I thought it would be hard to top the previous evenings performance by Ulster’s men but the women very nearly pulled off a remarkable victory in a thrilling encounter at Ashbourne on Saturday afternoon.
Ulster stormed back from a 14 – 0 half time deficit, with tries from Stacey Lea Kennedy, Nikki Caughey, Ashleigh Baxter and Claire McLaughlin, to lead 14 – 20 deep into the second half. Unfortunately Leinster hit back with two late tries to claim the game at the final whistle.
Ulster started the game well, putting the hosts under pressure in the opening exchanges. Unfortunately the visitors were unable to make the pressure count and Leinster worked their way back into the game with their scrum and lineout to the fore.
The game was now being played in the Ulster half and Leinster finally made the pressure count when, on the quarter hour mark, Nora Stapleton put Jenny Murphy clear out left for the centre to score. Stapleton added the extras and Leinster led 7 – 0.
The home side continued to turn the screw and Ulster were struggling with several handling errors keeping the visitors pinned in their own half. Ulster defended strongly and looked to have cleared the danger when the referee lost his bearings completely and awarded a five meter scrum to the hosts following a huge clearance kick from Jemma Jackson with the referee claiming that Jackson had crossed the dead ball line when she was in fact a good couple of meters inside.
Paula Fitzpatrick scored from the resulting scrum and Stapleton obliged with the conversion giving Leinster a 14 – 0 lead.
Ulster worked hard to get back in the game and, with both sides tackling ferociously, the injuries started to mount up. Most tellingly Leinster lost the influential Stapleton on the 30 minute mark and without her big boot the home side struggled to get out of their half.
The Belfast side dominated the closing exchanges with Stacey Lea Kennedy and Jemma Jackson coming close but Leinster held on to take the 14 point lead into the break.
The Ulster girls started the second half as they had finished the first and this time their efforts were rewarded with Kennedy borrowing under the defence to hit the try line. The conversion was missed but Ulster were back in the game with the score reading 14 – 5.
Having finally beached the try line Ulster proceeded to run in three more tries for fun. Grace Davitt sent Nikki Caughey clear out wide for their second score and within minutes Asheligh Baxter sprinted out of her own half to cross the line before the Leinster defence could lay a hand on her to give Ulster a one point lead.
Realising they had the beating of Leinster out wide Ulster ran the ball at every opportunity and a scintillating break from Amy Davis was finished off by Claire McLaughlin giving Ulster a 14 – 20 lead as the game went into the final fifteen minutes.
Leinster dug deep and marshalled by Ireland captain Fiona Coghlan, who knew they were well beaten in the back line, resorted to a series of driving mauls and Ulster were unable to find an answer.
Paula Fitzpatrick drove over for Leinster’s third try on the 70 minute mark and it was Coghlan herself who claimed the winning score in the closing minutes to give the hosts a somewhat fortunate victory.
Final Score: Leinster 24 Ulster 20.
Ulster: Ashleigh Baxter, Jemma Jackson, Amy Davis, Claire McLaughlin, Nikki Caughey, Grace Davitt, Imogen Porter, Ilse van Staden, Stacey Lea Kennedy (C), Fiona O’Brien, Lizzie Ballentine, Colette Broome, Kelly Holmes, Gemma McCutcheon, Nikita Armstrong. Replacements: Laura Feely, Sorcha Chipperfield, Shirelle Wilson, Hannah Kilgore, Dani Boyd, Aiofe Walsh, Brenda Brogan.
Leinster: Carol Murphy, Katie Fitzhenry, Jenny Murphy, Shannon Houston, Kim Flood, Nora Stapleton, Sarah-Jane Cody, Fiona Coghlan, Sharon Lynch, Ailis Egan, Orla Fitzsimons, Marie-Louise Reilly, Carmela Morey, Aoife Ryan, Paula Fitzpatrick. Replacements: Deirdre O’Brien, Charlene Barter, Roisin O’Donnell, Carrie Hanley, Anne-Marie Rooney, Aoife Tyrrell, Finnoula Gleeson.
After the game we caught up with Ulster Captain and the Front Row Union Girl of the Game Stacey Lea Kennedy.
Pictures from the game – sorry I was so busy shouting and cheering during the game that I missed some of the build up to the scores!