An inexperienced Ulster went down by six tries to none to Leinster at Portadown Rugby Club on Saturday afternoon.
Ulster (0) 0
Leinster (26) 38
TRY: Paula Fitzpatrick, Amy Cotter, Ailis Egan, Nora Stapleton, Elise O’Byrne White, Sophie Spence
CON: Nora Stapleton (4)
Despite a bright start from the home side it was the visitors who were first to trouble the scoreboard with, the stand out player of the game, Paula Fitzpatrick going over in the 12th minute off the back of a powerful Leinster scrum. Nora Stapleton converted and minutes later Amy Cotter crossed out wide for an unconverted try to give Leinster a 12 – 0 lead.
Ulster had shown some progress when they moved the ball wide, with Amy Davis making substantial ground down the wing on two occasions, but things got worse for Ulster when prop Ilse Van Staden was yellow carded on the 18th minute. Leinster took full advantage of the extra player sending Ailis Egan over for their third score. Stapleton converted and the Irish out half piled on the misery for the home side as she converted her own try on the half hour mark to give the visitors a comfortable 0 – 26 lead at the break.
Any thoughts of a second half comeback were quickly discounted as Elise O’Byrne White touched down for the visitors 5th try shortly after the restart. However the home side did make progress of sorts with the scrum, line out, defence and general play improving as the half progressed, albeit most of the play was in their own half.
Unfortunately it was the visitors who had the last word with World Player of the Year nominee Sophie Spence scoring in the last play of the game. Stapleton converted to give a final scoreline of Ulster 0 Leinster 38.
Ulster: Ilse Van Staden, Lesley Megarity, Nikita Armstrong, Colette Broome, Naomi McCullagh, Niamh Fitzgerald, Imogen Porter, Lauren Maginnes, Kathryn Dane, Jemma Jackson, Eliza Downey, Claire McLaughlin, Grace Davitt, Amy Davis, Teah Maguire. Replacements: Jamie Love, Sorcha Chipperfield, Shannon Heapes, Amy O’Neill, Noreen Nethercott, Stacey Sloan, Zoe Templeton, Peita McAlister.
Leinster: Fiona O’Brien, Sharon Lynch, Ailis Egan, Ciara Cooney, Orla Fitzsimons, Sophie Spence, Jennie Finlay, Paula Fitzpatrick, Ailsa Hughes, Nora Stapleton, Amy Cotter, Aine Donnelly, Elise O’Byrne White, Martina McCarthy, Jeamie Deacon. Replacements: Ann Marie Rooney, Cliodhna Moloney, Ruth McElroy, Mairead Holohan, Susan Fogarty, Meg Parkinson, Vikki McGinn, Janice Daly McGrath.
To put a bit of perspective on the game yesterday Leinster featured eight current Irish Internationals, seven of whom appeared at the 2014 World Cup. Ulster featured three past Ireland Internationals one of which appeared in the 2014 World Cup.
All but three of Leinster’s panel played in AIL 1 last season. Only two of Ulster’s players played in AIL 1 and six played in in the Ulster League, two divisions below the top Women’s league.
Things should improve this season with both Cooke and Queen’s University now in the revamped AIL 1 but this is only the start of a long journey under the tutelage of new coaches Philip Doyle and Jarrett Truscott.
This is the first time that many of the partnerships in Ulster had played together, a new second row combination, a new back row combination and practically the first time the half backs had seen each other. Once put under pressure the cracks started to appear but there were some substantial improvements in the second half.
The line out became very competitive as the game progressed and the back row worked tirelessly throughout. Both units have something to build on given the international quality of their opponents.
The biggest improvement however was at half back with the partnership coming more and more into the game after a decidedly shaky start. Unfortunately the scrum struggled throughout and this will be one of the key areas that the coaches will be focusing on in the weeks to come.
We caught up with the two youngest players after the game, Kathryn Dane and Naomi McCullagh, to find out their views on their first senior cap.
Naomi: Not as daunting as I would have thought. I came out a lot more confident than I thought I would have been. The trial game against Connacht really helped, we got a lot out of that.
Kathryn: Brilliant experience! I was thrown in at the deep and and it was fantastic. So proud to be playing with this group of girls.
On the result.
Naomi: We weren’t too far of the pace. It’s a question of getting more experience. When we get it we’ll be a team to be reckoned with.
On facing two truly World Class players in Sophie Spence and Paula Fitzpatrick.
Kathryn: We hold them in the highest esteem but when you get on the pitch they are only human, albeit with a lot more experience. It was an exciting challenge.
On the remainder of the Inter Provincials.
Kathryn: Can’t wait! Now that I’ve got my first cap I feel more confident and ready to take on Munster and Connacht.
Naomi: The confidence will grow and grow game by game. I didn’t know any of the girls at the beginning but in the last eight weeks we’ve come a long way.
Ulster face Munster next Saturday at Thomond Park. Kick off 3:00pm before returning to Portadown Rugby Club the following week for the final game against Connacht.