Ulster Rugby sat down with Senior Women’s captain, Beth Cregan, to chat over last weekend’s historic 14-36 win in the Vodafone Interprovincial Championship Play-Off against Connacht Senior Women.
A few days on from a win to remember in Musgrave Park and Beth is still on cloud nine. Ulster’s Senior Women ended a winless run that stretched back to December 2012, when they beat Connacht at the Sportsground.
They asked Beth about her reflections on the match and series, the impact of a new coaching panel and her excitement for the future of this team.
Beth, congratulations on captaining the team to a first win since 2012. Can you describe what it meant to you and the team when the full-time whistle blew?
You see the scenes on Saturday, it just meant everything to to the team. There are girls who have played longer than I have who haven’t won, coaching staff too but there are some of the young girls who have been winning at age- grade level and we’ve all been pushing to get that senior win.
It’s always been something at the forefront of our minds and to finally get that, it has been the work of a number of years. We have had chances in past but on Saturday the performance warranted it, we didn’t leave it to anybody else.
Tell us a bit about the celebrations afterwards?
The celebrations started on the pitch, we had great support from the squad who weren’t involved in the team that day but also had loads of messages of support too.
We are hoping to get together as a full squad to relish the achievement. Less said about that night the better, a few dodgy shapes being cut on the dancefloor but no injuries!
The weekend before you had narrowly lost out in Galway against Connacht, did that match motivate you more to get the win?
We have played Connacht a number of times and know what we are going up against. We showed in parts at the Sportsground but it was frustrating for us a team as we felt it was a lack of concentration that cost us the match. This team is good at self reflecting as a unit and throughout the game we knew we were in control and could limit Connacht.
Was there a moment in the game when you thought ‘this is here for us’ to win?
Up until the 75th minute I didn’t think it was in the bag. We had a great start and to keep them to zero points in the first half was a big bonus. Second half, we got off to a great start with Ella Durkan’s try but we knew a lapse in concentration would allow them back in.
After Niamh Marley’s try I think it relieved the team and eased the pressure, she did such a great individual try it helped us all focus. I also remember Aishling O’Connell coming on and helping us to win an important scrum, there was also a moment when we held it up on the tryline. There were a number of big moments in the game that helped our confidence.
The attack has been positive all campaign but the defence were really on it on Saturday, how much work has went into improving that part of the team?
Our attack has really been up there, when our structures are in place other teams can struggle to cope with us, its those moments of lapses in concentration that can hurt us. I think in this game we were better tactically and had better territory, there were girls playing out of their skin, making big tackles, disrupting rucks and our defensive fold was really on it.
You stepped up as captain at a critical point in the match, can you talk us through that try?
I’m not sure how I got there to be honest! We’ve been working hard on our set pieces and on Saturday it just clicked. Our lineout maul is a big strength, we were tackled just short of the line but Niamh Marley was outside me and noticed there was a gap. I got the space but if I didn’t score I think Niamh would have gave me a word in the ear! It was all about our forwards getting us on the front foot.
You’ve been involved with Ulster for a long period and have finally gotten that win. What was different about this group/ squad going into this campaign?
There was a calmness this year that wasn’t there in past. I think the girls knew their roles, carried them out and had a logical approach to the games. We wanted to not dwell on the past and just enjoy the games, I think we aimed to execute when we had to.
The group were being present and this is an exciting year with new coaches and to have former players like Kathryn Dane, Amy Davis, Grace involved all had a big impact. To have Eric O’Sullivan come in on a full-time basis was important for our forward pack, our set piece has improved. We also had a good transition as Neill Alcorn was still involved with the team. The different voices around had a good impact.
From a personal point of view, how did it feel to be awarded the Player of the Match in a historic match for the womens’ team?
Very proud! You don’t get it unless the team played well, in that game the levels some got to was fantastic, and they have put their hands up for future selection. Its probably going to be my last Ulster game for a year or so, it was nice to end it on a high and show my family the award.
How do you reflect on the Series as a whole?
Its been exiting, it shows us we are there, we are competing and we have also had a number of injuries too but our squad depth has pulled through and there has been a good transition.
The full squad gelled and executed. We were disappointed to lose three rounds but we are playing a better brand of rugby and we reflect on the mistakes we make. That play-off gave us a chance to fix things.
We will use this series to push on, it’s a historic win and some great players who have put on the jersey have never been able to experience.
Are you excited for the future of this team?
I’m really excited to watch the girls push on, we some great talent coming through the Ulster Player Pathway system. I can’t wait for girls to push on and show what Ulster is all about.
Our U18s look really talented, I’m excited for the team who have experienced a win, I hope we can contend for future interprovincial titles.
I’m excited for the future of this group, hopefully they seen the work that goes into getting a win and how switched on you have to be for 80 minutes.