Deloitte Ulster Women’s Interprovincial campaign ended on an encouraging note with a draw after a superb battle with Connacht at Energia Park on Saturday.
The home team came firing out of the blocks, making a break through Ulster’s defences to send centre Shannon Touhey in for their first score. Nicole Fowley added the conversion.
Ulster responded with a series of penalties; Kelly Mc Cormill making a great poach to force the turnover, and poor Connacht discipline also allowed Ulster to gain territory.
Ella Durkan – making her return from injury – made a searing run only to be brought down short. Ulster showed some lovely hands five metres out but were unable to finish in the corner. Connacht regained possession but Ulster did really well to put the squeeze on and keep Connacht well inside their own half.
Even when the women in green had the ball, Ulster put in some really strong hits and were quick over the ball to force turnovers. Ulster had a prime opportunity on 23 minutes when they won the scrum against the head 5 metres out, but Connacht were able to steal the ball and get out of immediate trouble.
The visitors continued to press, and had another great chance when they were awarded a penalty just a few metres out. They opted for the scrum but Connacht turned the ball over again.
Another Ulster opportunity went begging just on the stroke of half-time, but a knock-on in the red zone denied the visitors at the break.
Ulster had a woman advantage for the first few minutes of the second half with Moya Griffin in the bin, and the women in white probed Connacht further, but they just couldn’t capitalise in that 10-minute period.
There were lots of encouraging passages of play from Ulster; making some great carries and dominating in the scrums. They also showed lovely hands when needed, with Ilse van Staden making some deft touches.
Connacht’s discipline faltered again and found themselves down to 13 with Ursula Sammon in the bin and Nicole Fowley sent off. Ulster temporarily went a woman down as well with Jemma Farrell shown yellow, but Ulster sensed their moment and at first tried to go out wide to the right, but quickly changed tack to move back inside for Helen McGhee to cross the whitewash for their first try; Ilse van Staden, Ashleigh Orchard and Taryn Schutzler all playing a part in the build-up. Beth Cregan took over the kicking duties in Farrell’s absence and landed the conversion to bring the scores level.
The home side replied a few minutes later through Ursula Sammon crashing over in the right-hand side. Nicole Carroll’s conversion attempt fell short.
Ulster didn’t relent however, and kept Connacht contained within their half. Ilse van Staden was again involved in Ulster’s second try, drawing the Connacht defenders to make the pass out to Beth Cregan. She then tipped on to Shannon Buller who ran in from outside Connacht’s 22 metre-line out to bundle over. The try went unconverted, so the scores were again level.
Both teams fought hard to break the deadlock. Connacht had a series of attacking phases in Ulster’s half before the visitors regained possession deep inside their 22 and earned a penalty with the clock into the red. Farrell kicked for an Ulster line-out and they tried to find a way through with a period of sustained pressure, but a handling error led the referee to call time on what was a pulsating game of rugby.
Connacht Women’s Rugby team had to change beside the rats and bins before their #WomensInterpros game against Ulster. @IrishRugby & @connachtrugby please address this and make sure it NEVER happens again.— Her Sport (@HerSportDotIE) September 12, 2021
Shows a complete lack of respect. Organisers, hang your heads in shame. pic.twitter.com/LOqIlfbV9r
Cons: Nicole Fowley
Connacht: (15-9) Nicole Carroll, Ursula Sammon, Catherine Martin, Shannon Touhey, Orla Dixon, Nicole Fowley, Mary Healy (Capt.); (1-8) Julia Bauer, Moya Griffin, Shannon Heapes, Eva McCormack, Fiona Scally, Meadbh Scally, Emma Fabby, Kate Feehan.
Replacements: Lily Brady, Jessica Loftus, Elizabeth McNicholas, Aifric O’Brien, Ciara Farrell, Noreen Cassidy, Megan Walsh, Ava Ryder.
Ulster: (15-9) Ella Durkan, Fiona Tuite (VC), Ashleigh Orchard, Kelly Mc Cormill, Fern Wilson, Toni Macartney, Jemma Farrell; (1-8) Aishling O’Connell, Beth Cregan (Capt.), Ilse van Staden, Taryn Schutzler, Keelin Brady, Claire Boles, Lauren Maginnes, Stacey Sloan.
Replacements: Ava Fannin, Elizabeth McKeever, Shannon Buller, Helen McGhee, Katie Hetherington, Rachael McIlroy, Peita McAlister, Holly Brannigan.