Munster Savour Interpro Success As Connacht Trio Bow Out
Niamh Briggs paid tribute to her extended 34-player squad and the management team as she reflected on Munster’s back-to-back Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship title wins.
Briggs’ first season as head coach saw Munster retain the trophy in fine style, putting together three bonus point wins and averaging six tries per game, some of which will live long in the memory given their quality.
From player-of-the-match Deirbhile Nic a Bháird’s superb solo try from halfway to the slick handling skills that put replacement Rachel Allen over in the second half, Saturday‘s 50-24 bonus point victory over Connacht was Munster at their attacking best.
Speaking at the Sportsground about her side’s style of play this year, Briggs told Irish Rugby TV: “The brand of rugby that we wanted to play, we wanted to be brave and courageous and test our skills. I think we did that and everybody stood up to the plate exceptionally well.
“What we wanted to do is have a notable difference in terms of the pace and the intensity from club, and I thought we pushed that really, really well.
“It’s not always perfect, it’s never going to be, but I just thought it was a real good squad collective.”
While captain Nicole Cronin and some of the squad’s impressive newcomers – 21-year-old prop Eilís Cahill powered over for two tries in Galway – are no doubt eager for more games in Munster red, Briggs still felt they achieved a lot in the shortened three-match series.
“Incredibly proud of the whole group, not just the players that were playing today but the effort over the last few weeks,” she added.
“It’s been a really enjoyable campaign. We’ve squeezed a lot into a very short space of time, and I’m just delighted that the girls got their reward today.”
Number 8 Nic a Bháird, who switched again to hooker during the second half, ended the Championship with four tries and a clutch of highlight-reel moments as part of a standard-setting Munster back row unit.
The Ballincollig native looks to be in the form of her life, having continued to build on some terrific performances for Old Belvedere earlier in the season in the Energia All-Ireland League.
She has been included in the Combined Provinces squad, coached by Greg McWilliams and John McKee, which will play in the inaugural Celtic Challenge tournament. Their first game is against the WRU Development team at Cardiff Arms Park next Sunday.
With her eye-catching displays putting her very much back in the Ireland mix for the TikTok Women’s Six Nations, Nic a Bháird has admittedly revelled in the game-plans that her club and provincial coaches have put in place.
“The coaches have let us play free-flowing ball and that suits me down to the ground. Sometimes I make really stupid decisions, but the girls have been backing me,” said the 27-year-old former Ireland Sevens international.
“It’s been great to be able to play that style of rugby. I always love pulling on a Munster jersey and this has been an exceptional season for us. Really, really delighted.”
There was added satisfaction for Nic a Bháird in the manner of their latest triumph, their passing and support running really coming to the fore as they repeatedly opened up the Connacht defence and crossed for eight tries.
“We knew we were going to have a very physical battle against Connacht, and that we needed to move the ball as much as we possibly could.
“So Nic (Cronin) and Doro (Wall) were unbelievable at doing that, and Rachel Allen when she came on as well. The offloading was class. I was delighted that we could move the ball like that.”
Connacht came in with hopes of a final round upset and despite the margin of defeat, they can take a lot out of their four-try salvo which included late scores from replacements Emily Gavin and Hannah Coen.
Geesala teenager Clara Barrett finished her first senior Interpros with four tries, her brace either side of half-time seeing her make the most out of two cross-field kicks from Nicole Fowley.
At the other end of their careers, retiring Connacht captain Mary Healy and her long-time team-mates, Mairéad Coyne and Laura Feely, made their final appearances for the province. It was an emotional farewell in front of family and friends.
“To pull on the green jersey and represent Connacht, it’s a dream,” admitted full-back Coyne. “With all the management and the teams throughout the years, they’ve given us so much opportunity to go out there and show our skills.
“If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be who we are today. We all have Irish caps and if it wasn’t for them who believed in us that we had the skills to go out there and do a job on the day, it’s thanks to all of them.”