Following last week’s defeat to the same opposition, Munster are hoping to quickly recapture their best form when they host Leinster in Saturday’s Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship final at Musgrave Park.
VODAFONE WOMEN’S INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP – FINAL:
Saturday, September 2 –
MUNSTER v LEINSTER, Musgrave Park, 4.45pm (live on TG4/TG4 Player)
Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship Form: Munster: WWL; Leinster: LWW
Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship Top Scorers – Munster: Points: Kate Flannery 19; Tries: Stephanie Carroll, Dorothy Wall 3 each; Leinster: Points: Hannah O’Connor 12; Tries: Eimear Corri, Christy Haney, Aimee Clarke, Ruth Campbell 2 each
With 21 Interprovincial titles between them, these fierce rivals continue to set the standard in the TG4-televised competition. Munster are bidding for their first three in-a-row since they were crowned champions for five successive seasons between 2006 and 2010.
Rocked by a first round defeat away to Connacht, Tania Rosser’s Leinster team bring momentum with them down to Cork following back-to-back home wins over Ulster (57-5) and Munster (26-19). They have not lifted the trophy since being back-to-back winners in 2018 and 2019.
The Musgrave Park factor is ‘a massive thing’ for Munster according to head coach Niamh Briggs who says it is a ‘spiritual home’ for her squad.
They beat the Blues there last January, winning 26-17 thanks to a clinching try from winger Stephanie Carroll, this season’s joint-top try scorer with three.
Briggs’ selection for the decider shows only four changes to the side that won that Cork clash almost eight months ago. The most notable alterations to the starting XV that lost in Donnybrook last Saturday see the return of the experienced Eimear Considine, Aoife Doyle and Nicole Cronin to the back-line.
Considine and Doyle resume in the back-three following their niggles, while canny out-half Cronin, who captained Munster to Interpro glory last season, is buzzing for a crack at the province’s 16th title in a span of 22 years.
Having come off the bench last week for her first appearance since a long-term knee injury, Cronin said: “It’s been an incredibly difficult time with injury, probably the last twelve months really. In and out and I suppose that’s part and parcel of the game.
“But to get the 30-odd minutes under my belt last weekend was huge. A disappointing result but hopefully it puts me in a better position to help the girls moving forward.
“The appreciation for just getting out playing, let alone being in a position to bring home silverware, is massive. From that point of view, and the girls have been excellent, I think the drive to bring home that trophy again this weekend is huge.
“It’s huge to be able to go out the following week and right the wrongs of a loss. Credit to Leinster, they did what they needed to do last week. We view it as a challenge. We’re not focusing on them, it’s about us and what we can do. Saturday tells it all.”
Tullow youngster Dannah O’Brien, who earned praise from Rosser for her performance off the bench in the third round, comes in as the only change to Leinster’s starting line-up.
The 20-year-old Ireland out-half leads the visitors’ back-line alongside her Old Belvedere club-mate Katie Whelan (pictured above), whose electric form across the opening three rounds has seen her included in Scott Bemand’s first national training squad as one of five uncapped players.
While Briggs brings in Clodagh O’Halloran and Chloe Pearse into a powerful Dorothy Wall-led pack, the Leinster forwards are unchanged with their newly-assembled second row pairing of Eimear Corri and Ruth Campbell – with four tries between them – certainly looking the part.
Looking to build on their bonus point victory over the defending champions, Leinster prop Christy Haney commented: “The Munster match is always such a tough day. There is so much talent on each team but regardless of the names written down on the team sheet, it’s always a battle when you hit the pitch,” she says.
“Last week was a good one for us in that we stayed really focused. Tania had the week very well organised. We ticked all the boxes, reviewed our KPIs, and stayed on target for the match.
“I thought our forwards really showed up last week, in terms of their physicality. We don’t mind whether the sun shines or the rain comes down. We will be ready in the final. We know we have momentum coming into the match. That’s great. We will use it to fuel us.
“But, by no means, were we content with our performance last week. There are a number of things we will have to improve. It is always so tight with Munster. You never run away with it.
“That is what makes it so exciting, the rugby so good and the satisfaction so great when it goes the way you want it to.”
MUNSTER: Eimear Considine; Aoife Doyle, Alana McInerney, Stephanie Nunan, Stephanie Carroll; Nicole Cronin, Muirne Wall; Róisín Ormond, Ciara Farrell, Fiona Reidy, Dorothy Wall (capt), Clodagh O’Halloran, Chloe Pearse, Maeve Óg O’Leary, Deirbhile Nic a Bháird.
Replacements: Beth Buttimer, Eilís Cahill, Claire Bennett, Brianna Heylmann, Jane Clohessy, Kate Flannery, Ellen Boylan, Aoife Corey.
LEINSTER: Natasja Behan; Aimee Clarke, Aoife Dalton, Leah Tarpey, Anna Doyle; Dannah O’Brien, Katie Whelan; Linda Djougang, Lisa Callan, Christy Haney, Ruth Campbell, Eimear Corri, Aoife Wafer, Molly Boyne, Hannah O’Connor (capt).
Replacements: Caoimhe Molloy, Aoife Moore, Sarah Delaney, Katelynn Doran, Sene Taiti-Fanene, Ailsa Hughes, Nikki Caughey, Elise O’Byrne-White.
Referee: Stuart Douglas (IRFU)
VODAFONE WOMEN’S INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP – 3RD-4TH PLACE PLAY-OFF:
Saturday, September 2 –
CONNACHT v ULSTER, Musgrave Park, 2pm (live on TG4/TG4 Player/BBC iPlayer)
Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship Form: Connacht: WLW; Ulster: LLL
Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship Top Scorers – Connacht: Points: Méabh Deely, Ava Ryder 10 each; Tries: Méabh Deely, Ava Ryder 2 each; Ulster: Points: Ella Durkan 18; Tries: Ella Durkan 2
Connacht and Ulster meet again in the 3rd-4th place play-off, with both teams taking positives out of last week’s nine-try encounter in Galway. Recent Ireland Sevens cap Ava Ryder touched down twice to see the westerners prevail on a 29-24 scoreline.
In a nod to Connacht’s progression across the tournament, they have four backs, including captain Nicole Fowley and uncapped flyer Clara Barrett, in Bemand’s panel to prepare for the WXV3 campaign, along with Ireland Sevens star Béibhinn Parsons and Kayla Waldron, who is one of the additional players.
Twenty-year-old talent Waldron shows her versatility again by slotting in at number 8 for the Cork curtain-raiser.
Three of the four other personnel changes made by the westerners’ head coach Lyndon Jones are in the front row as he urges his charges to ‘finish the Championship on a high’.
Grainne O’Loughlin, a try scorer as a replacement last Saturday, Stacy Hanley and Niamh O’Grady combine in the first line of the scrum, while Beibhinn Gleeson’s absence of covered by Waldron in a rejigged back row.
Galwegians speedster Laoise McGonagle (pictured above) is rewarded for her impact off the bench, joining Méabh Deely and Ryder, who are on two tries each, in the back-three. Shannon Touhey is reunited with 19-year-old starlet Barrett in the centre.
Knowing that a third triumph in four games would still represent a season of real growth for this young squad, Touhey said: “We know we’re far from the finished package but we believe we’re getting to new levels. One thing we can’t fault from last Saturday is our resilience.
“This team has unbelievable fight and that is a good Ulster team despite the results they’ve had, so we had to dig deep. We always know it will be a battle against them and there’s never really anything between us.
“Coming off the pitch last week there was a sense of frustration with that performance we gave. The first half we didn’t get much possession, the possession we did get we scored.
“So, everyone in the squad is buzzing for Saturday. We know Ulster will be hurting from last week which makes them dangerous but we’ve got to make sure we do our stuff well.
“If we give the performance we know we can we’re confident of winning. It would be great to end on a win in front of great travelling support because the support up to now has been brilliant.”
Meanwhile, buoyed by their four-try display at the Sportsground, Ulster head to Leeside with plenty of belief as they look to snap a hugely frustrating winless streak in the Interpros which stretches back to 2012.
India Daley, one of their most impressive emerging players, knows they are getting closer and closer to that elusive result.
The 22-year-old Cooke back rower has caught the eye of the national coaches and will train with the Ireland squad at their WXV3 preparatory camps.
“We are in a good place after last weekend,” insisted Daley. “Losing out so narrowly has given us the strength to come back even stronger. We have fixed what we needed to and are ready to go.
“Our set piece is major and is key to our game. We have worked hard at certain areas this week to prepare us for Saturday. We’ve built (with) every game throughout this series and we showed that in our last performance.
“We’ve so many young girls coming through adding that extra bit of energy, and it will only add to our team in the future. We showed what we were capable of the last day and we just need to build on it. This has to be our best performance now.”
For the closing match of his first campaign as Ulster head coach, Murray Houston has made three changes. Peita McAlister comes in to partner Kelly McCormill in midfield, with Ireland international Brittany Hogan’s inclusion at number 8 seeing Daley switch to blindside flanker.
Rachael McIlroy swaps in for Laura Cairns at scrum half, but two of Ulster’s Ireland call-ups, Sadhbh McGrath and Fiona Tuite, unfortunately remain sidelined. Converted from the wing to the back row in recent seasons, Tuite showed her physicality at lock against Munster last month.
CONNACHT: Méabh Deely; Ava Ryder, Clara Barrett, Shannon Touhey, Laoise McGonagle; Nicole Fowley (capt), Olivia Haverty; Grainne O’Loughlin, Stacy Hanley, Niamh O’Grady, Sonia McDermott, Eva McCormack, Orla Fenton, Karly Tierney, Kayla Waldron.
Replacements: Lily Brady, Niamh Corless, Dearbhla Canty, Mollie Starr, Faith Oviawe, Poppy Garvey, Orla Dixon, Cliodhna O’Sullivan.
ULSTER: Ella Durkan; Maeve Liston, Peita McAlister, Kelly McCormill, Niamh Marley; Abby Moyles, Rachael McIlroy; Ava Fannin, Beth Cregan (capt), Aishling O’Connell, Keelin Brady, Taryn Schutzler, India Daley, Maebh Clenaghan, Brittany Hogan.
Replacements: Sarah Roberts, Megan Simpson, Megan Brodie, Stacey Sloan, Brenda Barr, Laura Cairns, Toni Macartney, Megan Edwards.
Referee: Barrie O’Connell (IRFU)