Source: ©INPHO/Bryan Keane

Clovers v Wolfhounds

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The first Match in the extended Celtic Challenge 2023-24

Musgrave Park, Cork

It was good to see a tight match at the start of the second Celtic Challenge. The IRFU split the four provinces more or less west and east, and this resulted in a neat evening up of historical strengths: Leinster and Munster have long been the leaders of the pack. But you’ll spot some cross-overs in the selections (listed below).

Did Clovers have an unfair advantage? O’Driscoll was playing 13 for them! But this was an MOD, not a BOD.

Despite a clear advantage to the hosts at the early scrums (two of their front row are teenagers), on seven minutes Wolfhounds were all but over the line. A knock-on undid them. Dannah O’Brien was important to the visitors’ cause; her left boot gained them acres of precious territory.

As the half progressed Wolfhounds twice made dangerous breaks, but the support arrived too late; Clovers did well to staunch the flow.

Just before the break they in turn mounted serious raids; first Niamh O’Dowd was almost over; a clearance kick by O’Brien relieved pressure for a split second, then Méabh Deely made a break to feed her winger, Alana McInerney. She did well to survive a tackle and popped a pass up to O’Dowd, but the right touch-line had come too close.

Next it was Kayla Waldron making a big break through the centre. Clovers created two fast moving mauls from line-outs; the second provided the vital score for Beth Buttimer – the (corrected) clock showed 41 minutes.

Half-time 5-0

When Clovers won an early penalty, Ailsa Hughes, now on at 9, tapped and went a long way. More breaks and off-loads took them to the line, but another unfortunate knock-on deprived them of a deserved score.

This was to prove their undoing. They mounted two more tries, first a snipe by Hughes. They led for most of the game, but lost their way enough for Wolfhounds to equal their tally of three tries. Sophie Barrett made a huge drive to just short of the line and Linda Djougang finished it off. They now went ahead with another unstoppable rolling maul. (10-14) Eimear Corri had their third, as support play improved and passes stuck. (10-21)

Clovers narrowed the gap through a cross-kick launched by Deely and accepted by Clara Barrett. But it cae too late to save the game. The difference was that Nikki Caughey converted all three of Wolfhounds’ tries.

Result: 15-21

Teams

Clovers (Connacht and Munster)

15. Aoife Corey (Munster), 14. Alana McInerney (Munster), 13. Michelle O’Driscoll (Munster), 12. Kayla Waldron (Connacht), 11. Clare Gorman (Leinster), 10. Méabh Deely (Connacht), 9. Nicole Cronin (Munster), 1. Niamh O’Dowd (Leinster), 2. Beth Buttimer (Munster), 3. Sadhbh McGrath (Ulster), 4. Ruth Campbell (Leinster), 5. Dorothy Wall (captain, Munster), 6. Brianna Heylmann (Munster), 7. Faith Oviawe (Connacht), 8. Shannon Touhey (Connacht)

Bench

16. Lily Brady (Connacht), 17. Róisín Ormond (Munster), 18. Eilís Cahill (Munster), 19. Claire Bennett (Munster), 20. Eva McCormack (Connacht), 21. Ailsa Hughes (Leinster), 22. Kate Flannery (Munster), 23. Clara Barrett (Connacht),

Wolfhounds (Leinster and Ulster)

15. Natasja Behan (Leinster), 14. Aimee Clarke (Leinster), 13. Aoife Dalton (Leinster), 12. Leah Tarpey (Leinster), 11. Niamh Marley (Ulster), 10. Dannah O’Brien (Leinster), 9. Erin McConnell (Leinster), 1. Linda Djougang (Leinster), 2. Sarah Delaney (Leinster), 3. Sophie Barrett (Ulster), 4. Fiona Tuite (Ulster), 5. Keelin Brady (Ulster), 6. Hannah O’Connor (captain, Leinster), 7. Aoife Wafer (Leinster), 8. Brittany Hogan (Ulster)

Bench

16. Maebh Clenaghan (Ulster), 17. Hannah Wilson (Leinster), 18. Isobel Clerk (Leinster), 19. Eimear Corri (Leinster), 20. Éadaoin Murtagh (Leinster), 21. Katie Whelan (Leinster), 22. Nikki Caughey (Leinster), 23. Ella Durkan (Ulster)

Referee: Joy Neville (IRFU)

Coverage

The game was alleged to be available on rugbypass.com, but when transmission did start, those lucky enough to make contact were baffled by the lack of quality; a shortage of cameras, a clock that was way out of keeping with real time. Rugby Pass apologised for the delay. When it did start after about half an hour, the score was still 0-0.

Viewers suffered the familiar weaknesses of imperfect production. The few cameras available were not selected in the most sensible way; too close as the ball spread wide; too distant when events demanded a close-up.

The feeling was that World Rugby wasn’t throwing its full weight behind the operation. And WR is based in Dublin.

Afterthoughts

There were many critical Irish voices after the game: the overall standard was below expectations. One hoped the game in Edinburgh the next day would provide higher standards. To the neutral observer that seemed a very harsh verdict.

A long placard running along one side of the pitch declared: ‘To the brave and faithful, nothing is impossible’. In front of it I spotted four spectators – but they may have been stewards.

Several leading Irish players were back in England, attached to PWR clubs. Scott Bemand can hope to put together a really challenging squad, when all of them gather.

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