Ulster came close to an upset but this year’s Women’s Interpros will once again be decided by Leinster v Munster, writes Sarah Lennon…
The Women’s Interpro season is not a long one. Unlike the men’s game, the highest level of rugby below International level comprises of just 3 competitive matches per season with the occasional friendly thrown in. All of which means that there is little room for manoeuvre or mistake and after two weeks of competition, this weekend sees the final round of matches.
The Interpros are structured in such a way as to have Munster V Leinster as the last fixture. This is based on the assumption that the two teams will be battling it out for the title. This season has proven to be one of the most competitive Interpro series in recent memory.
Leinster are defending champions having beaten Munster in last season’s decider and the women in blue went into their opening game against Galway in the Sportsground with a fresh look to the team and ten debutantes in the squad. The opening exchanges in this one were cat and mouse and it was Leinster captain Maz Reilly who opened the scoring with a stretch for the line on the half hour mark. Nora Stapleton proved her reliability in adding the conversion and two penalties to give Leinster a 13-0 advantage and when Aoife Tyrell ran in a try on her debut, again Stapleton proved dependable with the points. Leinster completed a solid defence of their title with a 20-0 victory in the West.
The other tie of the opening round was up North as Munster took on the Ulster women. Munster were heavy favourites, but it was Ulster who opened the try scoring when Imogen Porter bundled over the line and Grace Davitt unluckily hitting the post with the conversion. Munster soon bounced back with a fluid move finding Niamh Briggs wide on the right, Briggs converting her own try. Munster extended their lead through two Ashling Hutchings tries, the first a defence splitting chip and chase into the corner with Briggs hitting the crossbar with the extras and the second following a clean line break by Briggs who fed the winger, with the extra two points added on this occasion. Munster led 19-5 and Ulster got a crucial score before half time through Jemma Jackson’s powerful run up the right wing. This was as good as it got for Ulster however as Munster used all their experience to dominate the 2nd half. Further tries through Kavanagh, Caplice and Briggs saw the Munster women extend their lead to 36-10 and seal an opening victory.
Munster returned to home comforts in round two as they took on Connacht in Cork. The opening stages were again cagey with only a Briggs penalty separating the teams until the half hour mark when Munster got on the scoreboard through Caplice, a try scorer for the second time in a week and Briggs adding the extras. Connacht pegged back a penalty before halftime to get on the scoreboard for the first time in this season’s Interpro series. Munster however, ramped it up in the second half and through tries from Heather O’Brien and Briggs they stretched their lead, Briggs keeping her excellent kicking record going with two conversions securing a hard-fought 24-3 win over Connacht.
Leinster and Ulster took to the Ashbourne field and dished out a Christmas cracker. Leinster appeared to be cruising with two early tries, first up Jenny Murphy and Nora Stapleton combining for Murphy to run in and Stapleton converting and then Paula Fitzpatrick, restored to the starting lineup after recent injury, scored Leinster’s second with Stapleton again adding the extras. Leinster seemed to be cruising with a 14-0 halftime lead but Ulster came out of the blocks with a vengeance in the second half with Stacy-Lea Kennedy and Nikki Caughey scoring two tries within ten minutes of the restart. It was two tries all but Leinster retained a 14-10 lead thanks to Stapleon’s kicks. Ulster stunned Leinster with two more tries, the first following a great run by Baxter and the second through a break by former Leinster player Amy Davis who fed Claire McLaughlin for Ulster’s fourth try. Despite leading 4 tries to 2, Ulster had a narrow 6 point lead having failed to convert their tries. Leinster looked to the forwards to re-establish themselves and they crossed the whitewash on 70 minutes through Paula Fitzpatrick. Leinster had a kick to regain the lead but had lost the reliable boot of Stapleton before half time through injury and were not able to add the conversion leaving them with a one point deficit. It was through the pack again that Leinster got what was to be the winning score, Ireland captain Fiona Coughlan bundling over from close range. Again Leinster were unable to add the conversion but it was enough to clinch a tight contest. Although the match finished 4 tries all, it was the two earlier crucial conversions by Stapleton that proved the winning of the match, Leinster will be relieved to have escaped with the points but the women did show good determination and patience to clinch victory in this thrilling encounter.
All has gone to plan, sort of, for the schedulers and next week’s fixtures have it all riding on them. Ulster play Connacht in Galway, while Leinster host Munster in Ashbourne. Ulster and Connacht will battle it out for third place, with both sides keen to get off the mark with a first win. Leinster and Munster will be playing for the big one in a straight shootout. Munster have enjoyed the better of the victories so far and will be particularly keen on reclaiming the Interpro title they lost last season to Leinster. The form from the kicking tee has been of particular importance to both teams this season and Leinster will be sweating on the fitness of Nora Stapleton who left the field injured against Ulster.
Results to date
Ulster 10 – 36 Munster (click here for highlights)
Connacht 0 – 20 Leinster
Leinster 24-20 Ulster
Munster 24-3 Connacht
Sarah Lennon (@sarahlennon08) is passionate about all things rugby. A Leinster Season Ticket holder since the Donnybrook days, a supporter of the Irish teams home and abroad and can regularly be seen cheering on Junior Rugby at Stillorgan RFC (a labour of love). As well as spectating, she dabbles in playing a bit and is a member of Old Belvedere RFC and fully paid up member of the front row union.