IRFU WOMEN’S INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP – ROUND 1: December 2-3
CONNACHT WOMEN 19 MUNSTER WOMEN 15, the Sportsground
Scorers: Connacht: Tries: Edel McMahon, Ciara O’Connor, Amelie Roux; Cons: Hillary Griffin, Mairead Coyne
Munster: Tries: Laura O’Mahony, Fiona Hayes; Con: Edel Murphy; Pen: Edel Murphy
HT: Connacht Women 0 Munster Women 10
It was a long time coming, but few begrudged Connacht a famous 19-15 Interprovincial Championship victory over Munster at the Sportsground on Saturday as they turned in a huge second half to get the better of the tenacious visitors.
In Laura Guest’s first interprovincial match in charge, Munster led 10-0 at the interval but a clinical Connacht response left the hosts 19-10 clear after 72 minutes. Munster’s response was swift and clinical, as they launched a concerted assault on the Connacht line which eventually yielded a Fiona Hayes try with time almost up. However, the westerners held on to blow the title race wide open.
In the first quarter, Connacht, who also have a new head coach this season in Jarleth Naughton, looked good but their play was peppered with frustration and handling errors. Munster were more clinical and they touched down through livewire winger Laura O’Mahony in the 13th minute, with Edel Murphy converted. Niamh Kavanagh, Chloe Pearse, Ciara Griffin, Rachel Allen and Aine Staunton all caught the eye early on.
Murphy extended the lead with a penalty from in front of the posts, nine minutes shy of half-time. Connacht scrumhalf Shannen Lane’s defensive efforts were the measure of any loose forward on the pitch during the opening half and the powerhouse was instrumental in snuffing out two Munster scores during that period.
Munster’s clinical conviction in and around the fringes was causing major headaches for Connacht who scrambled well, but began to fracture and fray. Given the wealth of territory Munster had in the second quarter, they would be rightly disappointed to have only 10 points in the bank but, with Connacht yet to trouble the scoreboard, Guest’s charges were well-positioned.
Connacht were much improved when they emerged for the final 40 minutes. In the first half Connacht were guilty of trying to shift unsecure ball in contact, spraying passes under pressure behind support runners, but the timing tweaks for the second half suggested nothing wrong with dressing room calibration, and Swiss watchmakers would do well to get hold of the 10-minute transcript.
Front rowers Laura Feely and Ciara O’Connor played their own game in tandem beyond the set piece, a duet masterclass for any tight forwards with designs on the back-line. Flankers Grainne Egan and Edel McMahon assumed the cover defensive role vacated by the tenacious Lane, and stand-in out-half Hilary Griffin silenced any and all of her critics with an executive performance to rival any corporate high-flyer.
Tactical kicking was sound, talk vocal and defence admirable, but Griffin’s greatest virtue was finding the right bodies off both hands at pace, well-supported. McMahon’s smart tap penalty two metres out for Connacht’s first try gave the 230-strong terrace something to roar about.
Then, Alison Miller, Feely and the ever-present O’Connor combined for Connacht’s second after 67 minutes in the left corner, before lock Amelie Roux’s bullocking twist from two metres out notched up the hosts’ third.
Munster spent most of that spell defending and a few wayward kicks handed possession straight back to Connacht. For the last 10 minutes, Munster tried hard to come back into the game and UL Bohemians skipper Hayes scored a try from a lineout maul but the conversion was missed by Ellen Murphy and there was no denying Connacht in the dying embers of the game.
Stand-out performers for Munster were Aine Staunton, who was superb in both attack and defence, along with try scorer Hayes in the forwards who put in amazing shift, while Niamh Kavanagh and Gillian Bourke also stood out on the day, but it was Connacht’s day as Naughton acknowledged afterwards.
“This was their first performance together, ever, and we’re just overjoyed,” he said. “We’ve trained well, we’ve soaked up the info, worked out the set piece stuff and largely improved every session, but until you play it out in live competition the success or failure of those systems remains one of rugby’s great unknowns.
“We struggled for 30 minutes, and then smashed it for 50. That’s a pretty good shift in the grand scheme of things for a first day out. It just took 30 minutes for the girls to get to know each other.”
ULSTER WOMEN 10 LEINSTER WOMEN 34, Dromore RFC
Scorers: Ulster: Tries: Eliza Downey, Teah Maguire
Leinster: Tries: Aimee Clarke 3, Lindsay Peat, Michelle Claffey, Susan Vaughan; Cons: Aine Donnelly 2
HT: Ulster Women 0 Leinster Women 10
Leinster began the defence of their Interprovincial title with a solid and deserved 34-10 win over Ulster in Dromore today. Adam Griggs’ side are a very impressive outfit and were made work hard for their victory by a gallant Ulster team.
Ulster, who are coached this year by Derek Suffern, Davy Chambers and James McBriar, played with massive heart and resilience from the first whistle to last and spent the first 20 minutes on the front foot in Leinster territory. Frustratingly, the home side could not find a gap in the blue wall.
Leinster led 10-0 at the break following tries from Aimee Clarke and Lindsey Peat out wide on the right. Ulster had been tight and controlled in that first half and tried to limit Leinster’s opportunities but they were being tested to the limit by the probing Leinster side.
Early in the second half, centre Michelle Claffey sliced through to stretch the lead further with a fine try, converted by Aine Donnelly, and the advantage was becoming ever clearer. Nonetheless, Ulster managed to hit back with a five-pointer from former Ireland winger Eliza Downey.
There was a glimmer of hope for the hosts as the gap was slightly more manageable at 17-5. Their hard-working pack drew huge inspiration as Cooke hooker Beth Cregan led impressively from the front. Brittany Hogan, who was fresh off the plane from playing for the Ireland Sevens Development team in Dubai, captain Larrissa Muldoon and Kathryn Dane were excellent and the handling was impressive as replacements made big impacts.
However, any thoughts of an Ulster revival were quickly extinguished when Railway Union full-back Susan Vaughan crossed the whitewash for her side’s fourth try of the day and a 22-5 lead. Excellent teenage winger Clarke scored her second and third tries of the day before the end, one of which was converted by Donnelly.
To their credit, Ulster never dropped the heads and kept doing the right things right to the end. They were rewarded with a late try from impressive replacement Teah Maguire. Suffern’s squad can look forward to next Saturday’s trip to Munster with optimism, while Leinster will move on to next weekend’s clash with Connacht at Donnybrook in confident mood.
2017/18 IRFU Women’s Interprovincial Championship Fixtures/Results/Table –