Leinster are determined to end arch rivals Munster’s reign by winning the Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship at the start of the new season.
Leinster have been their closest challengers in recent times and get their 2023/24 campaign underway this Saturday with a trip to the Sportsground to take on Connacht (kick-off 5.15pm).
Head coach Tania Rosser has named an exciting squad for the competition, which includes young Ireland winger Natasja Behan who will hoping to make her senior provincial debut in the early rounds.
Behan, an Energia All-Ireland League winner with Blackrock College last season, has represented her country in both codes, Sevens and 15s, but is yet to play at senior level for her province. She is looking forward to helping Leinster in their pursuit of the title.
“I was away with the Sevens last year (when the Interpros were on),” she said. “I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been involved with the (Leinster) squad before, like last year and the year before I was with the wider squad.
“I was with the Sevens last time they played. It’s good to see what its all about. It gives me an opportunity to find myself a bit more as a player, experiment a bit more with what’s going on.
“It’s good to get other coaches’ perspectives to see what way I can develop more as a player.”
Behan acknowledged that toppling defending champions Munster and taking home the silverware – Leinster have not lifted the trophy since 2019 – is the key target for them all.
“Tania has drilled it into us that we’re out to get Munster this year! It’s really strange being in here (at the IRFU High Performance Centre) as international team-mates and then going out there battling against each other. It will be interesting!”
As well as getting to grace the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, the Wexford woman memorably made her 15s international debut last year during the tour of Japan.
She played in this year’s TikTok Women’s Six Nations Championship endured a difficult run of results and finished bottom of the table. She admits it was a tough experience but thinks it has made the group mentally stronger as a team.
A year on since making my debut you can start to see everything you’ve learnt. Especially in the Six Nations, it’s a whole different campaign and you learn so much about yourself as a player and a person.
“I’ve seen a lot of development in myself and I’m happy to keep pushing it and see where I can go from here.
“It was difficult not getting the results we wanted, but we stuck together as a team which I was quite proud of. We just took it week by week, day by day and it mentally made us a lot stronger.
“We know now we have to lay down a standard and we’re looking forward to getting into the WXV 3 competition, putting in a good pre-season and in the camps beforehand.”
Behan is one of the players on a centralised IRFU contract, meaning she trains full-time at the Union’s HPC in Blanchardstown. The players have a busy weekly schedule, juggling training both there and for Leinster ahead of the start of the Interpros.
“Our schedule just changed. We have Leinster training on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and then the game on Saturday. Monday and Wednesday will probably be a tough session, Friday will be the team run and then we go into the game on Saturday.
“The guys here (in the national set-up) really look after us, they’ve reduced our schedules. We’re in here Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, and they’ve been working around our training for the Interpros which is coming first at this stage, but they are still working us hard for the WXVs which are coming up.”
The 23-year-old started playing rugby locally at Gorey RFC, followed by a season with Wicklow before moving to Blackrock, one of the leading lights of the All-Ireland League. She credits both clubs for helping her on her rugby journey.
The PwC Under-18 Women’s Interpros kick off next weekend. The competition has become such a good stepping stone for young players in helping them to progress and develop their game.
With the U-18 Six Nations Festival now established and the recent emergence of an Ireland U-20 squad, Behan agreed: “It’s great to see. I didn’t really have that especially at international level. It’s great to see players coming through with more confidence and knowledge.
“It is really important for developing younger players and it is great we have the double header (with the seniors and U-18s) in this Interpro window as it helps drive other players on a little bit more.”
There is a great buzz around the IRFU HPC as club and international team-mates must put their friendships aside for a few weeks as they fight it out for Interprovincial glory.
Behan quipped: “I haven’t heard the end of ‘Stand Up and Fight’! There is a good bit of slagging, but it’s good to have in the camp here.”
Tickets for Saturday’s Connacht v Leinster match are available to buy online here – priced at 10 euro for adults, 5 euro for juniors (under-16s), and 20 euro for a family package (two adults and two juniors).
The game will also be broadcast live on TG4’s YouTube channel and Galway Bay FM. Leinster are back at Energia Park on Saturday week for a second round encounter with Ulster – click here for ticket information.