Leinster captain Hannah O’Connor says her side will approach next Saturday‘s Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship final with a ‘clean state’ after bouncing back from a disappointing start to the tournament.
Picking themselves up from a surprise first round defeat at Connacht, Leinster took down both Ulster (57-5) and defending champions Munster (26-19) to put themselves within reach of a first Interpro title since 2019.
Third-quarter tries from Linda Djougang and Ruth Campbell proved vital at Energia Park as the Blues ended Munster’s nine-match unbeaten run. However, they will have to do it all again – this time at Musgrave Park in the decider – if they are to bring the trophy back home.
“It wasn’t perfect, but we’ll take not perfect if it meant getting over the line,” O’Connor said of their qualification for the final.
“We had one objective and that was to win to get us into the final. That’s where we want to be and we’re absolutely delighted to have done that.
“As I said to the players, we felt a hell of a lot different in January at Musgrave Park (when we lost 26-17 to Munster). To have that feeling now in that circle makes all the hard slog over the summer worth it to get us there.
“We didn’t start the way we wanted to out west, but we’ve built momentum and we’re in a good place heading into the final. It’s all to play for, all we needed to do was to get there and wipe the slate clean.”
Munster led early on through Maeve Óg O’Leary, and captain Dorothy Wall finished with a brace of tries. Their maul caused a good deal of damage and it could be an important weapon when the teams battle it out in Cork.
Their head coach Niamh Briggs commented: “I thought our maul was really good today, the girls did really well. I thought at times we looked to find a bit of grass which was good.
“But we’re frustrated with how we played. We probably allowed Leinster to dictate a lot of that game. Just a bit indecisive, we lacked a lot of clinical ability to make that last pass or push the space. It’s a good learning for us.
“That’s the beauty of it, you’ve got to try and find small little nuances that can make you better. We’ve got to turn the page very quickly. We’ll review and look forward to next Saturday in Cork.”
While Briggs’ three-in-a-row hopefuls had already booked their final berth, she acknowledged that Leinster were ‘fighting for their lives’ in the Donnybrook duel.
Their discipline is something Tania Rosser’s charges will have to improve as Campbell and Molly Boyne were both sin-binned.
That makes it six yellow cards in three games for Leinster, with O’Connor admitting: “We’ll definitely be in for some tough learnings come the analysis on Monday. But that’s what we need. We can’t be doing that next week.
“If you do that in finals rugby, the game is gone before you even get a chance, so we’ll be looking to fix that. Even from today, I guarantee Munster will be changing stuff, we’ll be changing stuff. So it’s very much a blank slate going into next week and it’s all to play for.”
Meanwhile, Connacht’s hard-fought 29-24 bonus point victory over Ulster brought them onto nine points but left them just short of a final place. Instead, the result in Dublin saw Leinster join table toppers Munster on 11 points.
Connacht and Ulster will meet again in the 3rd-4th place play-off in Cork, as Lyndon Jones’ westerners strive for their third win of the campaign and a young Ulster outfit press for their province’s first winning performance in the Interpros since 2012.
They were leading 17-14 at half-time at the Sportsground, courtesy of tries from Aishling O’Connell, Ella Durkan and captain Beth Cregan, before Connacht fired back with a trio of unconverted second half scores.
Two of those were from Mayo youngster Ava Ryder (pictured above), the Vodafone player-of-the-match and a recent Ireland Sevens cap.
The 21-year-old winger showed her finishing skills out wide against Ulster, including an excellent effort from a Nicole Fowley cross-field kick.
“We trained really hard this week because we were so hurt from the Munster defeat,” said Ryder. “The improvements were there and we performed well. Delighted to get across the line for those tries.
“A lot of people look at Connacht as the underdogs and I think we took that with our first home game. We just gave Leinster the fight and we drove on from there. We’re just focusing on ourselves.”