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Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship: Round 1 Previews

Munster's Maeve Óg O'Leary holds the Women's Interprovincial Championship trophy, alongside Leinster's Dannah O'Brien, Méabh Deely of Connacht and Ulster's Mya Alcorn ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Munster's Maeve Óg O'Leary holds the Women's Interprovincial Championship trophy, alongside Leinster's Dannah O'Brien, Méabh Deely of Connacht and Ulster's Mya Alcorn ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Four of the newly-contracted players in the IRFU Women’s 15s High Performance Programme – Dorothy Wall, Enya Breen, Dannah O’Brien and Maeve Óg O’Leary – will feature in the first round of the Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship on Saturday.

Tullow teenager O’Brien makes her senior debut for Leinster at out-half against Connacht, while Wall, Breen and O’Leary, all backing up from Blackrock College’s Energia All-Ireland League success, will start for Munster as they begin their Interpro title defence at home to Ulster.

Moved to a New Year window, the Interpros will provide some timely high-level competition – in conjunction with the newly-created Celtic Challenge tournament – as Ireland head coach Greg McWilliams assesses his players ahead of the TikTok Women’s Six Nations.


Saturday, January 7 –

LEINSTER v CONNACHT, Energia Park, 2.30pm (live TG4) – Buy Tickets Here

Download Your Free Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Match Programme Here

In the day’s opening fixture, last season’s runners-up, Leinster, play their only home game of the Interpros against Connacht at Energia Park. Both teams have new head coaches in Tania Rosser and Lyndon Jones respectively.

Rosser has opted for a combination of youth and experience in her selection, with co-captains Christy Haney and Hannah O’Connor two of the players who enjoyed Interpro success with Leinster in both 2018 and 2019.

Jenny Murphy, Rosser’s 2013 Grand Slam-winning team-mate, Ailsa Hughes and Aoife McDermott also bring plenty of provincial and international nous to the Blues’ starting line-up.

O’Brien, Aoife Dalton, who partners Murphy in midfield, and hooker Jess Keating will make their Leinster debuts just a few short months since winning their first caps for Ireland on tour in Japan. Wicklow’s Ella Roberts leads a pacy back-three.

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Tighthead prop Haney, who also made her Ireland bow in 2022, explained: “The last Interpros was right out of Covid, we were all just so excited to be back playing rugby. There was a bit of magic in that, being back on the pitch together and being together.

“We had laid a lot of foundations we are going to see come through in this Interpros. But what Tania’s brought is a whole system and a whole set-up that we’re really excited to implement, and that includes quick rucks, offloading, exciting rugby.

“It’s a massive start to our campaign (being at home). Having the fans there, having the crowd just brings that buzz and that sharpness to the game that we love to have.

“We all love playing at Energia Park, it’s the house of a good few memories for us so it’s really exciting to have that be our first match and for us to make our mark on these Interpros.”

Meanwhile, Jones was Connacht’s backs coach when they ran Leinster close in Galway in August 2021, touching down twice but losing 17-12. Galwegians ace Mary Healy captains the westerners from scrum half.

Méabh Deely, who has been starring for Blackrock of late, Aoibheann Reilly, Beibhinn Parsons and Anna McGann are notable absentees, but Railway Union’s Ava Ryder and the centre pairing of Orla Dixon and Shannon Touhey will aim to spearhead the Connacht attack.

Ireland prop Laura Feely is a key figure up front, along with Blue Belles duo Fiona Scally and Lisa-Marie Murphy, the latter standing out for her breakdown and lineout work in club action.

Ireland Under-18 starlet Éabha Nic Dhonnacha and Clara Barrett, who bagged five tries for UL Bohemians in the AIL, could debut off the bench as two of the province’s highly-rated youngsters.

“It’s great that the games are finally here,” agreed Jones. “The squad have been training really hard over Christmas so now it’s about putting all our hard work into practice over the next three weeks.

“Thanks to the ongoing work of our Women’s Emerging Talent programme, we have seen a number of exciting young players come through the ranks in the 15 months since our last competitive game. A number of those are in this squad.

“We’ve a few players unavailable through injury, while Beibhinn Parsons and Anna McGann are on the IRFU Sevens programme, but I feel we’ve still put together a really strong squad.

“It is a testament to all the hard work being done by both Connacht and the clubs in continuing to grow the Women’s game.”

LEINSTER: Ella Roberts (Wicklow RFC); Clare Gorman (Old Belvedere RFC), Aoife Dalton (Tullamore RFC/Old Belvedere RFC), Jenny Murphy (Old Belvedere RFC), Anna Doyle (Tullow RFC/Blackrock College RFC); Dannah O’Brien (Tullow RFC/Old Belvedere RFC), Ailsa Hughes (Tullamore RFC/Railway Union RFC); Niamh O’Dowd (Old Belvedere RFC), Jess Keating (Old Belvedere RFC), Christy Haney (St. Mary’s College RFC/Blackrock College RFC) (co-capt), Aoife McDermott (Railway Union RFC), Eimear Corri (Portlaoise RFC/Blackrock College RFC), Ali Coleman (Blackrock College RFC), Molly Boyne (Dublin University FC/Railway Union RFC), Hannah O’Connor (CYM RFC/Blackrock College RFC) (co-capt).

Replacements: Lisa Callan (Railway Union RFC), Megan Collis (Greystones RFC/Railway Union RFC), Aoife Moore (Blackrock College RFC), Elaine Anthony (Old Belvedere RFC), Katie Whelan (Enniscorthy RFC/Old Belvedere RFC), Lisa Mullen (Virginia RFC/Blackrock College RFC), Elise O’Byrne-White (Dublin University FC/Old Belvedere RFC), Molly Scuffil-McCabe (Garda Westmanstown RFC/Railway Union RFC).

CONNACHT: Mairéad Coyne (Galwegians RFC); Ava Ryder (Railway Union RFC), Orla Dixon (Galwegians RFC), Shannon Touhey (Suttonians RFC), Laoise McGonagle (Galwegians RFC); Nicole Fowley (Galwegians RFC), Mary Healy (Galwegians RFC) (capt); Grainne O’Loughlin (Railway Union RFC), Elizabeth McNicholas (Galwegians RFC), Laura Feely (Blackrock College RFC), Fiona Scally (Galwegians RFC), Eva McCormack (UL Bohemian RFC), Grace Browne Moran (Galwegians RFC), Emma Fabby (Railway Union RFC), Lisa-Marie Murphy (Galwegians RFC).

Replacements: Lily Brady (UL Bohemian RFC), Niamh O’Grady (Galwegians RFC), Hannah Coen (Galwegians RFC), Sonia McDermott (Railway Union RFC), Orla Fenton (Galwegians RFC), Olivia Haverty (Galwegians RFC), Éabha Nic Dhonnacha (Tuam/Oughterard RFC), Clara Barrett (UL Bohemian RFC).

Referee: Keane Davison (IRFU)

MUNSTER v ULSTER, Musgrave Park, 4.45pm (live TG4/BBC iPlayer) – Buy Tickets Here

Download Your Free Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Match Programme Here

McWilliams’ assistant coach Niamh Briggs has taken the coaching reins at Munster, hoping to guide them to their first back-to-back Interpro titles since she was captain and goal-kicker supreme back in 2015.

11 players in the Munster team to play Ulster at Musgrave Park were involved in their 2021 triumph, including captain Nicole Cronin and her half-back partner, Kerry native Muirne Wall.

Briggs has the twin threats of Aoife Doyle and Laura Sheehan, back from Exeter Chiefs, on either wing, while Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird, who hit a rich vein of form for Old Belvedere during the All-Ireland League, makes up a formidable back row combination with Wall and O’Leary.

“There’s an air of giddiness around us because we’re off the back of a really good year. We’re just looking to build on that,” admitted out-half Cronin, who was Munster Women’s Player of the Year in 2021/22.

“We would like to go the same distance again, so we’re excited. Those scenes last year in Donnybrook, for a good chunk of us, it was our first Interpro (title) win.

“You can’t replace days like that, and that’s why you come out on these cold evenings to kind of get that medal at the end of it. We’re really looking forward to giving it our best shot.”

Ulster entertained Munster in the opening round last season, succumbing to an eight-try 50-5 defeat, but head coach Neill Alcorn is confident of an improved performance and result as they look to ’embrace this big challenge and meet it head-on’.

Their returning captain Beth Cregan was part of Blackrock’s impressive 10-match unbeaten AIL season, along with full-back Maeve Liston and out-half Ella Durkan, and is itching to don the white jersey again.

“We are confident in ourselves and we back ourselves completely, regardless of who we are playing. It’s just going to be a really big opportunity for us to be playing against the likes of Enya Breen and Dorothy Wall,” commented Cregan.

“We’ve all had good seasons with our clubs. We have a really good feeling in the camp and can’t wait to get going. We really got momentum towards the end of the last Interpros.

“To be honest, we were bitterly disappointed with the draw with Connacht (in the last round) and we’ve been really wanting to push on.

“It’s an honour for me and my family to be representing Ulster in the captaincy role, however it doesn’t change much in my own individual perspective of you take it one game at a time, one performance at a time. It’s a squad performance at the end of the day that we’re looking for.”

MUNSTER: Aoife Corey (UL Bohemian RFC); Aoife Doyle (Railway Union RFC), Stephanie Nunan (UL Bohemian RFC), Enya Breen (Blackrock College RFC), Laura Sheehan (Exeter Chiefs); Nicole Cronin (UL Bohemian RFC) (capt), Muirne Wall (UL Bohemian RFC); Róisín Ormond (Ballincollig RFC), Kate Sheehan (UL Bohemian RFC), Fiona Reidy (UL Bohemian RFC), Clodagh O’Halloran (UL Bohemian RFC), Claire Bennett (UL Bohemian RFC), Dorothy Wall (Blackrock College RFC), Maeve Óg O’Leary (Blackrock College RFC), Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird (Old Belvedere RFC).

Replacements: Chloe Pearse (UL Bohemian RFC), Geena Behan (UL Bohemian RFC), Eilís Cahill (UL Bohemian RFC), Gillian Coombes (Ballincollig RFC), Ciara Farrell (UL Bohemian RFC), Kate Flannery (UL Bohemian RFC), Alana McInerney (UL Bohemian RFC), Heather Kennedy (Ballincollig RFC).

ULSTER: Maeve Liston (Blackrock College RFC); Fern Wilson (Queen’s University Belfast RFC), Kelly McCormill (Cooke RFC), Mya Alcorn (Blackrock College RFC), Niamh Marley (Dungannon RFC); Ella Durkan (Blackrock College RFC), Rachael McIlroy (Queen’s University Belfast RFC); Sadhbh McGrath (Cooke RFC), Beth Cregan (City of Derry RFC/Blackrock College RFC) (capt), Ilse van Staden (Cooke RFC), Keelin Brady (Railway Union RFC), Helen McGhee (Cooke RFC), Brenda Barr (Suttonians RFC), Fiona Tuite (Old Belvedere RFC), Stacey Sloan (Cooke RFC).

Replacements: Gemma McCamley (Cooke RFC), Megan Simpson (Cooke RFC), Ava Fannin (Blackrock College RFC), Nicole Watterson (Queen’s University Belfast RFC), Sophie Barrett (Enniskillen RFC), Amber Redmond (Suttonians RFC), Amanda Morton (Cooke RFC), Lucy Thompson (Enniskillen RFC/Cooke RFC).

Referee: Sam Holt (IRFU)