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Excitement Building For Queen’s Tilt At Promotion To #EnergiaAIL Women’s Division

Excitement Building For Queen’s Tilt At Promotion To #EnergiaAIL Women’s Division

Queen's University are priming themselves for a big performance in Sunday's promotion decider against Tullow at Balbriggan RFC

Queen’s University are just 80 minutes away from returning to the Energia All-Ireland League Women’s Division for the first time since the 2015/16 season.

Facing Leinster club Tullow in Sunday’s promotion play-off final at Balbriggan RFC (kick-off 11.30am), it is a chance the students were not expecting but hope to grasp.

Queen’s head coach Ollie Millar, grandson of Ireland and British Lions legend, the late Dr Syd, feels getting back to All-Ireland League level would be great reward for the journey his team have been on.

“We’re really excited, it is something in the last two seasons we have talked about,” he told IrishRugby.ie. “The girls really have ambition where they want to be playing against the best across the country.

“We really love opportunities to play in the All-Ireland Junior Cup. We really want them to put themselves out there and there are certain groups and parts of the club that are really driving towards Queen’s becoming an All-Ireland League club.

“Not an opportunity we thought we were going to get three or four weeks ago, and then it has sort of appeared and the girls have put their heads down and really grasped the opportunity and they just really want to have a crack and see how it goes.”

He added: “Coming from where we started two seasons ago, we really didn’t have a second 15 that could compete.

“You had a few individuals that were driving the club on, you had people coming and going. We were sort of keeping girls in for a couple of seasons.

“Individuals like Nicole Watterson, who has been around for eight years, is really driving things on, Bronach Cassidy (pictured below) and people like that, so we are now just getting a bit of consistency.

“We have a second XV that really can compete. The first XV is competing against everyone as well, and it would be rare for us to come up against a team in Ulster and have fear compared to previous seasons where we’d be worrying about Cavan, Belfast Harlequins, Dungannon.

“Certainly that has come as a part of us pushing girls every week to become better. (Backs coach) Grace Davitt has been fantastic in driving the essentials, the skills, and driving the girls’ confidence in themselves and belief.

“There’s no comparison between where we are at now and where we were last year in the Junior Cup final. When September came around, we had a squad of 22 and half those girls ended up leaving, going to AIL clubs.

“They stopped playing or they headed off to Australia, so we had a big rebuild. A lot of 18 and 19-year-olds came in and have pushed us on to another level.”

Queen’s finished third in the Ulster Rugby Women’s Premiership this season, with their only defeats coming against the top two, Malone and Enniskillen.

“Overall, at the end of the season, we and the girls were disappointed that we weren’t fighting up there with Enniskillen and Malone and losing to them on both occasions took us out of the running for the Premiership.

“I think this opportunity on Sunday is to right a few wrongs and really send a message that we are there, and we can really perform at the top level and this is where we want to be.”

Millar is expecting a physical encounter in Balbriggan, adding: “We’ve talked at length. Tullow have a big, physical pack, and they are going to have a go at the ruck and they are never going to take a step back.

“Certainly, something we would pride ourselves on is our own physicality and how we go at teams and really try to push them when it comes to scrum and lineout, which is unusual for a University team.

“The last month our back-line has really been coming good, performing really well and scoring some great tries. Tullow are vastly experienced, really physical and it is going to be a big challenge for the girls this weekend.

“But it’s certainly a challenge they relish and they will definitely have a good go and see what happens. There has been excitement about playing a top-level Leinster team in Dublin and really testing us and seeing where we’re at.

“There is a lot of excitement from the girls about doing that, and if a by-product came from that and we got promoted to the All Ireland League, it would be another challenge.”