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Ireland U-18 Women Post Opening Festival Win Over Italy

Ireland U-18 Women Post Opening Festival Win Over Italy

Ireland prop Cara McLean is pictured during their win over Italy at the U-18 Women's Six Nations Festival in Colwyn Bay ©Rachel Lambert

The Ireland Under-18 Women (sponsored by PwC) ran England close in Colwyn Bay, before scoring four unanswered tries to beat Italy for the second year running at the U-18 Women’s Six Nations Festival.

Coached by Matt Gill and Sam Govender, Ireland wrapped up the opening day with an encouraging 20-0 victory over Italy which saw Emma Brogan, Sarah Purcell, Alma Atagamen, and vice-captain Leah Irwin share out the tries.

Strong-carrying lock Atagamen also touched down against England, as did playmaker Caitriona Finn, but it was not enough to avoid a 19-12 defeat in the first of today’s 35-minute matches.

Following the Easter weekend, captain Ailish Quinn and her team-mates will return to action on Tuesday – playing hosts Wales and France in shortened games – before a full 70-minute international fixture against Scotland next Saturday.

The annual U-18 Six Nations Festival has become an important aspect of the Under-18 development pathway, exposing players to international rugby at a key stage and benchmarking their progress against the other Six Nations teams.

Sadhbh McGrath, Sarah Delaney, and Katie Corrigan, who all played for Ireland in last week’s Guinness Women’s Six Nations opener in France, took part in the inaugural U-18 festival in 2022, along with UL Bohemian and Munster ace Kate Flannery.

Corrigan and Beth Buttimer were involved in last year’s festival in England, and seven of their team-mates from the 2023 group returned for the current tournament in north Wales, including Quinn and Finn.


Friday, March 29 –

ENGLAND U-18s 19 IRELAND U-18s 12, Stadiwm CSM, Colwyn Bay
Scorers: England: Tries: Ellie Wilson, Sarah Parry, Abigail Pritchard; Cons: Molly Bunker 2
Ireland: Tries: Caitriona Finn, Alma Atagamen; Con: Caitriona Finn

Back from last year’s squad, Finn and Atagamen cancelled out Ellie Wilson’s second-minute breakaway try for England with well-taken scores of their own.

That had Ireland leading 12-7 midway through the 35-minute contest, but Sarah Parry and Abigail Pritchard both crossed during the final eight minutes to give England a tight verdict.

Ireland showed early promise with ball in hand, as eager winger Brogan, Emma Jane Wilson, and Sadhbh Wells all gained good ground up past halfway until a knock-on allowed England to counter in clinical fashion.

Flanker Wilson reacted quickest to dart clear from 55 metres out and score under the posts, giving Molly Bunker a simple conversion. Carla Cloney charged into space from a short lineout move as Ireland built some pressure in response.

Jemima Adams Verling carried well off a scrum to keep the girls in green on the front foot. An attempted interception by Aoibheann McGrath did not work out, but Finn flew up in the 10th minute to pick off Emily Lunn’s pass for a 25-metre run-in.

The Munster starlet converted her own try, and after Abby Healy had done really well to hold up Hayley Jones right on the Irish try-line, Gill’s youngsters won back key territory thanks to a Wells turnover penalty.

Even better followed in the 17th minute when Balbriggan’s Atagamen showed great strength to barge through two tackles, with Quinn on the latch, and crash over from six metres out. Finn’s conversion went narrowly wide at 12-7.

Weaving into midfield, Brogan combined to good effect with fellow winger Erin McConalogue. Ireland’s next couple of visits to the English 22 went unrewarded, despite a promising lineout platform, and then a Wilson offload that Brogan could not gather cleanly.

As the rain came down, nearing the half hour mark, Bunker’s sidestepping break off a scrum played in her centre partner Parry for a smartly-executed try, which Bunker converted to edge England back in front (14-12).

Finn ignited the Irish attack again by taking a quick penalty, running hard and making big metres as did the supporting Cloney. Atagamen and prop Wilson got the ball out wide to Brogan who popped an offload back inside, but Wilson, just metres out, was unable to hold onto it.

Ireland were left to rue that missed opportunity near the left corner, as with the clock in the red, increasingly-influential full-back Daisy Aspinall added zip to an attack out to the right, and Pritchard had the gas to finish off in the corner.

TIME LINE: 2 minutes – England try: Ellie Wilson – 5-0; conversion: Molly Bunker – 7-0; 10 mins – Ireland try: Caitriona Finn – 7-5; conversion: Caitriona Finn – 7-7; 17 mins – Ireland try: Alma Atagamen – 7-12; conversion: missed by Caitriona Finn – 7-12; 28 mins – England try: Sarah Parry – 12-12; conversion: Molly Bunker – 14-12; 35+1 mins – England try: Abigail Pritchard – 19-12; conversion: missed by Molly Bunker – 19-12; Full-time – England 19 Ireland 12

IRELAND U-18: Sophie Cullen; Erin McConalogue, Clara Dunne, Caitriona Finn, Emma Brogan; Abby Healy, Grainne Moran; Emma Jane Wilson, Sadhbh Wells, Sophie McAllister, Carla Cloney, Alma Atagamen, Aoibheann McGrath, Ailish Quinn (capt), Jemima Adams Verling.

Replacements: Bronagh Boggan, Kate Noons, Cara McLean, Rebecca Brennan, Aoife Corcoran, Sarah Purcell, Mia Hennelly, Siofra Hession, Ava O’Malley, Emily Foley, Leah Irwin.

IRELAND U-18s 20 ITALY U-18s 0, Stadiwm CSM, Colwyn Bay
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Emma Brogan, Sarah Purcell, Alma Atagamen, Leah Irwin
Italy: –

Led by Irwin for their second outing of the day, Ireland broke into an early lead against Italy with influential backs Brogan and Purcell both crossing inside the opening 11 minutes.

Atagamen was sprung from the bench to bag her second try of the festival, and a last-minute breakaway effort from Enniskillen centre Irwin wrapped up a deserved victory for the girls in green.

Invited forward by Adams Vering’s early turnover, the Connacht connection continued with Siofra Hession’s cross-field kick bouncing into the hands of Emily Foley. Italy scrambled well though, and forced a subsequent knock-on from Ava O’Malley.

Gill’s much-changed side had the lion’s share of the early territory, nonetheless, and another kick dangled across by Hession saw the ball bounce loose for the onrushing Brogan to gleefully ground it ahead of Ester Lepri.

Ireland followed up with one of the tries of the first day to take a 10-0 lead. Adams Verling gobbled up the metres from a quickly-taken free-kick before Hession invited Purcell through a gap, and Connacht’s Interprovincial Championship-winning captain simply took off for the try-line.

She accelerated past two defenders near Italy’s 10-metre line, handing off Alia Bitonci, and used a neat sidestep and fend to get past Giulia Affinito for a memorable individual score that went unconverted.

The rain was having an impact with some missed kicks to touch and knock-ons, but Ireland kept playing in and around the Italian 22. O’Malley, Cara McLean, and Kate Noons laid the platform for the next score with some forceful carrying.

It led to the newly-introduced Atagamen storming over from close range, having picked from a ruck and shrugged off two initial defenders. Italy lifted their game in response, but Purcell got across to make a textbook try-saving tackle on Bitonci.

Purcell followed up with a big midfield hit on Laura Foscato, as Ireland’s determined defence kept the Italians at bay. The slippery ball made for some stop-start phases, with handling errors increasing during the closing stages.

Replacement Clara Dunne got a chance to stretch her legs down the left wing, before Quinn tidied up following an Italian knock-on. A sudden overlap on the right allowed the rapid Irwin to raid over from 45 metres out, slicing in between two defenders along the way.

TIME LINE: 7 minutes – Ireland try: Emma Brogan – 5-0; conversion: missed by Siofra Hession – 5-0; 11 mins – Ireland try: Sarah Purcell – 10-0; conversion: missed by Siofra Hession – 10-0; 20 mins – Ireland try: Alma Atagamen – 15-0; conversion: missed by Caitriona Finn – 15-0; 35+1 mins – Ireland try: Leah Irwin – 20-0; conversion: missed by Caitriona Finn – 20-0; Full-time – Ireland 20 Italy 0

IRELAND U-18: Sophie Cullen; Emma Brogan, Leah Irwin (capt), Sarah Purcell, Emily Foley; Siofra Hession, Mia Hennelly; Kate Noons, Bronagh Boggan, Cara McLean, Rebecca Brennan, Carla Cloney, Ava O’Malley, Aoife Corcoran, Jemima Adams Verling.

Replacements: Sadhbh Wells, Emma Jane Wilson, Sophie McAllister, Alma Atagamen, Aoibheann McGrath, Ailish Quinn, Grainne Moran, Abby Healy, Caitriona Finn, Clara Dunne, Erin McConalogue.

IRELAND UNDER-18 WOMEN’S Squad (2024 U-18 Women’s Six Nations Festival, Colwyn Bay, Wales, March 29-April 6):

Jemima Adams Verling (Creggs RFC/Connacht)
Alma Atagamen (Balbriggan RFC/Leinster)
Bronagh Boggan (Wexford Wanderers RFC/Leinster)
Emma Brogan (Navan RFC/Leinster)
Rebecca Brennan (Wicklow RFC/Leinster)
Aoife Corcoran (Coolmine RFC/Leinster)
Carla Cooney (Enniscorthy RFC/Leinster)
Sophie Cullen (Naas RFC/Leinster)
Clara Dunne (Wicklow RFC/Leinster)
Caitriona Finn (UL Bohemian RFC/Ballina-Killaloe RFC/Munster)
Emily Foley (Ballina RFC/Connacht)
Abby Healy (Wicklow RFC/Leinster)
Mia Hennelly (Ballina-KillaloeRFC/Munster)
Siofra Hession (Creggs RFC/Connacht)
Leah Irwin (Enniskillen RFC/Ulster) (capt)
Sophie McAllister (Ballymena RFC/Ulster)
Erin McConalogue (Inishowen RFC/Ulster)
Aoibheann McGrath (Carrick-on-Suir RFC/Dungarvan RFC/Munster)
Cara McLean (Larne RFC/Ulster)
Grainne Moran (Ballina RFC/Connacht)
Kate Noons (Cill Dara RFC/Leinster)
Ava O’Malley (Killarney RFC/Munster)
Sarah Purcell (Creggs RFC/Connacht)
Ailish Quinn (Ballina RFC/Connacht) (capt)
Sadhbh Wells (Enniskillen RFC/Ulster)
Emma Jane Wilson (Cill Dara RFC/Leinster)


Matt Gill – Head Coach
Sana Govender – Assistant Coach
Becky Irvine – Team Manager
Lorna Barry – Athletic Development Coach
Naomi Hamilton – Team Physio


Day 1 – 35-minute matches (Friday, March 29 at Stadiwm CSM) –

England 19 Ireland 12
Italy 19 England 19
Ireland 20 Italy 0
France 34 Scotland 0
Wales 12 France 31
Scotland 0 Wales 12

Day 2 – 35-minute matches (Tuesday, April 2 at Stadiwm CSM) –

Wales v Ireland, 12pm
Ireland v France, 1pm
England v Wales, 2pm
France v Italy, 3.30pm
Scotland v England, 4.30pm
Italy v Scotland, 5.30pm

Day 3 – 70-minute matches (Saturday, April 6 at Stadiwm CSM) –

France v England, 12pm
Wales v Italy, 2.15pm
Scotland v Ireland, 4.30pm