2013 Women’s Interpros – Round #1

Connacht v Munster

The Sportsgrounds – Saturday, 30th November 2013

A debutante hat-trick performance from Munster winger Aimee Lee Murphy Crowe not only dampened Connacht spirits 17 points to 37 down but outshone Mairead Coyne’s brace for the hosts. 

Mairead Coyne 350Coyne at fullback on Saturday was one among a raft of squad newbies who may have fallen prey to Munster experience in the finish, but impressed throughout both halves with individual and team efforts. 

Connacht failed to establish early cohesion and conceded a try within the first five minutes, Irish intemational (and Rugby Writers’ Women’s Player of the Year) Niamh Briggs scythed through a defensive lapse and found Murphy Crowe (14) lurking a few strides to her side. 

On the balance of Connacht’s reply, coach Dave O’Brien may have forgiven the early failure given it spurred such a furious response from the green jerseys that the hosts locked up nearly all the possession for the next 12 minutes, converted it into a Tanala Kehoe try, and took the lead 7-5 at the quarter-hour mark.

Mirroring the Connacht response to Munster’s opening score, Munster launched a reply but found defenders better organised and more able to withstand the assault, and the first half played out largely tit-for-tat under mild conditions overhead.

Murphy Crowe’s crossfield colleague Aoife Doyle, wearing her first senior stags jersey as well, proved too quick for hesitant defenders, rounded the Connacht outsides and regained the lead with Munster’s second. Briggs proved spot-on with the extras for a 12-7 lead. 

For Connacht, in the absence of either towering jumpers or major engine muscle, the loose forward trio was always going to toil hard for scraps. Despite Claire Molloy’s wealth of international and sevens experience, the fact her two closest neighbours were provincial rookies never bode well against a championship-winning Munster squad. 

Both Edel McMahon (6) and Catriona Cassidy (8) repaid O’Brien’s confidence and shone throughout, complementing Connacht’s long-serving openside. Molloy too heaped praise on both Cassidy and McMahon for the pair’s defensive effort, as bruising and ferocious as it was honest. If Munster struggled, it was at the breakdown where Molloy, McMahon and Cassidy asserted dominance.

If six, seven and eight weren’t comprising enough of a headache for the favourites, one-time Connacht flanker Grainne Egan (centre) sliced through 16minutes short of half-time but was roped in short of the line by Tralee’s Irish international Siobhan Fleming. Fleming won her team a penalty reprieve having isolated Egan deep in red territory and Briggs wasted little time in getting them out of there.

Connacht enterprise at the ensuing lineout swung the tide back the hosts’ way and Mairead Coyne crossed for her first of the afternoon to negate the gap at 12-all.

Laura Feely tackle 350So often Munster has used sparks of frustration to light fireworks and from the restart heaped pressure on Connacht on their own 22m. There were few red wingers involved in the forward juggernaut which gifted Fiona Hayes her first of the afternoon, the flanker-cum-frontrower steering the rolling maul across the chalk for Munster’s third.

Briggs and Fleming again combined with a tidy chip-and-chase to push Connacht deep in their own camp with time up on the clock, and Doyle nabbed her second to stretch a fairly reflective and close lead out to a cruel 10 points at the break.

Munster went mad from the outset of the second 40minutes, raked a penalty clearance downfield and scored a try from the ensuing lineout to go 27points to 12 up seven minutes in (Murphy Crowe again). From there, Connacht’s task was largely mathematical as bodies tired and began to ache.

With half an hour to go Briggs lobbed over a penalty (30-12), and she broke again 20 minutes in to once again find and free Murphy Crowe for her third of the afternoon, 37-12 with Briggs’ conversion.

Five minutes from time Mairead Coyne, who has made waves beyond the AIL First Division club scene in national sevens circles, crossed for her second. It was little consolation at that stage still 20 points adrift right on the full-time whistle.

O’Brien has the luxury of provincial experience to call on for round two v Leinster in Ashbourne, albeit in some cases single caps. That said, he will find considerable comfort in being able to pick with greater confidence those who stepped up to the mark largely untested on Saturday, rather than consign them to the bench as emergency stopgaps. 

O’Brien’s Connacht camp buoyed confidence having shown enough enterprise at The Sportsground on Saturday to score when in the danger zone. His focus now will be on shoring up the gaps when the opposition encroaches into their own.

 

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