Celtic Challenge Round 5: Wolfhounds 36 Gwalia Lightning 24

Celtic Challenge Round 5: Wolfhounds 36 Gwalia Lightning 24
Grace Fisher
Grace Fisher

WOLFHOUNDS 36 GWALIA LIGHTNING 24, Energia Park
Scorers: Wolfhounds: Tries: Katie Heffernan, Katie Corrigan 3, Niamh Marley, Christy Haney; Cons: Nikki Caughey 3
Gwalia Lightning: Tries: Katie Thicker, Jenna De Vera, Caitlin Lewis, Rebecca De Filippo; Cons: Robyn Wilkins 2
HT: Wolfhounds 24 Gwalia Lightning 12

Katie Corrigan made it seven tries in two games as the Wolfhounds recorded a 36-24 bonus point win over Gwalia Lightning to extend their winning run to five matches.

Already assured of their place in the Celtic Challenge’s top three play-offs, the Wolfhounds got the better of a battling Gwalia side with Corrigan running in a hat-trick. Katie Heffernan, Niamh Marley, and Christy Haney shared out the other tries at Energia Park.

The result also guaranteed that the Clovers held onto third place, meaning both Irish teams will compete with Edinburgh to decide who wins the expanded cross-border competition for this season.

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Neill Alcorn’s charges led 24-12 at half-time with wingers Corrigan and Marley weighing in with breakaway scores. Gwalia, who had second half tries from Caitlin Lewis and replacement Rebecca De Filippo, twice pulled the deficit back to seven points.

Replacement Haney’s 73rd-minute effort ultimately gave the Wolfhounds a six tries-to-four victory. With points carrying over into the play-off rounds, they sit at the summit on 24 points, four clear of chief challengers Edinburgh with the Clovers a further six back.

The top three play-offs begin on Saturday, February 17 when the Wolfhounds visit Edinburgh. Kingspan Stadium will host the Irish derby the following Saturday, and the Clovers’ clash with the Scots will take place on Sunday, March 3, as part of a double header at Parc y Scarlets.

The Wolfhounds stunned their fifth round visitors with a try after just 42 seconds. Marley rushed in to ensure a Rhod Parry pass went to ground, the centres combined and Hannah O’Connor’s classy offload returned the ball to Heffernan who finished off from five metres out.

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Gwalia Lightning threatened through a sniping run from Sian Jones, but the home side had a grip on the breakdown battle with Brittany Hogan and captain Molly Boyne both winning turnover penalties in the home 22.

Nonetheless, precise passing from the Robyn Wilkins-led Lightning back-line opened up an opportunity for Katie Thicker out wide. She had the pace to scoot down the right touchline and evade both Nikki Caughey and Marley to score.

An instinctive offload from Claire Boles released her Ireland Sevens colleague Heffernan up into Gwalia’s 22. The forwards battered away before Heffernan ran hard again and fed Corrigan to step inside Wilkins and continue her impressive try-scoring form.

Corrigan, who starred with four tries last week against Brython Thunder, increased her influence on the quarter hour mark. She intercepted a Jenna De Vera pass, just inside the hosts’ half, and outpaced Lewis to go in under the posts. Caughey’s conversion made it 17-5.

As the tempo lifted again, Lewis and Heffernan both showed their pace when breaking the defensive line. The Lightning forced a couple of knock-ons and enjoyed some decent territory early on in the second quarter.

Lively Lightning replacement Maisie Davies gained a couple of penalties at the breakdown, and off the second one they pounced for a seven-pointer. Scrum half Jones chipped through into the Wolfhounds’ 22, an awkward bounce foiled Ava Ryder, and the inrushing De Vera swept through to score.

As the visitors came hunting for more, Wales Under-20 captain De Vera had two impressive runs in quick succession. A terrific Maebh Clenaghan turnover allowed the Wolfhounds to build from deep, and the bounce of the ball worked in their favour this time.

Parry was unable to gather a Caughey kick, and the ball sat up invitingly for Marley to gather it and raid over from 45 metres out. A well-struck conversion from Caughey gave the Celtic Challenge leaders a double-scores lead at the interval.

Five minutes into the second half, the Lightning stung the Wolfhounds with a try against the run of play. 15 metres out from her own line, Lewis intercepted a Jade Gaffney pass and had the gas to dash downfield and reduce the arrears to 24-17.

The Wolfhounds fired back just four minutes later, with a penalty initially taking them back into the visitors’ half. Caughey swung a cross-field kick out to Corrigan on the right, and the Donard native zipped in behind the posts, leaving two defenders in her wake.

Following Caughey’s conversion for a 31-17 scoreline, the Wolfhounds had the territory up to the hour mark but not enough control of the ball to add to their tally.

Gwalia kept coming, with direct running from Paige Jones, Molly Reardon, and Maisie Davies to split open the Wolfhounds’ defence. Replacement Grace Moore gobbled up a loose lineout from the visitors, whose patience was rewarded a few minutes later.

Gwalia’s forwards beat a path towards the try-line and replacement De Filippo broke in between Aoife Dalton and Katie Whelan to bag a 69th-minute bonus point score, which was converted by Wilkins.

The difference was just seven points down the final stretch, but the Wolfhounds settled the issue through their pack. A power-packed scrum penalty set up a lineout, Boles then broke off the maul to go close before Haney, supported by Moore, managed to muscle her way over.

TIME LINE: 1 minute – Wolfhounds try: Katie Heffernan – 5-0; conversion: missed by Nikki Caughey – 5-0; 9 mins – Gwalia Lightning try: Katie Thicker – 5-5; conversion: missed by Robyn Wilkins – 5-5; 12 mins – Wolfhounds try: Katie Corrigan – 10-5; conversion: missed by Nikki Caughey – 10-5; 15 mins – Wolfhounds try: Katie Corrigan – 15-5; conversion: Nikki Caughey – 17-5; 30 mins – Gwalia Lightning try: Jenna De Vera – 17-10; conversion: Robyn Wilkins – 17-12; 34 mins – Wolfhounds try: Niamh Marley – 22-12; conversion: Nikki Caughey – 24-12; Half-time – Wolfhounds 24 Gwalia Lightning 12; 45 mins – Gwalia Lightning try: Caitlin Lewis – 24-17; conversion: missed by Robyn Wilkins – 24-17; 49 mins – Wolfhounds try: Katie Corrigan – 29-17; conversion: Nikki Caughey – 31-17; 69 mins – Gwalia Lightning try: Rebecca De Filippo – 31-22; conversion: Robyn Wilkins – 31-24; 73 mins – Wolfhounds try: Christy Haney – 36-24; conversion: missed by Nikki Caughey – 36-24; Full-time – Wolfhounds 36 Gwalia Lightning 24

WOLFHOUNDS: Ava Ryder (Railway Union RFC/Connacht); Katie Corrigan (Old Belvedere RFC/Leinster), Aoife Dalton (Old Belvedere RFC/Leinster), Katie Heffernan (Railway Union RFC/Leinster), Niamh Marley (Dungannon RFC/Cooke RFC/Ulster); Nikki Caughey (Railway Union RFC/Leinster), Jade Gaffney (Old Belvedere RFC/Leinster); Aoife Moore (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster), Maebh Clenaghan (Queen’s University Belfast RFC/Ulster), Sophie Barrett (Enniskillen RFC/Railway Union RFC/Ulster), Eimear Corri (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster), Hannah O’Connor (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster), Claire Boles (Railway Union RFC/Ulster), Molly Boyne (Railway Union RFC/Leinster) (capt), Brittany Hogan (Old Belvedere RFC/Ulster).

Replacements: India Daley (Blackrock College RFC/Ulster), Megan Collis (Railway Union RFC/Leinster), Christy Haney (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster), Keelin Brady (Railway Union RFC/Ulster), Grace Moore (Saracens/IQ Rugby), Katie Whelan (Old Belvedere RFC/Leinster), Abby Moyles (Blackrock College RFC/Ulster), Leah Tarpey (Railway Union RFC/Leinster).

GWALIA LIGHTNING: Rhod Parry; Katie Thicker, Kelsie Webster, Jenna De Vera, Caitlin Lewis; Robyn Wilkins, Sian Jones; ⁠Abbey Constable, ⁠Molly Reardon, ⁠Jenni Scoble, ⁠Paige Jones, ⁠Bryonie King (capt),⁠ ⁠Katie Jenkins, ⁠Lucy Isaac, ⁠Gwennan Hopkins.

Replacements: ⁠Sophie Waugh, ⁠Lowri Williams, ⁠Danielle Dinapoli,⁠ ⁠Alaw Pyrs,⁠ ⁠Maisie Davies,⁠ ⁠Kierra Deeks, ⁠Rebecca De Filippo,⁠ ⁠Kate Davies.

Referee: Max Weston (IRFU)

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