There will be plenty of new faces hoping to make their mark when Connacht and Leinster, the runners-up for the last two seasons, collide on the opening day of the Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship in Galway.
VODAFONE WOMEN’S INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP – ROUND 1:
Saturday, August 12 –
CONNACHT v LEINSTER, the Sportsground, 5.15pm (live on TG4 YouTube Channel)
Connacht caused trouble in the first half for Leinster before losing 38-10 in last season’s opening Interprovincial fixture. There has been a changing of the guard out west since then, with captain Mary Healy, Mairead Coyne, Laura Feely and Fiona Scally all retiring.
Sligo native Nicole Fowley, who possesses a big right boot and plenty of skills at number 10, takes the captaincy reins of a youthful Connacht squad.
Indeed, five of their matchday 23 – Karly Tierney, Ivana Kiripati, Laoise McGonagle, Clara Barrett and Kayla Waldron – were involved with the Ireland U-20s in Italy last month.
Barrett, who shifts to outside centre for this rematch with Leinster, bagged a brace of tries during Connacht’s victory away to Ulster last January. It was the highlight of their campaign and showed the strides they are making under head coach Lyndon Jones.
He said the current crop have gelled together very well having been training since June 21, describing Galwegians ace Fowley as ‘a brilliant player who leads by example on and off the field and who has the right words at the right time’.
“We’re expecting a massive challenge from Leinster,” he acknowledged. “They’re a good side but this is what we train for, these type of games playing quality opposition. There’s massive confidence within the squad heading into Saturday.”
Their Méabh Deely-anchored back-three offers a good deal of firepower, Ireland scrum half Aoibheann Reilly (pictured above) makes a welcome return to provincial action following her ACL injury, and former Ulster prop Shannon Heapes takes over from Feely at tighthead.
Jones added: “It’s a young squad with loads of potential. As a coaching team we’re excited about what these next four weeks have to offer. The squad has a lot of new faces with some incredible players coming through from our age-grade programmes.”
Meanwhile, lightning-quick full-back Naoise O’Reilly is one of four new caps in the Leinster team that is travelling to Galway.
She is rewarded for her impressive form which helped Wicklow to secure the Energia All-Ireland League Conference and Shield trophies last season.
Tania Rosser also gives debuts up front to Sarah Delaney, the PortDara hooker, the Ireland-capped Aoife Wafer, and Naas product Ruth Campbell. Delaney and Campbell were both involved with the Ireland U-20s recently, while Ballygarrett’s Wafer only turned 20 last March.
Wafer has captain Hannah O’Connor and the highly-rated Molly Boyne alongside her in the loose forwards, while Old Belvedere dominate a back-line which includes the returning Sene Taiti-Fanene, who skippered the Blues to Interpro success in 2018 and 2019, and Ireland starlet Aoife Dalton in the centre.
Lining up for their Leinster bows as replacements are Katelynn Doran, the first woman to receive a Maynooth University rugby scholarship, and Amy O’Mahony from Greystones. Head coach Rosser is excited by the potential of these new players but knows Connacht will put up a stern challenge.
“We have been training hard for the last six weeks so we’re just looking to get up and running against Connacht,” said the 2013 Grand Slam winner.
“Connacht are always difficult. They ran us close (last time) and kept us on our toes, the first 30 minutes was scoreless. Although the score was quite flattering, the game was in Connacht’s hands.
“The girls need to work together and be physical with Connacht. It’s just about making sure we get our execution right. We want to win but the key thing is getting performances and cohesion. Each individual needs to know their details before they worry about others.”
CONNACHT: Méabh Deely; Ava Ryder, Clara Barrett, Shannon Touhey, Laoise McGonagle; Nicole Fowley (capt), Aoibheann Reilly; Grainne O’Loughlin, Lily Brady, Shannon Heapes, Sonia McDermott, Eva McCormack, Orla Fenton, Karly Tierney, Ivana Kiripati.
Replacements: Stacy Hanley, Niamh O’Grady, Dearbhla Canty, Mollie Starr, Beibhinn Gleeson, Olivia Haverty, Kayla Waldron, Orla Dixon.
LEINSTER: Naoise O’Reilly; Elise O’Byrne-White, Aoife Dalton, Sene Taiti-Fanene, Clare Gorman; Dannah O’Brien, Katie Whelan; Aoife Moore, Sarah Delaney, Christy Haney, Ruth Campbell, Eimear Corri, Aoife Wafer, Molly Boyne, Hannah O’Connor (capt).
Replacements: Lisa Callan, Caoimhe Molloy, Jess Keating, Katelynn Doran, Amy O’Mahony, Ailsa Hughes, Lisa Mullen, Meabh O’Brien.
Referee: Henry Richmond (IRFU)