The Women’s Inter-provincial Series goes down to the wire in Donnybrook tomorrow night.
TWO GAMES IN and with the decider of the Women’s Inter-provincial Series to come against Munster tomorrow in Donnybrook [KO 7.30pm], Leinster have yet to concede a point.
Sene Naoupu and her team scored 47 points last time out against Connacht, running in seven tries, but the whitewashing of the western province was most satisfying of all.
That 47-0 victory over Connacht at the Sportsground followed a 17-0 success against Ulster, underlining that defence is a big deal for this team as they look towards downing defending champions Munster in Dublin tomorrow.
Ben Armstrong, Leinster’s head coach, explained this week that having the opportunity to work with the Leinster men’s team and their defence mastermind, Stuart Lancaster, has been important in how the women’s team have built their mindset.
“We took a couple of their pillars, which is basically our work rate,” said Armstrong. “We work for each other and we said to the girls that if we miss a tackle, that’s ok because the work rate from everyone else will look after that.
“We’re putting a lot of linespeed on to put the other team’s skills under pressure, but if that tackle is missed because of it, then we know we’ve got each other’s backs further down the pitch. It’s something they’ve taken a lot of pride in.”
Leinster know they haven’t been defensively perfect yet in this championship and that Munster will pose a different threat, but the players’ confidence when they’re not in possession has grown over the course of the past few weeks.
Outside centre Michelle Claffey, who made her Ireland debut earlier this year, explained that a pre-series camp in King’s Hospital was vital in building the bonds that drive their defence.
“It’s a collective understanding of our roles and knowing what we need to do, but also knowing what the person beside you is going to do,” said Claffey. “There’s an element of trust that has built up there in the squad.”
Munster, who beat Ulster 40-20 last weekend to follow up an opening 24-7 victory against Connacht, will have belief in their ability to ask serious questions of the Leinster defence in tomorrow’s winner-takes-all clash.
Head coach Laura Guest has used Ireland international Niamh Briggs – better known as a fullback or out-half – at inside centre in this series, with the talented Rachel Allen-Connolly lining up in the 10 shirt.
“We liked Rachel as a 10 last year, she’s worked hard on her game and she has nice footwork and acceleration,” said Guest.
“We said to the two players that we’d like to see it and having two playmakers at 10 and 12 is an option that can work.
“Niamh played the best she has probably played in a while last week, which was great to see from a player of her standard. We wanted both players in the starting 15 and so far it’s worked for us. We’re fortunate that we just have a lot of really great quality players.”
Munster’s single personnel change for tomorrow’s contest sees Aine Staunton coming in at outside centre alongside Briggs, her UL Bohemians team-mate.
The midfield contest should be an enthralling one, with the Bohs pair going up against Claffey and the highly-influential Naoupu.
“That partnership started last year when I was playing at number 12 and Sene was at 10, and its developed through the Six Nations when I got to play with her a couple of times,” said Claffey.
“We played bit of touch rugby over the summer as well, we’ve been building that bond, that trust, that understanding between ourselves; knowing what she’s going to do and what I might do when she has the ball.”
Leinster themselves have had a notable positional switch in their team for this series, with Ireland 7s and 15s international Jeamie Deacon making the move from the backline into the back row.
Armstrong said that decision stemmed from a conversation with Ireland head coach Adam Griggs, who felt Deacon could make an impact as a flanker.
“Jeamie was a bit nervous about moving into the forwards but I just said, ‘Listen, the sevens game is essentially a back row’s game,’” said Armstrong.
“She has all the skills and the lineout jumping, so it was just positional play and where to put her shoulder in the scrum. Any good back row knows they don’t do much in the scrum anyway, so she was good for that. You can see that it’s been a bit of a learning curve, but she’s certainly made every post a winner.”
Leinster have also made a single alteration to their starting XV for the decider, with Ireland dual international Hannah Tyrrell coming in at fullback.
Munster head coach Guest referred to the series as “almost a survival of the fittest,” so recovery this week will have been important – even if major injuries haven’t struck for either team.
Last year’s decider in Thomond Park saw Munster win 11-5 after a tense inter-pro and the hope for those heading along to Donnybrook tomorrow is that a similarly absorbing encounter awaits.
“We’ve had a look at both games and it’s no surprise that they’re looking strong and have scored heavily,” said Guest of Leinster. “Unfortunately, Connacht probably didn’t do themselves justice on the day last weekend.”
Munster will be confident of giving Leinster a far truer test of their quality. Between these two great rivals, it is certain to be a passionate battle.
“We all know each other, the women’s rugby game is quite small,” said Claffey, who is playing in her fifth inter-pro series.
“I’ve either played with somebody at club level, college level… we know each other inside out and that shows when we go into a game because it’s always tight.
“I’m really excited, I know they are as well. There’s always a good rivalry between us – it will be a very positive game.”
15. Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere)
14. Gemma Matthews (Old Belvedere RFC)
13. Michelle Claffey (Blackrock College RFC)
12. Sene Naoupu (captain) (Old Belvedere RFC)
11. Elise O’ Byrne White (Old Belvedere RFC)
10. Nikki Caughey (Railway Union RFC)
9. Ellen Murphy (Old Belvedere RFC)
1. Lindsay Peat (Railway Union RFC)
2. Emma Hooban (St Mary’s College RFC)
3. Katie O’Dwyer (Railway Union RFC)
4. Aoife McDermott (Railway Union RFC)
5. Meg Kendall (Railway Union RFC)
6. Jeamie Deacon (Blackrock College RFC)
7. Juliet Short (Railway Union RFC)
8. Hannah O’Connor (Blackrock College RFC)
16. Chloe Blackmore (Railway Union)
17. Christy Haney (St Mary’s College RFC)
18. Linda Djougang (Old Belvedere RFC)
19. Rachel Horan (CYM RFC)
20. Nicole Purdom (Suttonians RFC)
21. Niamh Griffin (Blackrock College RFC)
22. Susan Vaughan (Railway Union RFC)
23. Lauren Farrell McCabe (Suttonians RFC)
15. Eimear Considine (UL Bohemian RFC)
14. Laura O’Mahony (UL Bohemian RFC)
13. Aine Staunton (UL Bohemian RFC)
12. Niamh Briggs (UL Bohemian RFC)
11. Laura Sheehan (UL Bohemian RFC)
10. Rachel Allen-Connolly (UL Bohemian RFC)
9. Nicole Cronin (UL Bohemian RFC)
1. Fiona Hayes (UL Bohemian RFC)
2. Kate Sheehan (UL Bohemian RFC)
3. Fiona Reidy (UL Bohemian RFC)
4. Roisin Ormond (Ballincollig RFC)
5. Siobhan McCarthy (Railway Union RFC)
6. Edel Murphy (UL Bohemian RFC)
7. Ciara Griffin (UL Bohemian RFC)
8. Chloe Pearse (UL Bohemian RFC)
16. Andrea Stock (Bantry Bay RFC)
17. Clodagh Cronin (Durham University RFC)
18. Sarah Quin (Richmond RFC)
19. Clodagh O’Halloran (UL Bohemian RFC)
20. Enya Breen (Bantry Bay RFC)
21. Christine Coffey (Thurles RFC)
22. Ciara Scanlan (St. Marys College RFC)
23. Claire Keohane (UL Bohemian RFC)
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