Connacht played in the most recent Women’s Interpro final in September 2019 – the last two editions of the Championship saw a return to the round robin format – and they are determined to reach that stage again courtesy of a home victory over bottom side Ulster.
VODAFONE WOMEN’S INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP – ROUND 3:
Saturday, August 26 –
CONNACHT (3rd) v ULSTER (4th), the Sportsground, 2.30pm (live on TG4/BBC iPlayer)
Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship Form: Connacht: WL; Ulster: LL
Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship Top Scorers – Connacht: Points: Méabh Deely 10; Tries: Méabh Deely 2; Ulster: Points: Ella Durkan 9; Tries: Ella Durkan, Maebh Clenaghan, Niamh Marley 1 each
If Lyndon Jones’ westerners can emerge victorious at the Sportsground and Munster also do them a favour by beating Leinster, then they will finish second in the table and ensure that next week’s trip to Musgrave Park will have silverware on the line for them.
In a rejigging of their starting XV, Shannon Touhey reverts to inside centre and influential prop Shannon Heapes switches across to the loosehead side. Galwegians’ Dearbhla Canty comes in for her first interprovincial start at tighthead.
Centre Orla Dixon and forwards Eva McCormack and Beibhinn Gleeson, who only turned 18 in April, bring the total number of personnel changes to four.
Connacht are aiming for a repeat of last January’s 25-19 bonus point triumph over Ulster when teenage winger Clara Barrett bagged a brace of tries.
Speaking about their approach to such a crucial match, head coach Jones said: “We need to win, preferably with a bonus point, and that’s all we can control. That’s all we have to focus on.
“Even first of all, regardless of points difference and everything else, we need to bounce back from last week (losing by a big margin to Munster) and we need to perform closer to we know we can perform.
“That’s what our focus is for the weekend, to get a better performance. I’ve massive belief in this team, we’re a good team. We’ve beaten one of the best teams in the country (Leinster) when we’ve performed close to our level, and I think there’s more in us even beyond that.”
Meanwhile, Ulster remain without injured forwards Sadhbh McGrath and Fiona Tuite for the game in Galway. McGrath’s absence is covered by Ava Fannin who slots in at loosehead as one of two changes to the side that lost 57-5 away to Leinster.
Emma Jordan joins the strong-running Kelly McCormill in the centre of a back-line led again by Meath teenager Abby Moyles.
Rachel McIlroy’s lively cameo off the bench against Leinster was not enough to earn a start, but she will provide impact as a replacement, along with Ireland dual international Brittany Hogan.
Armagh native Niamh Marley, her province’s lone try scorer at Energia Park, will hope to add to her tally on the wing. She also crossed the whitewash in that 25-19 loss to Connacht in Belfast, when Ulster outscored their opponents by 19 points to five in the second half.
Looking for a solid performance to take into next week’s play-off, head coach Murray Houston commented: “There was a really good energy on Monday. The team were not satisfied with the overall performance against Leinster and have been determined to work hard to fix that for this weekend.
“After Leinster were so dominant in the first half, it was good to see the team rally in the second half. We created some good opportunities and we’ve been looking at how we can capitalise on them.
“Connacht like to move the ball and kick well. We had a great contest with them in Enniskillen before the Interprovincial Championship, so we know plenty about each other.”
CONNACHT: Méabh Deely; Ava Ryder, Orla Dixon, Shannon Touhey, Clara Barrett; Nicole Fowley (capt), Olivia Haverty; Shannon Heapes, Lily Brady, Dearbhla Canty, Sonia McDermott, Eva McCormack, Orla Fenton, Beibhinn Gleeson, Karly Tierney.
Replacements: Stacy Hanley, Grainne O’Loughlin, Niamh O’Grady, Faith Oviawe, Mollie Starr, Kayla Waldron, Cliodhna O’Sullivan, Laoise McGonagle.
ULSTER: Ella Durkan; Maeve Liston, Kelly McCormill, Emma Jordan, Niamh Marley; Abby Moyles, Laura Cairns; Ava Fannin, Beth Cregan (capt), Aishling O’Connell, Keelin Brady, Taryn Schutzler, Sophie Barrett, Maebh Clenaghan, India Daley.
Replacements: Bronach Cassidy, Megan Brodie, Brittany Hogan, Stacey Sloan, Brenda Barr, Rachael McIlroy, Toni Macartney, Megan Edwards.