Munster v Connacht, Musgrave Park (Cork), Saturday

Connacht coach Dave O’Brien has rung a solitary change to this weekend’s interpro line-up, trusting his charges to put right the second half stumble last weekend. 

Margaret Fitzgibbon lands back on the wing after a thumb issue kept her out of the round one Leinster fixture at the Sportsground last Sunday. While eleventh-hour call-up Niamh Ni Dhroma handled her Connacht debut with aplomb last week, Fitzgibbon’s experience will further bolster a Connacht backline which surrendered nothing on one-on-defence to their opposites last week but failed to breach opposition defences on counter-attack. 

Ni Dhroma’s inclusion on the bench forces Portlaoise utility Yvonne Delaney from the panel, unfortunate given Delaney too showed enterprising glimpses of her arsenal late in the game. 

Such is the competition available this year that O’Brien welcomes the selection headache, one which seldom plagued previous Connacht coaches Lyndon Jones and Colm Power. The raft of talent available this winter has afforded O’Brien and offsider Emer O’Dowd an opportunity to stack the bench with genuine impact players each able to spark on demand. 

Leinster fought hard for prolonged periods for their two scores last weekend, a glowing tribute to well-organised Western Front defensive patterns. The failure to post any points remains a major concern of O’Brien against a Munster complement peppered with internationals. That Connacht can tackle was evident at the Sportsground last weekend. The first breach was a concentration lapse alone, one of very few made throughout the 80 minutes, and the second a communication breakdown which isolated wing Lisa McDonald and left her having to defend three on the righthand touch.

On field responsibility rests largely with outhalf Clare Raftery whose ability to plug corners in open play is unparalleled in AIL club rugby. For Munster on Musgrave Park this weekend will be Niamh Briggs, undoubtedly the biggest kicker in Irish womens rugby. How Raftery’s guile and direction compares to Briggs’ sheer power will dictate Saturday’s territorial story.

Up front, Connacht’s Beth Mallard, Tanala Kehoe, Ruth O’Brien and Jean Moore will each prove crucial where static ball is concerned. Where O’Reilly’s aggression and voice tolls louder than colleagues and counterparts alike, Moore and Mallard’s body-to-body breakdown dominance is among Connacht’s foremost virtues. 

Connacht will not run out of steam. They comprise a 90minute side well able for an 80-minute game. Questions asked this weekend coming will focus on whether they can communicate messages to each other under pressure and away from home, something which hurt them twice in round one and in Ashbourne and Ballymena last autumn. 

Munster comprises a hardy core of UL Bohemians and Highfield experience, most of whom know interprovincial championship titles well. O’Dowd, having seen the lion’s share of their line-up face to face over the past several seasons as a player, will have no doubt identified Munster’s foremost threats. How her younger charges stifle them inside the chalk come kick-off time while she watches from the stand is beyond her influence. 

Whereas scrumhalf Sorcha Ni Chadhain, Raftery and skipper Ali Miller must ensure opposition activity be confined between the ruck and number 12; Kehoe, Mallard and O’Reilly must dictate close-quarter dominance to avail Connacht victory. Only by stamping authority in the heavy traffic will Connacht deny the much-vaunted Munster outsides any opportunity to cruise farther afield.

Connacht v Munster

1. Ruth O’Reilly (VC)

Galwegians

2  Tanala Kehoe

Portlaoise

3. Beth Mallard

Galwegians

4. Heather Cary

Galwegians

5. Niamh Dempsey

Tralee

6. Michelle Barry

Tralee

7. Grainne Egan

Galwegians

8. Carol Staunton

Galwegians

9. Sorcha NiChadhain

Galwegians

10.Clare Raftery

Galwegians

11.Margaret Fitzgibbon

Galwegians

12.Christine Arthurs

Tralee

13.Alison Miller (C)

Portlaoise

14.Lisa McDonagh

Galwegians

15.Emma Cleary

Galbally

16. Jean Moore

Portlaoise

17. Mary Rose Flanagan 

UL Bohs

18. Cliodhna Hughes

Old Belvedere

19. Marion Sheridan

Tuam

20. Ciara O’Connor

Tralee

21. Jacqui Mulligan

Sligo

22. Niamh Ni Dhroma

Buccaneers

Related

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