7 August 2023

~5 minutes read

Provinces Ready For Women’s Vodafone Rugby Interprovincial Championships

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Provinces Ready For Women’s Vodafone Rugby Interprovincial Championships

EVEN before a single try has been dotted down next Saturday (Aug 12) there is consensus that the new window for the Vodafone Interprovincial Championships is a real win-win for Irish women’s rugby.

The IRFU have experimented with the scheduling of the interpros recently, searching for the optimal window for it to dovetail with the club and international calendars and have now fixed it right at the start of the season.

Reigning and record 16-time champions Munster head to play Ulster in City of Armagh RFC first while Connacht host Leinster in The Showgrounds and the competition will culminate on September 2.

Opening with a full-blooded interprovincial series, with so much pride and bragging rights at stake, should also provide an excellent run-up for international players to the inaugural World XVs competition, the new World Cup qualifiers which take place in October.

Senior internationals and players from all four provinces have already given the new scheduling of the 2023-24 Vodafone Interprovincial Championships a resounding thumbs up. “It’s a breath of fresh air. You’re a rugby player, you want to play rugby and I think this will work better,” said Munster and Ireland flanker Dorothy Wall.

“We now have four games before we play international, I don’t think we’ve ever had that before. Game time is gold” she stressed.

Aoibheann Reilly, the Connacht scrum half who is just back from a year out due to a cruciate injury, said the new interprovincial schedule couldn’t be better, and not just because it coincides with her long-awaited comeback.

“It’s brilliant timing,” she said. “We’re just coming out of a pre-season block with Ireland and are itching for some game-time now with our provinces and then that will lead in nicely into World XVs. The interpros will set the standards for us, we’ll know where we need to be as players,” she added.

Ulster’s Sadhbh McGrath, the 18-year-old prop who caused such a sensation by making her Six Nations debut last year while still studying for her Leaving Cert, is another big fan. As a player with so much still to learn in game situations she is relishing the intensity that the interpros will bring, straight from the off, this season.

“This gives us an opportunity to get loads of game-time before the WXVs which is so important. You need to play games, it teaches you what’s right and wrong. “For me especially I need to get loads of game-time in the front row. The more scrums the better,“ McGrath said.

Natasja Behan, the Leinster winger who broke into Ireland’s starters in the 2023 Six Nations even before she makes her interprovincial debut this season, also gave it her imprimatur. “I think the way the calendar is set out this year is going to benefit us a lot more,” Behan said. “It’s good to get a few games under our belt before we go into the (Ireland) camps for WXV. The interpros will set the standards for us. We will know where we need to be.”

Players always confirm the importance of the interpros as a competition that both develops and showcases their talent.

“I played Ulster U18s this time last year and then Ulster senior for the first time in January. Those games were definitely where I was seen,” Ulster star McHugh said.

By happy accident the new scheduling coincides with the arrival of new Ireland Head Coach Scott Bemand who has just filled the vacancy left by Greg McWilliams.

Bemand, who spent eight seasons with England’s all-conquering Red Roses, just signed a three-year deal with the IRFU and players are excited by his appointment. “He’s a women’s head coach and he comes from a winning women’s team and it’ll be good too to have an insight into that (England’s) success,”

Dorothy Wall said. With the World XVs coming so fast on the horizon Bemand will want to get up to speed as quickly as possible and the interpros offers players the perfect early opportunity to impress him. “It’s really exciting to get a coach of his calibre involved,”

Aoibheann Reilly noted. “It’s a completely clean slate for us all. Anyone can get selected so everyone has to go out in these interpros, play their hardest and put their hands up for selection.”

2023/24 VODAFONE WOMEN’S INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP FIXTURES:

Round 1, Saturday August 12:

Ulster v Munster, City of Armagh RFC, 3pm;

Connacht v Leinster, the Sportsground, 5.15pm.

Round 2, Saturday August 19:

Leinster v Ulster, Energia Park, 1pm;

Munster v Connacht, Musgrave Park, 3.15pm.

Round 3, Saturday, August 26:

Connacht v Ulster, The Sportsground, 2.30pm;

Leinster v Munster, Energia Park, 4.45pm.

Finals Day, Saturday September 2, Venue TBC.

Vodafone have sponsored the Women’s Interprovincial Championships since 2020 and are also the principal sponsors of the Irish men’s team.

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