Connacht and Leinster both tore out of the blocks under a dreary and bleak Galway sky on Sunday, but it was all Leinster in the final half hour for a 20-nil finish in round one.
Connacht starved the visitors of any chance for continuity in the first seven or eight minutes and looked every bit in control before Leinster turned the tide on its head and maintained control for the next quarter-hour.

That said, Connacht toiled well deep in their own territory where loose forwards Shellie Barry and Carol Staunton’s hits proved telling on their line. For at least 10 minutes Leinster hammered at the Connacht line first through Jennie Murphy and Shannon Houston in the midfield, and second through Ailis Egan and hooker Fionnuala Gleeson.
Connacht escaped on three separate occasions through outhalf Clare Raftery’s boot, a Niamh Dempsey turnover, and Leinster indiscretions on the ground.
Finally, it took a hip-swivel and lunge from skipper Marie-Louise Reilly on 31minutes who not so much went through the defence but over it to break the goal-line and the deadlock, eight metres to the left of the upright.

The ever-reliable Nora Stapleton added the extras for a 7nil lead with 10 to go. A rejuvenated Connacht restarted well and Grainne Egan (7), Sorcha Ni Chadhain (9) and full back Emma Clery probed the defence but too often found fierce opposition instead of space. Both Murphy (13) and Houston (12) in blue stuck to green captain Ali Miller (13) throughout and Connacht’s flying pocket battleship had little breathing space at all.
Stapleton added three more before the break with the match evenly-poised to go either way at the 40minute mark.

If Connacht impressed in the first 40, they fell apart thereafter. Handling error after handling error punctuated incessant blasts from referee Rob Watson who pinged Connacht time and again in the second half’s middle third. Free kick followed free kick before recidivism forced penalties.
Connacht’s flat out refusal to adapt (or hang on to ball for more than two phases, albeit in difficult conditions) gifted Leinster the lion’s share of possession throughout the second chapter and without any real possession to speak of, Connacht was always going to struggle to post points.
Stapleton went three from three with a penalty 21minutes in to go 13-nil up, and concerted territorial dominance freed up Aoife Tyrell to cross 10minutes from the end wide out left.

A desperate effort from Lisa McDonagh, at that stage outnumbered three to one, could not to force Tyrell over the sideline and she ran it round for Stapleton to go four from four.

Connacht coach Dave O’Brien acknowledged a ferocious first half performance from his charges had set things up for a frenetic second spell but conceded a muscle, weight and experience deficit with the introduction of Irish captain Fiona Coghlan and St Mary’s stalwart Paula Fitzpatrick off the bench at half time proved telling.
Connacht’s front row of Ruth O’Reilly, Beth Mallard and Tanala Kehoe finished ahead of their Leinster counterparts on performance, Ni Chadhain too stood out in the halves, and McDonagh was vocal and busy also out wide but 2012’s interpro opener belonged to Stapleton and company, who maintained their halftime defensive record through to the 80minute mark.


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