Blackrock exact quick revenge over Highfield

YOU can tell as much about a sport by watching its fans as the games.

And, judging by the crowd in Malahide on Saturday, women’s rugby is not a pastime for the squeamish.

Eight teams were participating in various cup finals in the north Dublin venue and, on every sideline, there was at least one arm in a sling or leg in a cast.

All were women in their 20s. Coincidence? Surely not.

As a contact sport, the fact is that players sometimes get injured and that was made abundantly clear during the Bowl final when a clash of heads between two Waterpark players necessitated a 30-minute hiatus while the medics attended the injured.

As any member of the rugby fraternity will attest to, such accidents can happen in any sport and the physical nature of the game doesn’t seem to be turning new players off the idea of taking to the game.

Mark Andrews moved to Ireland from his native Sydney 13 years ago. He has been Competitions Director of the Irish Women's’ Rugby Football Union for the last four and also serves as manager to the senior team.

He says: “It’s definitely growing. There are approximately 40 clubs in the country with about 1,000 players. The amount of youth players is rapidly expanding. There is now a professional development officer in each province. The IWRFU has now affiliated with the IRFU, which has been a huge help as well.”

The grassroots work is already bearing fruit. Ireland beat Scotland and won two Six Nations matches for the first time earlier this year and they finished eighth in the World Cup in 2006.

With some of the other nations boasting a player in the region of 20,000, that is a serious result for the volunteers and players who backbone the association here.

Unlike their male counterparts, the Irish internationals still wear their club jerseys and Blackrock v Highfield is fast becoming one of the game’s key rivalries.

Before Saturday, Highfield had gone unbeaten since August when the famous Blackrock club lowered their colours but the Cork side had exacted revenge with a 10-0 defeat in the league semi-finals the previous week.

Highfield’s reward was a trip to Portlaoise next week where they will attempt to bring UL Bohemians’ four-year reign as kingpins to a halt. While Portlaoise was the priority, defeat wasn’t part of their agenda in Dublin.

What transpired was a gripping game despite a dust bowl of a pitch and a tear inducing gale that made life miserable for the kickers, both from hand and ground.

Rock captain Orla Brennan was the catalyst for much of the good her side produced on the day and the thundering number eight got the scoreboard rolling with a fifth minute try after she peeled off the back of a scrum and touched down in the right corner.

The elements made Grace Davitt’s conversion an impossibility but Highfield out-half Norita Duggan was having more joy with the boot, her relieving kicks giving here side room to breath time and again in a difficult first quarter.

Rock continued to press and doubled their lead when scrum-half Liz Comerford went over after two knock-ons had pinned Highfield back deep inside their own 22. From there it was a long road back.

The first step came eight minutes into first-half injury time when Helen Jones pounced from the back of a maul to go over on the blind side and with none of the tries converted the score stood at 10-5 at the interval.

The result seemed secured when Davitt converted Shannon Heuston’s 55th minutes try under the posts to extend the gap to 12 but Highfield kept the crowd guessing with a converted reply through Emma Stanley ten minutes later. The killer blow came from Davitt’s boot when she landed a penalty from in front of the posts to leave the Munster side needing two scores which, try as they did, never looked likely with a dozen minutes to play.

“We were disappointed with the result last week but our coach drew up a new game plan and things that didn’t go right for us last week went right this time,” said Brennan afterwards.

“It was another close game between us and that’s what we want in women’s rugby. There’s no point in one team running away from the rest. This type of competition is what we need. This game was a credit to women’s rugby.”

With UL awaiting this weekend, Highfield will have little time for lamentations this week.

“In fairness to Blackrock, we made three basic errors and they capitalised on them,” said coach Donal O’Driscoll. “It wasn’t to be. We’re gutted but our season isn’t over yet. We’ll have another cut off it next week.”

BLACKROCK: O Creedon, G Doyle, P Ní Mhurchu, G Davitt, K Roseingrove, S Heuston, L Comerford; E McMenamy, Z Pehrson, S Corcoran, M Slevin, G Healy, L Austin, D Clarke, O Brennan.

HIGHFIELD: H Brosnan, H McLoughlin, A Donnelly, D Lynch, F O’Sullivan, N Duggan, M Halbert; D Hickey, E Stanley, M Barrett, B Kenny, N Fitzgerald, K Kenny, A Mahoney, H Jones.

Replacements: J Fitzsimmons for Kenny 59, E Foley for Brosnan 65.

Referee: G Glennon.

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