Connacht’s U18 women were the shining light of interpro action last weekend, coming from behind to claim first round spoils over Ulster in Ballinasloe on Sunday.
Ulster opened its account with a pack rumble wide of the right upright to lead 7 nil in the first quarter and chased it up with a penalty within five minutes, 10-nil up.
Starved of any real possession in Ulster territory defending the road, Connacht scrambled for much of the first half before a concerted passage of clinical phase-play set skipper Beibhinn Parsons loose on a fractured Ulster backline. Steering clear of contact for her first 20m, she skittled the inevitable cover contact 22m from the Ulster line and ran in under the bar, closing the gap to five. The conversion was a formality and three points separated the pair with 10mins to go.
A reluctance to clear deep in green territory meant a second Ulster score followed before the break, again 7m wide of the right post enabled the visitors to stretch the buffer from three to 10 on halftime.
The second spell took on much more of a test-match feel, tackles tolled heavily and close-quarter exchanges reigned supreme.
For Ulster Emma Kearney at loosehead was immense. At setpiece, immovable; in open space she rivalled any of the loose forwards on show for ground coverage and was difficult to contain until her untimely departure with a half-hour to go (injury sub). Inside centre and vice captain Kelly McCormill of Monaghan justified her leadership role with ball and leading the defences. McCormill’s elusive running was integral to Ulster’s first half dominance.
In green, midfielders Lauren Flaherty and Parsons worked well in tandem, Flaherty struggled to snare some of the quicker movers opposite while defending but more than made up for any shortfall once given the ball. Locking up two and three defenders for every carry allowed Parsons greater room to work her magic on the outside in open territory. Flaherty was one of very few who stopped Kearney’s forays at the first hurdle.
Openside and Ireland Sevens rep Lily Brady opened her account with a massive contribution preventing Ulster racking up more damage in the first quarter, and shone again in the final quarter busy in everything along with outhalf Meabh Deely, eight Grace Browne-Moran and frontrow super-sub Mia Fahy.
Coach Fraser Gow lauded the team spirit on show for the final 50 minutes.
“I thought the team was fantastic in the second half, they showed great character to turn round the halftime deficit. It took us 20 minutes to settle, and Interpro rugby is new to a lot of the squad.
“That it only took 20 minutes to find our feet and then build a victory in the next 45 or 50 minutes is a huge credit to these players. There are definitely things we need to work on but it is a great start for us. Full credit to Ulster too, they played very well and could have easily emerged on top. Either way though, the determination and fight from our players swung the momentum Connacht’s way in the end.”
Gow’s U18s meet Munster at The Sportsground in an interpro double-header this Sunday, as curtain-raiser for the senior women.
Connacht Rugby would like to thank Ballinasloe RFC for hosting the game and to ‘Crumbs + Cream’ for supplying the catering for the day.