By John O’Sullivan 

 

There has been a significant growth in the number of schools playing girls Rugby in Connacht over the course of the last two years. 

 

In the 2019/20 school year, 21 girls schools teams from across the province played competitively, an increase of nine from 12 the previous year. From these teams, who competed in ten a side games, there were over 200 players, almost double the amount of participants from 2018/2019.

 

In total, 12 schools -- across both junior and senior age grades -- played girls schools Rugby in the last school year, which represents a growth of three schools from the preceding year. There were no girls schools teams in 2018, highlighting the rapid growth of the sport in a short space of time.

 

Emer O’Dowd, Connacht Rugby Women's Development Officer for North Connacht, has hailed the huge increase of participation in girls schools Rugby, and said that the aim is to eventually establish a 15 a side league and cup competition. 

 

“The school's game has grown massively and it’s brilliant,” the Mayo native said.

 

“In another couple of years,  we will hopefully have a full-on 15 a side schools league and cup competition. We have one now,  but it’s 10 a side. Numbers are growing and more and more schools are getting involved. It’s great and it’s grown massively this year.”

 

As head coach of the Club Force Emerging Talent Programme, a stepping stone between underage Rugby and adult competition for 18 to 24-year-olds, O’Dowd has been impressed by the levels of talent in the province.

 

She says that the success of the likes of Beibhinn Parsons and Nicole Fowley -- two players who came through the system from clubs in Connacht and played for Ireland -- has proved to young players that there is a pathway to the highest levels of Rugby west of the Shannon. The aim of the programme is to build the confidence and increase the skill levels of young players before they transition to adult level.

 

“There’s a lot of Beibhinn’s coming through, we can see it all over the province and it’s exciting”, the former Galwegians player,  who has worked with Connacht in various capacities since 2008, said.

 

“We formed the team last year and we had about 30 girls training, from 18 to 24-year-olds. We wanted to bring them in and give them some upskilling and training. We had the likes of Mary Healy, the former Ireland international, and Andy Friend and Pete Wilkins coming down to do sessions. We had professional coaches coming in to do sessions on specific areas. We had Craig Hansbury coming in to do work with the forwards and scrummaging, we had Ross Mannion coming in and then Lyndon Jones and myself and Mary(Healy) working on specific things.”

 

Clubforce, a Galway based sports participation management system used by clubs, leagues and governing bodies to fund and drive greater participation in sport, coming on board as sponsors of the Emerging Talent Programme has allowed the team to grow and put plans in place for the future.

 

Pre Covid, the Emerging Talent team -- who have played against their Munster equivalents and touring American College teams since their establishment a year ago --  were due to tour London and play London Irish -- a trip made possible by the sponsorship -- but the pandemic unfortunately caused its postponement. 

 

“They said they’d back us, which gave us a huge opportunity to put this team together and put the money and funding into it,” O’Dowd says of Clubforce’s sponsorship.

 

“It would have culminated into a tour over to London Irish last April, but it didn’t happen. But it will happen, once we get the green flag to start training again and start flying again then we’re going to go. It has been paused and not cancelled. It’s great to have Clubforce there to put the funding into us and have that money ring-fenced for us, it gives us great opportunities.”

The Ireland Womens team to face Italy in the third round of the Womens Six Nations tournament has been named.
 
Head Coach, Adam Griggs has made just one change to the opening team that overcame Scotland 5 – 22 in their last outing a fortnight ago in Glasgow. Kathryn Dane, who made her debut off the bench against England, makes her first start of the tournament coming in at scrum half.
 
Heading into the mid tournament test, Griggs said:
 
“It was great to come away with five points after the Scotland test. It was a physical game in tough conditions, but the players were focused on putting in a good team performance together and showing the quality rugby they can produce.
 
We were pleased with the opportunities that we created and while the challenge for this group is to become even more clinical under pressure, we definitely feel each week we are improving and taking the right steps to get there.
 
The Italian game should be a cracker, they have played well of late and are unbeaten so far in this championship which isn’t easy to do.
 
We have been preparing diligently and know they have quality footballers that will put you under real pressure, we will need to be aware of these and look to close them down early if we are to get any success this Saturday night.”

 
The match will be broadcast live by RTE, with coverage beginning at 6.30pm
 
Ireland Women’s Team v Italy Women, (Women’s Six Nations, Viale Piacenza (Lanfranchi), Parma, Saturday 23rd February 2019, Kick-off 18.45 GMT/ 19.45 Local Time)
 
15. Lauren Delany (Firwood Waterloo/ IQ Rugby)
14. Eimear Considine (UL Bohemians/ Munster)
13. Sene Naoupu (Old Belvedere/ Leinster)
12. Michelle Claffey (Blackrock/ Leinster)
11. Alison Miller (Old Belvedere/ Connacht)
10. Nicole Fowley (Galwegians/ Connacht)
9. Kathryn Dane (Old Belvedere/ Ulster)
1. Laura Feely (Galwegians/ Connacht)
2. Emma Hooban (St Mary’s College/ Leinster)
3. Leah Lyons (Harlequins)
4. Aoife McDermott (Railway Union/ Leinster)
5. Nichola Fryday (Galwegians/ Connacht)
6. Anna Caplice (Richmond)
7. Claire Molloy (Wasps)
8. Ciara Griffin (UL Bohemians/ Munster) Capt
 
Replacements:
16. Deirbhile Nic A Bhaird (UL Bohemian/ Munster)
17. Lindsay Peat (Railway Union/ Leinster)
18. Fiona Reidy (UL Bohemians/ Munster)
19. Claire Boles (Railway Union)
20. Claire McLaughlin (Old Belvedere/ Ulster)
21. Ailsa Hughes (Railway Union/ Leinster)
22. Ellen Murphy (Old Belvedere/ Leinster)
23. Laura Sheehan (UL Bohemians/ Munster)
 
Ireland Women’s Six Nations Fixtures and Results 2019
 
Friday 1 February
Ireland Women 7 v 51 England Women, Donnybrook Stadium, Dublin
Friday 8 February
Scotland Women 5 v 22 Ireland Women, Scotstoun, Glasgow
Saturday 23 February
Italy Women v Ireland Women, Viale Piacenza (Lanfranchi), Parma, 18.45 GMT/ 19.45 Local Time
Saturday 9 March
Ireland Women v France Women, Energia Stadium, Dublin, 19.00hrs – BUY TICKETS
Sunday 17 March
Wales Women v Ireland Women, Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff 13.30hrs

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