BLACKROCK COLLEGE 22 OLD BELVEDERE 17, Stradbrook
Scorers: Blackrock College: Tries: Beth Cregan 2, Ella Durkan, Shannon Heapes; Con: Abby Moyles
Old Belvedere: Tries: Jess Keating, Elise O'Byrne-White, Lesley Ring; Con: Jemma Farrell
HT: Blackrock College 10 Old Belvedere 12
Ulster captain Beth Cregan touched down twice as Blackrock College began their Energia All-Ireland League Women's Division title defence with a 22-17 bonus point win over Old Belvedere at Stradbrook.
Tania Rosser's Belvedere team cancelled out tries from Cregan and Ella Durkan to lead 12-10 at half-time. Jemma Farrell converted Jess Keating's score before Elise O'Byrne-White finished off a prolonged attacking spell.
Both sides were missing the vast majority of their international players and despite Shannon Heapes squeezing over for a seven-pointer early on the restart, 'Belvo hit back once more when their captain Lesley Ring made it 17-all.
Blackrock skipper Hannah O'Connor missed a penalty but her leadership was vital as Cregan twisted out of Emma Tilly's tackle 12 minutes from the end to give new head coach Stan McDowell a winning start.
Blackrock were first to threaten when Ulster's Maeve Liston, playing at scrum half, trailed Koren Dunne's defence-splitting break, only for Belvedere to force a clearing penalty at the breakdown.
Belvedere had the better of the opening quarter, their ball handling and attacking shape causing problems for Blackrock who had to scramble hard to avoid conceding.
Jemma Farrell showed her experience at out-half, using her left boot to put 'Belvo in good positions. Young lock Caoimhe Guinan also stood out with some powerful carries.
Ireland Under-20 international Hannah Wilson agonisingly knocked on right on the Blackrock line in the 14th minute, with Amelia McFarland and Niamh Griffin doing really well to deny the 'Belvo prop.
A series of breakdown penalties and improved phase-building saw the reigning champions march forwards, and they stung Rosser's charges with the opening try in the 26th minute.
Cregan caught them out with a short lineout move just outside the Belvedere 22. The return pass from Heapes put the Derry native charging down the left touchline and she got past Grace Tutty to score in the corner.
However, 'Belvo manufactured an immediate response as Tutty, Guinan and replacement Lisa Callan drove through deep into the 'Rock 22. Ring went close before Ireland-capped hooker Keating, profiting from a quick ruck ball, showed some nice footwork to score to the right of the posts.
Farrell swung over the conversion, leaving it 7-5 before Blackrock raided back downfield through Durkan and the sniping Liston. Their forwards also got over the gain-line, with the industrious O'Connor having a crack off the back of a scrum and a tap penalty.
Prop Ava Fannin's big carry added further momentum to this latest bout of pressure, and Abby Moyles passed neatly to her left for her Ulster colleague Durkan to battle through two tackles and make it over out wide.
Nonetheless, Blackrock's 10-7 lead was a brief one as 'Belvo, invited forward by a knock-on, lay siege to the home line late on. Initially, a brilliant tackle from out-half Moyles denied Tutty a try after the 'Belvo winger had got outside McFarland on an impressive run.
The tireless Ring and her team-mates got their reward though, as one too many penalties saw Blackrock second row Dunne sin-binned. Keating duly offloaded out of a tackle for O'Byrne-White to edge 'Belvo back in front.
Munster's Ellen Boylan was hauled down by Tilly's try-saving tackle in the second half's first scoring opportunity, but Blackrock soon got over through Heapes. She reacted quickest after fellow prop Fannin had been brought down just short. Moyles' well-struck conversion made it 17-12.
There was no shaking off a resilient Belvedere as they fired back with an unconverted 51st-minute try. Eadaoin Murtagh surged through a gap off a scrum, linking with O'Byrne-White who brought play into the home 22. Ring was well supported by replacement Katelynn Doran as she crashed over from the next phase.
O'Connor pushed a penalty to the right and wide and there was an increasing scrappiness to the game in the wet conditions, as the third quarter petered out with lineout errors and time eaten up by reset scrums.
Responding to a Belvedere scrum penalty, Blackrock got their lineout maul motoring and Keating received a yellow for taking out Durkan after a kick through. Sarah Farley and O'Connor led the 'Rock charge and Cregan outmuscled the cover to bag the bonus point in the right corner.
Fannin continued to typify the Blackrock effort with a midfield bust, yet Belvedere rallied again with a Minnona Nunstedt turnover and they drew more inspiration from the sight of number 8 Murtagh weaving past the 'Rock 10-metre line.
Young replacement Megan Thornton also threatened a breakaway score right at the death, but she lacked support and knocked on. Blackrock had done enough to claim a hard-earned result, with Koren Dunne, an Ireland Under-18 international last year, putting in a big shift up front.
TIME LINE: 26 minutes - Blackrock College try: Beth Cregan - 5-0; conversion: missed by Abby Moyles - 5-0; 29 mins - Old Belvedere try: Jess Keating - 5-5; conversion: Jemma Farrell - 5-7; 39 mins - Blackrock College try: Ella Durkan - 10-7; conversion: missed by Abby Moyles - 10-7; 40+6 mins - Old Belvedere try: Elise O'Byrne-White - 10-12; conversion: Half-time - Blackrock College 10 Old Belvedere 12; 46 mins - Blackrock College try: Shannon Heapes - 15-12; conversion: Abby Moyles - 17-12; 51 mins - Old Belvedere try: Lesley Ring - 17-17; conversion: missed by Jemma Farrell - 17-17; 56 mins - Blackrock College penalty: missed by Hannah O'Connor - 17-17; 66 mins - Old Belvedere yellow card: Jess Keating; 67 mins - Blackrock College try: Beth Cregan - 22-17; conversion: missed by Hannah O'Connor - 22-17; Full-time - Blackrock College 22 Old Belvedere 17
BLACKROCK COLLEGE: Ella Durkan; Ellen Boylan, Sarah Farley, Leah Reilly, Amelia McFarland; Abby Moyles, Maeve Liston; Ava Fannin, Emily Whittle, Shannon Heapes, Koren Dunne, Cliodhna Ni Chonchobhair, Niamh Griffin, Beth Cregan, Hannah O'Connor (capt).
Replacements: Molly Fitzpatrick, Manuela McCarthy, Hannah Hodges, Aileen Nagle, Nikki Gibson, Megan Thornton, Cliodhna O'Sullivan.
OLD BELVEDERE: Aine Donnelly; Grace Tutty, Elise O'Byrne-White, Emma Kelly, Emma Tilly; Jemma Farrell, Jade Gaffney; Hannah Wilson, Jess Keating, Aine Rutley, Clodagh Dunne, Caoimhe Guinan, Amy O'Mahony, Lesley Ring (capt), Eadaoin Murtagh.
Replacements: Lisa Callan, Aine Nangle, Katelynn Doran, Katelyn Fleming, Minnona Nunstedt, Katie Corrigan, Megan Edwards.