Old Belvedere seal AIL three-in-a-row after titanic tussle with UL Bohemian

Niamh Briggs missed a late conversion to send the Women’s AIL final to extra-time.

Nora Stapleton reaches out to score.
Nora Stapleton reaches out to score.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Old Belvedere 19–17 UL Bohemian

UNDER SATURDAY NIGHT lights at Donnybrook Stadium, Old Belvedere and UL Bohemian played out a thriller fitting of the occasion of the Women’s All Ireland League final.

Reigning champions Old Belvedere, who finished the league after regular season in third and beat Dublin rivals Blackrock last weekend in the semi-finals, began the game showing strong intent in attack.

However, due to a number of handling errors and knock-ons, it took until the ninth minute for the Belvo girls to register their first score of the evening courtesy of a try from German born left wing Franziska Klappoth who ran in after a sweet pass from 2015 World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year nominee Sophie Spence, playing at number eight. Out half and captain Nora Stapleton failed to add the extras.

Old Belvedere continued to apply the pressure to Bohs, who had finished the season top of the table, particularly at lineout time, but the Limerick side had the upper hand in the scrums.

At the 20-minute mark, there was a distinct shift in momentum after some sublime high balls from Munster and Ireland captain Niamh Briggs, playing at out-half. Then a penalty awarded against Old Belvedere for not rolling away at the ruck led to a line out for UL Bohemian. Hooker and Six Nations winner Fiona Hayes drove over for the try at 23 minutes. Briggs duly converted to edge her side 7-5 ahead.

This score seemed to spark the Dublin 4 side back into life as their scrums started to improve. Some excellent phase play in the closing minutes of the half with some slick moves from openside flanker Niamh Fitzgerald and right wing Hazel Rooney led to a terrific team try scored by outside centre Emer O’Malley.

Stapleton nailed a tricky conversion five metres from the touchline to take the score to 12-7 in Old Belvedere’s favour at the stroke of half time.

The Belvedere team celebrate winning Belvedere celebrate their three-in-a-row. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

After the interval, Old Belvedere continued to show great endeavour, including some fabulous off-loading work from Irish international tight head prop Ailis Egan.

Similarly to the first half Belvo played a patient game and one of the moments of the match occurred when Stapleton showed her international pedigree to break through the Bohs defence, beating several tacklers on her way to crossing the white wash at 48 minutes. The Donegal woman converted her own try.

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This only served as impetus for UL Bohemians’ talented side with Briggs and centres Deirbhile Nic A Bhaird and Syphonia Pua to create havoc for the Belvo defence. It was Pua who scored the 52nd-minute try that took the score line to 19-12, as Briggs missed the conversion.

With just a converted try separating the two sides, Bohs continued to turn the screw on their opponents with some superb work from the likes of number eight Chloe Pearse.

However, with the lure of three in-a-row league titles for Old Belvedere, players such as replacements Elise O’Byrne-White and Marie Louise Reilly, the much celebrated Ireland second row who is just returning from a prolonged injury-induced absence, produced a Trojan defensive effort.

The Dubliners had a chance to pull further ahead via a penalty but Stapleton missed the three-pointer.

With 10 ten minutes left on the clock Spence looked to have a good chance of a try as she made one of her trademark bursts but referee Gary Glennon called her back for jumping into the tackle.

From here on the tide began to favour the Munster side, who were hungry to snatch a 12th Women’s AIL title in 15 years. Briggs continued to pull the strings for her side along with some stand-out work from fullback Aine Staunton. With the Belvo Girls’ discipline lagging and error count on the up, Bohs camped on the five-metre line in the match’s dying moments and left wing Liz Burke, who has been a prolific try scorer all season for her side, broke through to score in the final play of the game.

If Briggs could manage the awkward conversion, it would take the two sides to 19 points apiece and into extra time. She missed and as a result Old Belvedere hung on to win 19-17.

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Kate Rowan

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