The Clovers got their first Celtic Challenge win, as they got the better of Wales’ Brython Thunder on a 20-5 scoreline at Energia Park at the weekend.
CLOVERS 20 BRYTHON THUNDER 5, Energia Park
Scorers: Clovers: Tries: Ailsa Hughes, Ruth Campbell, Sadhbh McGrath; Con: Méabh Deely; Pen: Méabh Deely
Brython Thunder: Try: Alex Callender
HT: Clovers 5 Brython Thunder 5
Second half tries from Ruth Campbell and McGrath, who took on the captaincy role in the absence of Dorothy Wall, saw Denis Fogarty’s young side take the verdict, which was topped off by Méabh Deely’s 80th-minute penalty.
Ailsa Hughes (14 minutes) and Brython Thunder captain Alex Callender (35) swapped unconverted tries during a tightly first half, which saw the Clovers establish scrum superiority but a number of line breaks went unrewarded.
There was a yellow card each for Michelle O’Driscoll and Rosie Carr before the hosts pulled clear through Campbell (54) and McGrath (63), while Deely contributed five points from the kicking tee.
Callender, lively replacement Meg Davies and number 8 Shona Wakley stood out for the Thunder, but the Clovers, who entertain Gwalia Lightning at Musgrave Park next Sunday, had the player-of-the-match in ultra-efficient flanker Ivana Kiripati.
Boosted by a first-minute scrum penalty, McGrath and her team-mates got on the front foot early on. Out-half Deely’s cross-field kick sought out Clare Gorman, but Ellie May Tromans covered the danger.
The vastly-experienced Wakley also got in for a turnover as the Clovers emerged scoreless from a promising spell. Scrum half Hughes went quickly from a penalty, linking crisply with Alana McInerney before Faith Oviawe was hauled down just short of the line.
Welsh full-back Tromans was sharp again in dealing with a Hughes kick through, swiftly turning defence into attack, before a spate of knock-ons made for quite a scrappy opening quarter.
Thunder winger Danai Mugabe showcased her pace on a run from deep, and although the Clovers scrum exerted some dominance, both lineouts misfired at crucial stages and lost hard-earned field position.
However, on the quarter hour mark, Deely regained possession at close quarters, setting up some punchy carries from McGrath, Kayla Waldron and Aoife Corey. Hughes dummied through from a ruck, slipping away from Mollie Wilkinson for a classic sniping score.
Following Deely’s conversion which bounced away off the left hand post, Brython Thunder launched a flurry of phases off a lineout. Natalia John, who missed Wales’ WXV1 campaign through injury, carried strongly inside the opposition 22.
They turned down a kickable penalty before a knock-on denied lock John a try via a maul move. The Clovers were coming under more pressure to protect their ruck ball, with Wakley and Finley Jones really breathing down Hughes’ neck.
Nonetheless, the sight of the Thunder scrum backpedalling offered more confidence to the young Clovers pack, which included 20-year-old Connacht talent Kiripati on her Celtic Challenge debut.
Fogarty’s charges were unable to profit from a terrific solo run from centre Waldron, and the Welsh outfit managed to draw level despite the unfortunate injury-enforced loss of scrum half Seren Singleton.
Having leaked successive penalties, the Clovers had to defend a lineout close to their own whitewash, and after the Thunder forwards had a few bites, a smart skip pass from Davies, Singleton’s replacement, put Callender over near the left corner.
The Clovers did have the better of play either side of the interval, as Hughes continued her all-action performance. She almost set up a try for Niamh O’Dowd, who knocked on her pass, and the Tullamore native soon sliced through again only for Mugabe and Rosie Carr to bring her down short.
A Waldron knock-on near the whitewash spoiled a McInerney break too, and the Clovers were stung by the sin-binning of centre O’Driscoll for a deliberate knock-on, barely a minute into the second half.
Tellingly, the home side were able to keep Brython Thunder at arm’s length, putting pressure on their lineout and forcing handling errors. Their scrum was back in dominant form, marching the visitors backwards and drawing big cheers from the home support.
Repeated scrum penalties landed Welsh hooker Carr in the bin, and with Waldron bursting back into the Thunder 22, Campbell soon crossed over out wide on the left, following very good hands from Hughes, Beth Buttimer, Brianna Heylmann, and Shannon Touhey.
Deely’s conversion attempt dropped short of the target, but the Welsh defence was looking more vulnerable now. Some good continuity was rewarded with McGrath’s converted effort as she picked up following a tap penalty move to score from close range.
The obvious disappointment for the Clovers is that they failed to push on for a bonus point try. They had their chances, including off the back of a 50:22 kick from Wakley, but a fourth touchdown remained out of their reach.
Wakley bounced off two tackles to lift the Thunder, bringing play back towards halfway. Davies and Callender drew them into try-scoring range with 10 minutes remaining, but Claire Bennett won a key breakdown decision for the Clovers.
Bennett’s UL Bohemians club-mate, Clara Barrett, threatened on the left wing during the closing stages, but the Thunder held out. 15 points was the winning margin in the end as the Clovers, having won a central scrum penalty, opted for Deely to split the posts.
CLOVERS: Aoife Corey (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster); Alana McInerney (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster), Michelle O’Driscoll (Ballincollig RFC/Munster), Kayla Waldron (Railway Union RFC/Connacht), Clare Gorman (Old Belvedere RFC/Leinster); Méabh Deely (Blackrock College RFC/Connacht), Ailsa Hughes (Railway Union RFC/Leinster); Niamh O’Dowd (Old Belvedere RFC/Leinster), Beth Buttimer (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster), Sadhbh McGrath (Cooke RFC/Ulster) (capt), Ruth Campbell (Old Belvedere RFC/Leinster), Faith Oviawe (Railway Union RFC/Connacht), Brianna Heylmann (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster), Ivana Kiripati (Creggs RFC/Connacht), Shannon Touhey (Tullamore RFC/Connacht).
Replacements: Lily Brady (UL Bohemian RFC/Connacht), Róisín Ormond (Ballincollig RFC/Munster), Eilís Cahill (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster), Claire Bennett (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster), Jane Neill (Galwegians RFC/Leinster), Abbie Salter-Townshend (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster), Kate Flannery (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster), Clara Barrett (UL Bohemian RFC/Connacht).
BRYTHON THUNDER: Ellie May Tromans; Danai Mugabe, Meg Webb, Mollie Wilkinson, Elenor Hing; Niamh Terry, Seren Singleton; Chloe Thomas-Bradley, Rosie Carr, Katie Carr, Natalia John, Katie Mackay, Finley Jones, Alex Callender (capt), Shona Wakley.
Replacements: Amy Morgan, Madi Johns, Cadi Lois Davies, Charlie Mundy, Georgia Morgan, Meg Davies, Lowri Williams, Amy Williams.
Referee: Michael Forrestal (IRFU)