REIGNING CHAMPIONS LEINSTER defeated Connacht 17-8 under the Donnybrook floodlights to move three points clear at the top of the IRFU women’s interprovincial championship table.
However, their arch rivals Munster remain very much in the title race having bagged a bonus point in seeing off Ulster’s challenge on a 32-5 scoreline in Limerick.
It all leads to a thrilling final round next Saturday when the top two, Munster and Leinster, clash at Thomond Park [KO 2.30pm] and Ulster host third-placed Connacht at Belfast Harlequins RFC [KO 3pm].
It took a late try from Ireland scrum half Ailsa Hughes to secure a hard-earned 17-8 victory for Leinster at Donnybrook as fellow first round winners Connacht pushed them all the way.
In a game where both sides made a number of errors, Connacht began well with Nichola Fryday and Alison Miller to the fore but Leinster got over for the first try in the 17th minute when promising teenage winger Aimee Clarke touched down for the fourth time in the tournament.
Jarleth Naughton’s Connacht charges hit back with a penalty from Hillary Griffin and then took the lead when in-form full-back Mairead Coyne crossed the whitewash out wide. However, the Blues were in no mood to be outgunned on their own sod and with influential lock Orla Fitzsimons prominent in the build-up, Michelle Claffey’s well-taken try made it 10-8 at the interval.
Although the westerners continued to battle their way forward in the second half, Leinster made the game safe with five minutes remaining. Some powerful mauling took the ball to the line for Hughes to sneak over and Aine Donnelly added the extras.
Afterwards, Connacht team manager Mark Moran was disappointed but proud.
“This was a very disappointing loss and we’re not happy leaving Dublin empty-handed. It was a very competitive game with very little between both teams,” he said.
“Great credit must go to our girls who fought to the very end. Fair play to Leinster, they deserved their win and we now need to regroup and begin prep and focus for Ulster next Saturday in Belfast.”
Laura Guest’s Munster team reignited their campaign with a thumping 32-5 bonus point success against Ulster at Dooradoyle. Five of their six tries came in a super-charged second half.
The hosts, captained by experienced flanker Siobhan Fleming, cut loose after the break and showed how impressive and dynamic they can be. There were several handling errors from both side early on as the freezing conditions affected the fingers.
The opening try arrived in the 20th minute when Munster won a turnover on halfway and moved the ball wide for Syphonia Pua to break up the wing, Rachel Allen supported her UL Bohemians club-mate on the inside and took the final pass to score and make it 5-0 for half-time.
In the second period, Munster began to take charge and added to their tally with tries from Chloe Pearse (46 minutes), Niamh Kavanagh (50) and Laura Sheehan (59). One of the scores was converted by Ellen Murphy to leave Guest’s side in a commanding position.
To their credit, Ulster never threw in the towel and replied with a try of their own from replacement Amy Graham, but Munster added a late gloss with further tries from Edel Murphy and replacement Christine Arthurs, as hooker Gillian Bourke, out-half Allen and full-back Laura O’Mahony all impressed.
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