CLOVERS 19 GWALIA LIGHTNING 17, Virgin Media Park
Scorers: Clovers: Tries: Kate Flannery, Clare Gorman, Róisín Ormond; Cons: Kate Flannery 2
Gwalia Lightning: Tries: Gwennan Hopkins, Molly Reardon, Tess Evans; Con: Sian Jones
HT: Clovers 12 Gwalia Lightning 10
Kate Flannery converted replacement Róisín Ormond’s last-gasp try as the Clovers pipped Gwalia Lightning 19-17 in an exciting Celtic Challenge clash at Cork’s Virgin Media Park.
Building on their first win over Brython Thunder last week, Denis Fogarty’s Clovers finished strongly in each half to overcome a Lightning side that was top of the table after winning their first two matches.
Despite losing Alana McInerney to the sin bin, the Clovers took a 12-10 lead into half-time thanks to two terrifically-worked closing tries from Kate Flannery (36 minutes) and Clare Gorman (39).
Gwalia Lightning had used their solid lineout platform to spring Gwennan Hopkins and Molly Reardon over for unconverted first half scores. They nipped back in front in the 75th minute through replacement Tess Evans’ close-range effort.
Player-of-the-match Sian Jones converted to make it a five-point game, but the Clovers’ maul came into its own during the dying minutes. Ormond burrowed over from a ruck before out-half Flannery coolly clipped over the decisive conversion.
The 19-year-old’s first start for the Clovers was an impressive one, as she sped through for their first try, set up the second, and then landed the match-winning kick. Captain Dorothy Wall, Kayla Waldron, Niamh O’Dowd and Ivanna Kiripati also stood out for the victors.
Waldron carried the early threat for the Clovers in the bright winter sunshine. She sniped through from a ruck and weaved her way up to the opposition 22 before the attack was unfortunately halted by a knock-on from Abbie Salter-Townshend.
A breathless passage of play saw the Lightning spark into life, with Molly Anderson Thomas, who started at out-half in place of the injured Robyn Wilkins, and Kelsie Webster both making breaks from deep.
Their captain Bryonie King, straightening up a number of attacks, proved tough to bring down, before a cross-field kick from Rebecca De Filipo was covered by Gorman. Both defences were thoroughly tested by some energy-sapping phases during the first quarter.
The Clovers were making good headway until De Filipo poached the ball on the ground. The visitors misfired at one lineout opportunity but were deadly accurate at a 17th-minute set-piece.
A smart move saw lively scrum half Sian Jones return the ball to hooker Reardon who broke down the short side and popped the ball out of a tackle for in-form number 8 Hopkins to cross in the corner.
Buoyed by a scrum won against the head, the Clovers quickly got on the front foot. Heavily involved as a ball carrier, Sadhbh McGrath took just too much out of the ball on a penetrating run, and Clara Barrett was also pulled back for a forward pass from McInerney.
Gwalia Lightning’s offloads were beginning to stick more, and with Caitlin Lewis increasing her threat out wide, the Clovers lost ground through a series of penalties. McInerney then saw yellow for a deliberate knock-on, slapping down a pass from her opposite number, Webster.
The Welsh side duly doubled their lead to 10-0 with a well-executed maul effort as Reardon powered over the line, supported by her front row colleague Jenni Scoble.
However, they were stunned by the Clovers’ two-try response. Lifting the tempo again, Shannon Touhey and Dorothy Wall both got their hands free in contact, setting up Flannery to burst past De Filipo and slice inside Rhod Parry on a classy 30-metre run-in.
The Tipperary youngster converted from straight in front, and was also central to the hosts’ next try as they continued to play with increasing confidence despite being down to 14 players.
Gorman and tireless prop O’Dowd gobbled up the metres off the restart, and off a subsequent lineout drive, Flannery put Barrett tearing through midfield before she fed Gorman for an arcing finish on the right, past Parry.
It was nip and tuck on the restart, with Gwalia Lightning flooding forward through the pacy Webster but her pass to her support went to ground. The Clovers again showed their scrummaging strength by forcing a penalty.
The Lightning appeared to have the upper hand when Beth Buttimer, rushing up in defence, was whistled up for a deliberate knock-on and promptly yellow carded. Nonetheless, McGrath and Wall fought hard to earn crucial turnover ball for Fogarty’s charges.
The Lightning tried the same short lineout move, but this time Reardon fumbled near the touchline, and the home support raised the decibel level as Ruth Campbell pinched a lineout, and further turnovers followed.
Wall, all-action centre Waldron and the newly-introduced Jane Clohessy led by example in that regard, but clearing kicks from Méabh Deely and Flannery were not gaining much distance, giving Cat Nicholas McLaughlin’s side the lion’s share of territory.
Having put themselves in good positions, Gwalia Lightning’s execution let them down at times. Reardon was guilty of a crooked lineout throw in the 68th minute, and Kate Davies just had her foot in touch as they were building for a possible score from the left wing.
Still, they looked to have landed a killer blow with only five minutes remaining. A Deely kick downfield was retrieved by Davies who, having initially fumbled, put boot to ball and an awkward bounce led to a try-scoring chance for Reardon.
Deely got back to bring down the Lightning front rower, yet the visitors’ replacement forwards smelt blood. A series of strong carries, deep inside the hosts’ 22, ended with Evans muscling past the whitewash for Jones to convert.
However, a well-placed restart kick from Deely put the Lightning on the back foot. Suddenly, it was all Clovers as their bench brought the desired impact. A charging Faith Oviawe broke past two defenders but agonisingly lost control of the ball.
The Welsh outfit could not get out of their own half, though, and replacement Eilís Cahill added greatly to the Clovers’ driving play. She helped them to win a penalty off a maul and then go close to scoring through Buttimer from the next set-piece surge.
Playing with the advantage, the ball went through the hands and Aoife Doyle, back from injury, almost had a dream return to action. Although she was denied a try, quick recycling through the forwards saw Cahill have a cut before Ormond clinically picked her moment to plunge over.
With the teams tied up at 17-all and no time for a restart, it all hinged on Flannery’s kick from the right. She received the tee from Niamh Briggs, one of Irish Rugby’s best ever strikers of the ball, and duly split the posts in nerveless fashion.
TIME LINE: 17 minutes – Gwalia Lightning try: Gwennan Hopkins – 0-5; conversion: missed by Sian Jones – 0-5; 32 mins – Clovers yellow card: Alana McInerney; 33 mins – Gwalia Lightning try: Molly Reardon – 0-10; conversion: missed by Sian Jones – 0-10; 36 mins – Clovers try: Kate Flannery – 5-10; conversion: Kate Flannery – 7-10; 39 mins – Clovers try: Clare Gorman – 12-10; conversion: missed by Kate Flannery – 12-10; Half-time – Clovers 12 Gwalia Lightning 10; 52 mins – Clovers yellow card: Beth Buttimer; 75 mins – Gwalia Lightning try: Tess Evans – 12-15; conversion: Sian Jones – 12-17; 80 mins – Clovers try: Róisín Ormond – 17-17; conversion: Kate Flannery – 19-17; Full-time – Clovers 19 Gwalia Lightning 17
CLOVERS: Méabh Deely (Blackrock College RFC/Connacht); Clara Barrett (UL Bohemian RFC/Connacht), Alana McInerney (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster), Kayla Waldron (Railway Union RFC/Connacht), Clare Gorman (Old Belvedere RFC/Leinster); Kate Flannery (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster), Abbie Salter-Townshend (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster); Niamh O’Dowd (Old Belvedere RFC/Leinster), Beth Buttimer (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster), Sadhbh McGrath (Cooke RFC/Ulster), Ruth Campbell (Old Belvedere RFC/Leinster), Dorothy Wall (Blackrock College RFC/Munster) (capt), Brianna Heylmann (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster), Ivana Kiripati (Tuam/Oughterard Colts RFC/Connacht), Shannon Touhey (Tullamore RFC/Connacht).
Replacements: Aoife Fleming (Ballincollig RFC/Munster), Róisín Ormond (Ballincollig RFC/Munster), Eilís Cahill (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster), Faith Oviawe (Railway Union RFC/Connacht), Jane Clohessy (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster), Muirne Wall (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster), Michelle O’Driscoll (Ballincollig RFC/Munster), Aoife Doyle (Railway Union RFC/Munster).
GWALIA LIGHTNING: Rhod Parry; Caitlin Lewis, Kelsie Webster, Rebecca De Filipo, Kate Davies; Molly Anderson Thomas, Sian Jones; Abbey Constable, Molly Reardon, Jenni Scoble, Katie Jenkins, Bryonie King (capt), Maisie Davies, Lucy Isaac, Gwennan Hopkins.
Replacements: Mica Evans, Sophie Waugh, Danyelle Dinapoli, Alaw Pyrs, Tess Evans, Kierra Deeks, Jenna De Vera, Katie Thicker.
Referee: Kevin Coffey (IRFU)