. We have a very talented group, we just need to focus on the now and to control the controllables.”
‘Collig move Michelle O’Driscoll to out-half and Sinéad O’Reilly fills the right wing berth. Roisin Ormond, their try scorer at Blackrock, reverts to loosehead prop and Gillian Coombes pairs up with Eimear Perryman at lock.
Katelyn Fleming and Tiare Siguenza feature in a reshuffled back row for what Ballinolling head coach Fiona Hayes anticipates will be a ‘big battle up front’. Seventh-placed Sutts are five points ahead of ‘Collig in the table.
“There’s a couple of changes in the pack from last week’s and while we’re expecting a big battle up front, we’re very aware of how dangerous Suttonians back-line can be on turnover ball,” said Hayes.
“Our focus is on each game as they come, and hopefully we can get that first win to boost confidence levels head into the final round of the regular season.”
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, September 25, 2021: Ballincollig 14 Suttonians 13, Tanner Park; Saturday, February 12, 2022: Ballincollig 22 Suttonians 34, Tanner Park
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Suttonians to win
COOKE (9th) v UL BOHEMIANS (6th), Shaw’s Bridge
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Cooke: LLLLLL; UL Bohemians: LLWLWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Cooke: Points: Dolores Hughes 7; Tries: Dolores Hughes, Helen McGhee, Megan Simpson, Stacey Sloan, Ilse van Staden 1 each; UL Bohemians: Points: Clara Barrett, Claire Bennett, Clodagh O’Halloran 15 each; Tries: Clara Barrett, Claire Bennett, Clodagh O’Halloran 3 each
Preview: Cooke have come back from their break in matches feeling re-energised and eager to make their mark on the final rounds before Christmas. They last played three weeks ago, going down 20-10 at home to a resurgent Wicklow.
Former Ireland dual international Ashleigh Orchard will don the number 10 jersey for the Belfast side, who also bring back Teah Maguire and speedster Megan Edwards into their back-line. Georgia Boyce switches to scrum half.
Cooke’s three final changes are up front where Emma Kearney, Sadhbh McGrath and Chloe McMorran are all handed starts. The versatile Gemma McCamley packs down at number 8, with Stacey Sloan on the bench for an impact role.
“The break was great in terms of allowing players to recover after an intense period of six weeks,” explained Cooke head coach Colm Finnegan. “It also allowed us to refocus ourselves on our values and standards as a group.
“UL Bohemians are a strong outfit across the pitch, they have a strong pack with some dynamic carriers and a back-line with a blend of youth and experience.
“They play a good brand of rugby as we also aspire to do, so hopefully it’ll be an enjoyable match to watch. Sabhbh makes her first start in the back row, she was a member of the Ireland Under-18 Women’s squad this year.”
Meanwhile, visitors UL Bohs are gunning for their fourth victory in five rounds with a semi-final spot still up for grabs. Fit-again out-half Nicole Cronin continues as captain, with Chloe Pearse still sidelined.
Unsurprisingly, given their impressive seven-try performance against Suttonians, UL head coach Niamh Briggs has gone with an almost unchanged team. Ciara O’Dwyer gets the nod at hooker in the only switch.
Sarah Quin, who captained Munster to Interprovincial glory last season, makes a welcome return to the Bohs bench, with team manager Carol O’Sullivan acknowledging: “Cooke tomorrow will be a physical game and we’re expecting a tough challenge.
“We were very happy with how we went against Suttonians, we’re sticking with our process and seeing some good improvements week on week.
“It’s always great to have players like Nicole and Rachel (Allen) back in the squad, but at the same time over the last few weeks our younger players have stepped up and embraced the challenge.”
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, March 7, 2020: Cooke 17 UL Bohemians 46, Shaw’s Bridge; Saturday, September 25, 2021: UL Bohemians 46 Cooke 12, UL Arena
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: UL Bohemians to win
OLD BELVEDERE (3rd) v WICKLOW (4th), Ollie Campbell Park
Energia All-Ireland League Season’s Form: Old Belvedere: WWWWWLL; Wicklow: LLDWWW
Energia All-Ireland League Top Scorers – Old Belvedere: Points: Dannah O’Brien 68; Tries: Clare Gorman 4; Wicklow: Points: Beth Roberts 29; Tries: Sarah Gleeson, Jocelyn Jones, Ella Roberts, Suzanne Tyrrell 2 each
Preview: A serious test of Wicklow’s ambitions for the rest of the league campaign. They are approaching their final two games of the regular season with a ‘nothing to lose’ attitude, according to head coach Jason Moreton.
Making the trip to Ballsbridge buoyed by three straight wins and with his young side sitting in fourth place, Moreton said: “It’s an amazing achievement for Wicklow that after seven rounds, we’re talking about the top four play-offs.
“The squad has overachieved in the goals set out by the coaches in pre-season, which were to compete with last season’s Conference finalists, Suttonians and Galwegians, and get a home play-off.
“We’re under no illusions as to the task at hand over the new two weeks, against two of the greatest club teams in Ireland. We’ll got out against Old Belvedere looking for improvement on a few aspects of our game.”
Caitlin Griffey resumes in the second row as their only change, with their ability to field a settled squad over the last few weeks aiding their development. Caoimhe Molloy, who was away with work this week, moves to the bench.
“Belvedere showed their class last season beating us 63-0 in the first game. Watching them last week, they were unlucky against Railway and have weapons right across the paddock,” added Moreton.
“We have trained well this week, working on key points to our game where we want improvements. We’re looking forward to the challenge of competing with one of the best teams in the country.”
Meanwhile, Old Belvedere boss Johnny Garth has made five personnel changes to the team that turned in a strong performance against Railway but ultimately fell just short in a 15-11 defeat.
Ireland young gun Aoife Dalton returns, teaming up with Swedish international Minnona Nunstedt in a new-look centre pairing. Elise O’Byrne-White, who now has three tries to her name, moves to the left wing.
The in-form Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird continues as ‘Belvo’s captain, leading a pack that sees Orlaith McAuliffe and Rachel Murphy come in as the two front row changes. Lesley Ring is promoted from the bench to fill the openside flanker berth.
Recent League Meeting – Friday, September 24, 2021: Wicklow 0 Old Belvedere 63, Ashtown Lane
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Belvedere to win