Ulster and reigning champions Munster have the honour of launching the new Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship, with City of Armagh RFC playing host to Saturday’s opening first round fixture.
VODAFONE WOMEN’S INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP – ROUND 1:
Saturday, August 12 –
Dorothy Wall’s parents, Anthony and Sophie, were hoping the fixture gods would have been kinder to them tomorrow, but their daughter and son’s opening Interprovincial matches are overlapping and split by some 40 miles.
Dorothy is a central figure for the start of Munster’s defence of their Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship crown. The 23-year-old Tipperary native steps up to captain the team in the injury-enforced absence of Nicole Cronin.
Back rower Wall will lead Niamh Briggs’ side for their Interpro opener against Ulster in Armagh (kick-off 3.15pm), while Belfast’s Newforge (with a 2pm kick-off) is the venue for her brother Andrew’s debut at loosehead prop for the Munster U-18 Schools team’s clash with their Ulster counterparts.
Highlighting how much the Interpros mean to her, Dorothy admitted: “It’s why I love the game! I was obsessed when I was Under-16, 17 and 18, thinking about the future and the chance to go out and play for Munster.
“Myself, Enya Breen and Emily Lane won an Under-18 Interpro and I think I probably bring that up in every interview I do! They are just core memories for me and my family.
“My brother (Andrew) is playing for Munster now too. There’s actually a clash in fixtures, so we’ll see where the parents go! Munster is really huge in our family, there’s great pride in it. I’d do anything to wear that jersey.”
In her second season at the helm, Briggs has selected a starting XV full of returning players from last season. Bansha teenager Kate Flannery (19) is tasked with leading a back-line which includes Ireland dual international Aoife Doyle.
Ballincollig duo Roisin Ormond and Gillian Coombes have both earned starts in the tight five, while Ellen Boylan, Jane Clohessy, Brianna Heylmann and Abbie Salter-Townshend could make their senior provincial debuts off the bench.
Deirbhile Nic a Bháird, undoubtedly the player of last season’s Interprovincial tournament, is also held in reserve as Briggs’ charges look to make a winning start at the Palace Grounds. They were 34-0 winners over Ulster in Cork seven months ago.
A lot has changed for Ulster in the meantime, with former University of Glasgow coach Murray Houston heading up the province’s new-look coaching group, which includes former internationals Grace Davitt and Amy Davis, and current scrum half Kathryn Dane who is continuing her return to rugby.
Power NI, part of the Energia Group, have come on board in a freshly-inked sponsorship deal, but putting in improved performances on the pitch is top of the agenda for Houston’s team which is led again by hooker Beth Cregan.
“Training has been good, I’ve been impressed with the commitment of the players and there has been a good attention to detail. We are looking at ways that we can improve,” said Houston.
“It’s looking at where we need to develop most and what will make the biggest difference to improving performances. We have had a number of meetings about that and looking at what will make the biggest difference.
“Munster are possibly the strongest side, coming in as champions and it will be a really big challenge. We have to look at our own performance, improve on our areas and take care of our own game.”
Ulster’s pack is topped and tailed by two very promising youngsters – prop Sadhbh McGrath, who made her TikTok Women’s Six Nations bow at just 18 earlier this year, and number 8 Sophie Barrett who was part of the inaugural Ireland Under-20 squad recently.
Another talented underage player, Trim teenager Abby Moyles, has made the switch north and combines with Laura Cairns at half-back. Cooke flyer Megan Edwards is a former sprinter and slots in on the left wing, with Kelly McCormill and Ella Durkan providing strong options in midfield.
ULSTER: Maeve Liston; Niamh Marley, Kelly McCormill, Ella Durkan, Megan Edwards; Abby Moyles, Laura Cairns; Sadhbh McGrath, Beth Cregan (capt), Gemma McCamley, Fiona Tuite, Keelin Brady, Chloe Donnan, Maebh Clenaghan, Sophie Barrett.
Replacements: Sarah Roberts, Aishling O’Connell, Taryn Schutzler, Brenda Barr, Amber Redmond, Peita McAlister, Toni MacCartney, Stacey Sloan.
MUNSTER: Aoife Corey; Aoife Doyle, Alana McInerney, Stephanie Nunan, Stephanie Carroll; Kate Flannery, Muirne Wall; Roisin Ormond, Ciara Farrell, Fiona Reidy, Gillian Coombes, Clodagh O’Halloran, Dorothy Wall (capt), Maeve Óg O’Leary, Chloe Pearse.
Replacements: Deirbhile Nic a Bháird, Eilis Cahill, Claire Bennett, Brianna Heylmann, Jane Clohessy, Abbie Salter-Townshend, Aoife O’Shaughnessy, Ellen Boylan.
Referee: Peter McClure (IRFU)