Ulster U18 Girls kickstarted their season with a 17 – 13 win against USA touring side Midwest Thunderbirds, but the tourists made them fight to the end.
With neither side playing much XVs lately the first half was understandably scrappy with much of the play concentrated round the half way line.
The Thunderbirds executed some slick back line moves in the early exchanges, with scrum half Alle English prominent, but Ulster worked hard at the contact area to prevent the visitors building sustained pressure.
The opening score came midway through the first half after a surge by Amanda McQuade was held up by English over the line. The resulting scrum was moved left for Lucy Thompson to spin free from the last defenders and stretch out to score.
McQuade missed the conversion but it wasn’t long before she was stepping up for a second attempt after Ulster captain Ava Fannin burst through in midfield for a 20 yard sprint for the line. McQuade converted to give Ulster an unexpected 12 – 0 lead after a half where the visitors enjoyed the bulk of possession.
The second half continue in a similar fashion though the initial play was focussed more towards the Ulster line as the visitors pushed for a score.
It was no surprise that it was all action scrum half English that eventually crossed out wide after a period of sustained pressure. Aly Cunningham struck a well judged conversion but it was just short leaving the score at 12 – 5 in Ulster’s favour about 10 minutes into the second period.
Our Girls of the Game
Cunningham stepped up shortly after to knock over a penalty to take the score to 12 – 8 as the Thunderbirds enjoyed a golden spell in the Ulster half.
While Ulster struggled for possession, they did make better use of it when they got it, with the straight running of McQuade featuring throughout the game. The Virginia centre featured again in Ulster’s third try, alongside some powerful runs from Fannin, before the ball was taken on by Enniskillen’s India Daley who punched deep into the Thunderbirds 22 for Zara Flack to squeeze over in the corner.
The difficult conversion was just wide leaving the score at 17 – 8 in Ulster’s favour with just under 10 minutes to go.
The MIdwest girls pushed hard for the remainder of the game but the Ulster defence held firm until the last play when hard working prop Libby Moser touched down in a frantic finish. Unfortunately for the visitors the whistle went after the conversion attempt, giving Ulster a 17 – 13 win.
Ulster U18 Girls: Farragh McCloskey, Lucy Thompson, Moya Hill, Amanda McQuade, Sophie Kinghan, Toni Macartney, Sarah Shrestha, Ella Garland, Aoife Cahill, Ava Fannin, Taryn Schutzer, Kim Johnston, Sophie Barrett, Erin Carson, India Daly, Hannah Cooney, Samantha Cassidy Campbell, Jenni Collins, Jana McQuillan, Emma Ryan, Zara Flack.
Midwest Thunderbirds: Aubrey Boing, Haley Crow, Aly Cunningham, Taylor Driver, Alle English, Anna Hensel, Alex Hyde, Sydney Julich, Abby Kaiser, Jenna Klenz, Libby Moser, Delany Moser, Savannah Peterson, Gina Police, Emily Rahja, Megan Reed, Makenna Tuman, Jayla Twitty, Erin Ward, Meg Wright, Kenzie Youngblood, Allexus Zielinski.
We caught up with some of the players and Ulster Head Coach Charlie Farrell after the game.
Match pictures below © John McMurtry – The Front Row Union