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Captain Cregan Leads Ulster Women To Long-Awaited Win

Captain Cregan Leads Ulster Women To Long-Awaited Win

Beth Cregan is congratulated after scoring Ulster's fourth try during their 3rd-4th place play-off clash with Connacht ©INPHO/James Crombie

There were joyous scenes at Musgrave Park as Ulster won their first Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship match since 2012, beating Connacht 36-14 to finish third overall for this season.


Saturday, September 2 –

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CONNACHT 14 ULSTER 36, Musgrave Park
Scorers: Connacht: Tries: Lily Brady, Orla Dixon; Cons: Nicole Fowley 2
Ulster: Tries: Rachael McIlroy, India Daley, Ella Durkan, Beth Cregan, Niamh Marley, Aishling O’Connell; Cons: Ella Durkan 3
HT: Connacht 0 Ulster 14

Try-scoring captain and Vodafone player-of-the-match Beth Cregan said her team were able to ‘shut down Connacht and show the type of running rugby that we play’, as a superb six-try performance saw them avenge last week’s five-point defeat.

Leading this play-off tie from start to finish, Ulster built a 14-0 interval lead as Rachel McIlroy crossed early on and India Daley added a second try, showing exactly why she has been called up to train with the national squad.

Ireland international Brittany Hogan was having a big influence up front as Murray Houston’s charges outplayed a Connacht team that had started the campaign with a famous victory at home to Leinster last month.

Despite Taryn Schutzler picking up a yellow card, Ella Durkan’s intercept try just after the restart kept Ulster on course. Lily Brady opened Connacht’s account but Cregan responded with a 54th-minute bonus point effort.

Niamh Marley’s terrific individual try preceded a consolation score from Connacht replacement Orla Dixon, but first-year head coach Houston watched on with great pride when Aishling O’Connell crashed over in the last minute.

Ulster’s last Interpro triumph was away to Connacht back in December 2012 (18-5) when current coaches Grace Davitt and Amy Davis were on the team. Their best result in recent seasons was a 12-all draw with Connacht from two years ago.

Ulster piled on the early pressure with their back row particularly prominent as ball carriers. That direct play, coupled with McIlroy’s quick passing from ruck to ruck, led to the scrum half lunging over the line in the sixth minute.

The conversion from full-back Durkan, who had shown her pace a few phases before the try, left Connacht seven points in arrears.

The pre-match favourites were also adjusting to Kayla Waldron’s withdrawal before kick-off and the early injury-enforced departure of lock Eva McCormack.

A superb sidestepping run from Laoise McGonagle had Connacht on the prowl, only for Ulster prop O’Connell to force a well-timed turnover. The latter’s front row colleagues, Cregan and Ava Fannin, then combined to hold up Grainne O’Loughlin off a maul.

With Connacht struggling to hold onto the ball, a Hogan interception drove Ulster on to score again in the 19th minute. Keelin Brady’s forceful carry got them in range before flanker Daley twisted out of tackles from Olivia Haverty and Shannon Touhey to successfully ground the ball.

After Durkan’s conversion had put 14 points between the sides, Maeve Liston’s well-timed interception broke up a promising Connacht attack. When the westerners ran a kick back, O’Connell replied by winning a penalty at the breakdown.

Connacht hooker Stacey Hanley returned fire with a turnover penalty of her own, and despite skipper Nicole Fowley’s boot putting them in good positions from penalties, the Lyndon Jones-coached outfit were kept scoreless.

One too many penalties landed Ulster lock Schutzler in the bin in the 35th minute, despite her appearing to get a rip in the tackle. However, Connacht’s maul was stopped short and then Maebh Clenaghan, who was having a fine game, stole a subsequent lineout.

It took just 68 seconds of the second half for Ulster to extend their lead. Durkan intercepted a pass that Clara Barrett had knocked on near halfway, using her pace to break clear of Ava Ryder, Haverty and the retreating Fowley for a smartly-taken unconverted score.

Crucially for Connacht, they hit back just a few minutes later. Replacement Faith Oviawe reacted quickest to a lineout that had gone loose. Her fellow forwards got over the gain-line repeatedly before Brady reached over past two defenders for her second try in the space of a week.

Fowley’s conversion closed the gap to 12 points before Ulster, who had replaced Hogan at the break, regained control through their forwards. A rested-up O’Connell returned to the pitch to win an immediate scrum penalty.

Having defended a maul well, Connacht were caught out on the near side when a quick switch of direction set up a determined Cregan to get the ball down despite the best efforts of the covering O’Loughlin and Cliodhna O’Sullivan.

The icing on top of the cake for Ulster came 10 minutes later when winger Marley bagged the best try of the lot. She cut back against the grain, brilliantly speeding in between four defenders before holding off O’Sullivan to score beside the posts.

Durkan tagged on the extras to take her impressive Championship haul to 29 points. Connacht battled on and prop Niamh O’Grady was a whisker away from getting on the scoresheet. Instead, Keelin Brady and Stacey Sloan received the plaudits for holding her up.

Fowley and her team-mates can still take plenty of positives from their two home wins, and a sharp 77th-minute run from Dixon saw her claw back seven points.

Ulster wanted the final say, though, and Marley plucked down the restart to put them right back on the front foot.

Following a penalty that Durkan had tucked away towards the right corner, a well-set maul provided the platform for O’Connell to power past the whitewash and start the celebrations in earnest for her province.

TIME LINE: 6 minutes – Ulster try: Rachael McIlroy – 0-5; conversion: Ella Durkan – 0-7; 19 mins – Ulster try: India Daley – 0-12; conversion: Ella Durkan – 0-14; 35 mins – Ulster yellow card: Taryn Schutzler; Half-time – Connacht 0 Ulster 14; 42 mins – Ulster try: Ella Durkan – 0-19; conversion: missed by Ella Durkan – 0-19; 48 mins – Connacht try: Lily Brady – 5-19; conversion: Nicole Fowley – 7-19; 54 mins – Ulster try: Beth Cregan – 7-24; conversion: missed by Ella Durkan – 7-24; 64 mins – Ulster try: Niamh Marley – 7-29; conversion: Ella Durkan – 7-31; 77 mins – Connacht try: Orla Dixon – 12-31; conversion: Nicole Fowley – 14-31; 80 mins – Ulster try: Aishling O’Connell – 14-36; conversion: missed by Ella Durkan – 14-36; Full-time – Connacht 14 Ulster 36

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, Lily Brady, Karly Tierney.

Replacements used: Faith Oviawe for McCormack (9 mins), Dearbhla Canty for O’Grady, Poppy Garvey for Hanley (both half-time), Orla Dixon for Haverty (49), Cliodhna O’Sullivan for Ryder (53), Mollie Starr for Fenton (58), O’Grady for O’Loughlin (60), Mairead Kelleher for McDermott (66), Niamh Corless for Garvey (68).

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 used: Megan Brodie for O’Connell (29 mins), Stacey Sloan for Hogan (half-time), O’Connell for Fannin, Laura Cairns for McIlroy (both 52), Toni Macartney for Moyles (66), Brenda Barr for Sloan, Megan Simpson for Brodie, Bronach Cassidy for Cregan, Megan Edwards for Liston (all 71).

Referee: Barrie O’Connell (IRFU)