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Nic A Bháird Stars In Munster’s First Win Under Briggs

Nic A Bháird Stars In Munster’s First Win Under Briggs

Deirbhile Nic a Bháird drives forward to get within reach of the try-line during Munster's opening Vodafone Women's Interprovincial Championship clash with Ulster in Cork ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Deirbhile Nic a Bháird delivered a stellar player-of-the-match performance as Munster kicked off their Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship title defence with a 34-0 bonus point win over Ulster.


Saturday, January 7 –

MUNSTER 34 ULSTER 0, Musgrave Park
Scorers: Munster: Tries: Deirbhile Nic a Bháird 2, Stephanie Nunan, Aoife Doyle, Claire Bennett 2; Cons: Nicole Cronin, Kate Flannery
Ulster: –
HT: Munster 22 Ulster 0

Ballincollig native Nic a Bháird excelled for Old Belvedere during the Energia All-Ireland League, and her all-action display at Musgrave Park saw her pick up two tries, make a series of rampaging runs and also switch from number 8 to hooker for the second half.

The driving wind and rain made conditions especially difficult, but it took Munster just 31 minutes to register their bonus point thanks to tries from Nic a Bháird, Stephanie Nunan, Aoife Doyle and Claire Bennett.

With 22 points the difference at half-time, Ulster had it all to do and they did take some positives from the game with Ella Durkan playing well at out-half and their scrum recovering from a shaky start.

Despite losing captain Nicole Cronin to injury and the visitors improving in the second half, Munster’s all-international back row of Nic a Bhaird, Dorothy Wall and Maeve Óg O’Leary were too much for the visitors to handle.

Lock Bennett, who plunged over from a lineout maul, and Nic a Bháird completed their braces to close out a productive first competitive outing for Munster under new head coach Niamh Briggs.

Munster quickly put themselves in position from a seventh-minute lineout, number 8 Nic a Bháird picking up possession at the back of a maul and reaching out of a tackle from Fiona Tuite, her Old Belvedere club-mate, to ground the ball.

Ulster full-back Maeve Liston weaved out to the right with intent, but then knocked on in contact. They had precious few chances as the home side continued to dictate play during the early exchanges.

Their back row took on a lot of responsibility as ball carriers, and from a purposeful attack, the ball was worked wide for centre Nunan to step in between two defenders and claim try number two.

A third unconverted effort followed on the quarter hour mark, the lightning-quick Doyle taking advantage of a missed tackle from Niamh Marley to run in from the edge of the Ulster 22, putting 15 points between the teams.

Even when Durkan gained ground off scrum possession for Ulster, Nic a Bháird responded with a turnover penalty and then beat four defenders, having been propelled forward by a well-timed offload from Dorothy Wall.

Four lost lineouts in advanced positions did little for Ulster’s confidence, with the strong wind impacting captain Beth Cregan’s throwing. It also meant they failed to capitalise on a Liston interception and her break downfield.

Instead, Neill Alcorn’s side were soon behind their own posts again. A dummying Nic a Bháird started the move and O’Leary was hauled down from a lung-busting run before Muirne Wall’s popped pass sent Bennett powering over from close range.

With Enya Breen keeping the ball steady on the tee, Cronin sent over her only successful conversion. 22-0 is how it remained up to the break, despite Keelin Brady and Aoife Corey exchanging penalties at the breakdown.

Munster could have had a fifth try before they headed back to the dressing rooms, yet Ilse van Staden was well positioned to hold up her opposite number Fiona Reidy from another pacy attack that featured O’Leary and Doyle.

Ulster found some decent form on the restart as the hosts readjusted to the sudden losses of both Nic a Bháird and Cronin. Liston found space through the middle and Cregan, Mya Alcorn and Tuite were having more impact as ball carriers.

Just when Cregan and company were building for a likely try, Dorothy Wall, who had taken over the captaincy from the sidelined Cronin, ripped the ball away from van Staden. The return of Nic a Bháird, this time at hooker, was another timely boost for the title holders.

Clodagh O’Halloran was held up over the line, and another promising Munster spell saw replacement Eilís Cahill tackled short before Breen’s long bouncing pass evaded Laura Sheehan and went into touch.

The Reds’ accuracy returned just past the hour mark, a power-packed lineout drive that started on the Ulster 22-metre line was finished off by Bennett for her second try of the evening.

With their replacements making an impact, Ulster turned the tables by winning two scrum penalties. However, with Nic a Bháird influential again at the breakdown, Munster were able to keep them well out of scoring range.

Fittingly, Nic a Bháird’s tour-de-force display was crowned by a second try in the 81st-minute, her pace off the mark – coming on the back of Muirne Wall’s quick tap – allowing her snipe over to the right of the posts. Teenage replacement Kate Flannery converted on her debut.

TIME LINE: 7 minutes – Munster try: Deirbhile Nic a Bháird – 5-0; conversion: missed by Nicole Cronin – 5-0; 12 mins – Munster try: Stephanie Nunan – 10-0; conversion: missed by Nicole Cronin – 10-0; 16 mins – Munster try: Aoife Doyle – 15-0; 31 mins – Munster try: Claire Bennett – 20-0; conversion: Nicole Cronin – 22-0; Half-time – Munster 22 Ulster 0; 64 mins – Munster try: Claire Bennett – 27-0; conversion: missed by Enya Breen – 27-0; 80+1 mins – Munster try: Deirbhile Nic a Bháird – 32-0; conversion: Kate Flannery – 34-0; Full-time – Munster 34 Ulster 0

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 Bháird (Old Belvedere RFC).

Replacements used: Chloe Pearse (UL Bohemian RFC) for Nic a Bháird (half-time), Kate Flannery (UL Bohemian RFC) for Cronin (43 mins), Nic a Bháird for K Sheehan, Eilís Cahill (UL Bohemian RFC) for Reidy (both 52), Heather Kennedy (Ballincollig RFC) for L Sheehan, Ciara Farrell (UL Bohemian RFC) for O’Halloran (both 60), Geena Behan (UL Bohemian RFC) for Ormond, Gillian Coombes (Ballincollig RFC) for Bennett, Alana McInerney (UL Bohemian RFC) for Breen (all 71).

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 used: Sophie Barrett (Enniskillen RFC) for Sloan (half-time), Ava Fannin (Blackrock College RFC) for van Staden, Megan Simpson (Cooke RFC) for Tuite, Lucy Thompson (Enniskillen RFC/Cooke RFC) for McCormill (all 57 mins), Gemma McCamley (Cooke RFC) for McGrath, Amber Redmond (Suttonians RFC) for McIlroy (both 63), Nicole Watterson (Queen’s University Belfast RFC) for McGhee, Amanda Morton (Cooke RFC) for Alcorn (both 69), Alcorn for Durkan (74).

Referee: Sam Holt (IRFU)