Ulster went into their final Women’s U18 Interprovincial match on Sunday afternoon at Barnhall RFC knowing that the best they could hope for was a second place finish following Leinster U18’s convincing win against Connacht earlier in the afternoon.
However, the Ulster girls looked determined to make amends for a scrappy series and they were soon on the scoreboard when an excellent break by Virginia’s Lisa Mullen was finished off by Armagh’s Emma Kearney to give Ulster a 5 – 0 lead. Kearney and Keelin Brady (Virginia) doing well to battle through a wall of defenders.
As with the game against Leinster, Ulster appeared happy to rest on their laurels following the score and they let their opponents work their way into the match.
Munster, playing for the Grand Slam, didn’t need a second invitation and roared on by a vociferous crowd the southern province started to apply pressure on the Ulster defence.
The Ulster girls scrambled well, with Dungannon’s Lucy Turkington completing a huge number of tackles, but the breakthrough eventually came with Ulster conceding a penalty before the break, the teams changing round with Ulster leading 5 – 3.
A converted try at the start of the second half gave Munster the advantage and a quick burst of two tries and a penalty at the end of the third quarter pushed the score along to 5 – 23 with Munster well in control.
However, Ulster had the last say with a wonder try from Letterkenny’s Mya Alcorn, the youngster breaking from deep to finish off under the posts for Ulster’s second try. Lisa Mullen added the conversion to give a final score of Ulster U18 12 Munster U18 23.
Munster competed the Inter-provincial Grand Slam, replacing Ulster U18 as champions, in this highly entertaining series.
Ulster Women U18: Ellie Ingham, Mya Alcorn, Kelly McCormill, Lucy Turkington, Lucinda Kinghan. Lisa Mullen, Amber Redmond, Emma Kearney, Grace Shrestha (c), Ella Garland, Megan Brodie, Caolin McCormack, Bethany McDowell, Katie Hetherington, Keelin Brady (vc). Replacements: Aoife Cahill, Ava Fannin, Tammy Millar, Sorcha McCormack, Ciara Byers, Holly Brannigan, Meabh McAleavey, Amanda McQuade.
This series has quickly become one of our favourite tournaments of this season and this years competition has placed it firmly at top spot for girls rugby. The quality for all four teams was excellent and I’m looking forward to next seasons competition already. The Women’s Committee at the IRFU have done a wonderful job getting it to this stage, well done to Nora Stapleton and her team.
However, there were issues in all the games we covered with the quality of refereeing. There were too many high tackles, and head rolls at the rucks going unpunished, with obvious safety concerns, and in terms of continuity there was just too much leeway given at the rucks in general with off-sides prevalent in all games.
In my opinion no one team offended particularly more than the other and my guess is that some of the decisions were just missed, but, some were judgement calls to encourage open play. The girls on display are going to form the core of Ireland Women over the next ten years and they are already playing at a level where these acts of foul play should be properly penalised so they do not carry these habits into their senior careers. This competition is the showpiece of girls rugby in Ireland and it carries at least as much weight as a Schools Cup Final and that is the level at which the refereeing should be pitched. Believe me, these girls will adapt quickly.
Not so much an issue, but maybe worthy of consideration, is that the girls involved in these squads will now return to their club teams and will see limited competitive rugby of this standard until next season. My suggestion would be to make this a six game, home and away, competition with larger squads played throughout the season.