The Women’s All Ireland League returns this weekend with a full list of fixtures. The focus on recent week has largely been on off-field activities as the senior women’s players have taken their fight for equatable treatment to the IRFU.

The #LEGACY? campaign featured across all three fulfilled fixtures last time out and though it appears to have quieted down in the last week, and wasn’t picked up by their male colleagues in the PRO14 Inter-provincials, a victory of sorts has been achieved with the IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne announcing a strategic review process of the women’s game.

As part of that process, it is intended to create a focused steering group co-chaired by Mary Quinn (IRFU Committee) and Su Carty to review the current strategy for the Women’s game and to make recommendations about the direction of future strategies for the development and growth of the game in Ireland from the ground up.

Quinn is firmly embedded in the IRFU and Carty has worked extensively with the IRFU and, their near neighbours, World Rugby, and both are formidable proponents of the women’s game. However it is surprising that someone from outside the fold wasn’t brought in for a clear alternative view?

Perhaps though, the real changes will come about by the women’s clubs fighting for themselves and Railway Union’s two year battle, to be recognised as a senior club by virtue of their magnificent women’s programme and their participation in the highest division of the Women’s All Ireland League, appears to be the direction to go.

The lack of recognition of clubs, throughout Ireland, with vibrant and successful senior women’s programmes is a disgrace and these clubs need to be given an equal voice in the corridors of power throughout the Branches.  Railway state in their letter to the Leinster branch;

“We believe that choosing to recognise senior status of a club based solely on where their men’s 1st XV play, and by choosing to recognise the men’s AIL and not the women’s AIL as basis for senior status, discriminates on gender and that such an interpretation goes against Irish rugby’s values …”

How this one plays out, and it should play out in Railway Union’s favour, will be key to the future of the Women’s game in Ireland. The women’s clubs voices in the Branch committee rooms is the only way that real and meaningful change will come about in the antiquated system.

So, interesting developments going on behind the scenes and we will revisit both, however it’s time to have a look at the actual matches as I’m sure the players are keen to know how their matches are going to end up this weekend.  😛

Before we get to that though let’s have a look at the current standings.

Team Pl W D L F A Diff TB LB Pts
U.L. Bohemian 4 4 0 0 154 38 116 4 0 20
Railway Union RFC 4 4 0 0 261 23 238 3 0 19
Cooke 5 4 0 1 99 32 67 2 0 18
Old Belvedere 5 3 0 2 149 53 96 3 1 16
Highfield 5 1 1 3 64 109 -45 2 1 9
Galwegians 5 1 1 3 49 182 -133 1 0 7
Blackrock 5 1 0 4 63 191 -128 1 0 5
Tullamore 5 0 0 5 32 243 -211 0 1 1

 

Despite missing out on a fixture last time round U.L. Bohemian and Railway Union remain at the top of the tree though Cooke (3rd) and Old Belvedere (4th) did close the gap by virtue of wins against Tullamore and Blackrock  respectively. Galwegians and Highfield kept themselves out of the bottom two with an entertaining draw in Galway.

The defeat by Old Belvedere saw Blackrock continue their free fall down the league and they will be involved in a crucial match this weekend when they travel along the M4/M6 to face bottom club Tullamore on Sunday afternoon.

I’d guess that this will be the match that most players will be checking their Facebook and Twitter feeds for on Sunday to see if the popular Tullamore have recorded their first win in the AIL. The Offaly outfit have been up against it since joining the league this season, playing the top four in the opening five rounds, but they have a genuine chance this time out.

They have had a valuable week to regroup and, spurred on by crass comments from David Nucifora following their heavy loss to Railway, I suspect that they will have their heads in the right place for this one and I’m predicting a home win. It might not be enough to get Tullamore of the bottom of the table though as I suspect Blackrock to pick up a losing bonus.

The main event however takes place on Saturday evening as league leaders U.L. Bohemian host fourth placed Old Belvedere. This will be a real test of Blevo’s resurgence following early round defeats by Cooke and Railway and they will be keen to make a statement against their old nemesis in Limerick.

Haven’t seen the teams for this one, and a lot will depend on the pack that make the journey from Dublin. If Belvo can front it up, up front, I suspect that they will have the firepower in the back-line to do damage. I suspect this will be a close one and, while no one ever made money by underestimating those wily foxes at Bohs, I’m going to go with the Blevo win.

Our featured match this weekend will be, surprise, surprise, Cooke at home to Galwegians. I’ve been asked several times, by several people, if Cooke are the real deal this season as the AIL needs a strong Ulster presence. Now, I wouldn’t be objective enough to answer that, without a whole string of provisos, but they did their credibility absolutely no harm with two wins on the road over their last two matches.

The Belfast side have been able to name a strong panel for every game and this one looks like no exception.  As I said last time out, I feel the experiment of playing Jemma Jackson at scrum half has worked well, even if she did switch back to out-half against Tullamore.

I did have a good interview with their new coach, Alasdair McKee, after the Tullamore game, but forgot to hit the record button! Doh! However the gist was that they are making small improvements each game and the youngsters, Vicky Irwin, Brittany Hogan and Leah McGoldrick are all integrating well into the experienced squad.

Their back line has always been good but, up front, they still rely heavily on the formidable Ilse van Staden who, along with Railway’s Lindsay Peat, has been one of the stand out props I’ve seen this season. If Cooke can groom another player to match van Staden’s power and pace they may very well become the real deal.

Galwegians have been a bit of a mystery this season. An impressive list of players, I’m at something of a loss as to why they have been struggling this season. Every week I’ve been expecting to see a big win and a big score on the their side of the results listing but it’s yet to happen.

They have recorded a home win, against the free-falling Blackrock, to add to last week’s draw but they have yet to click and they need to do it fairly quickly before the season gets away from them. However, I don’t expect to see it his weekend as a confident Cooke should wrap up the points with something to spare in this one.

The final match see’s our adopted club Railway Union travel to Cork to play Highfield. There are more changes than normal to the Railway line up with a few youngsters getting a chance to impress.

Dynamic loosehead Katie O’Dwyer will be keen to do damage with ball in hand, whilst the destructive Siobhan McCarthy will be out to prove a point against her Munster colleagues. Ireland 7s star Chloe Blackmore continues at fullback and Aimee Clarke, fresh from the Ireland U18 7s Schools win at the UK School Games, continues her pathway into senior rugby and is ready to spring from the bench.

The versatile Meg Kendal moves to centre with Ulster’s Nikki Caughey reverting to out half in the absence of Ulster team mate Larissa Muldoon.

It’ll be a tough outing for Railway against the durable Highfield in Cork but I still expect them to be making the journey back to Dublin with at least four points in the bag,

Women’s All Ireland League – Week 6 Fixtures

Sat 4th Nov 17 17:00 U.L. Bohemian v Old Belvedere UL
Sun 5th Nov 17 13:00 Cooke v Galwegians Shaws Bridge
Sun 5th Nov 17 13:00 Highfield v Railway Union RFC Woodleigh Park
Sun 5th Nov 17 13:00 Tullamore v Blackrock Spollanstown

 

 

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