Clovers qualify for Celtic Challenge playoffs despite 35-21 loss to Edinburgh

Clovers qualify for Celtic Challenge playoffs despite 35-21 loss to Edinburgh
Grace Fisher
Grace Fisher

EDINBURGH 35 CLOVERS 21, Hive Stadium
Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries: Molly Poolman, Millie Whitehouse, Emma Orr, Sarah Denholm, Lisa Thomson; Cons: Nicole Marlow, Briar McNamara; Pens: Nicole Marlow, Briar McNamara
Clovers: Tries: Alana McInerney, Niamh O’Dowd, Chisom Ugwueru; Cons: Kate Flannery 2, Méabh Deely
HT: Edinburgh 12 Clovers 21

The Clovers finished the Celtic Challenge’s round robin phase in third place, losing 35-21 away to a fast-finishing Edinburgh but qualifying for the top three play-offs after Gwalia Lightning failed to beat the Wolfhounds.

Converted tries from Alana McInerney, Niamh O’Dowd, and Chisom Ugwueru had Denis Fogarty’s charges leading 21-12 at half-time. The latter two scores came while Edinburgh winger Nicole Flynn was in the sin bin.

The Scottish team had the wind advantage in the second half and edged ahead in the 70th minute. McInerney was inches away from responding, but a Briar McNamara penalty and a last-minute Lisa Thomson try confirmed the home win.

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Scotland centres Thomson and Emma Orr were hugely influential at the Hive Stadium, scoring a try each with Orr supplying a try assist. Captain Sarah Denholm also touched down as the territorially-dominant hosts scored 28 unanswered points between the 35th and 80th minutes.

While frustrated to lose for the first time since the opening round, the Clovers’ trio of previous victories kept them just ahead of Gwalia Lightning in the standings. There were two points in it, with the Welsh outfit picking up a try-scoring bonus point in Dublin today.

The top three play-offs begin on Saturday, February 17 when the Wolfhounds, topping the table on 24 points, visit Edinburgh (20 points). Kingspan Stadium will host the Irish derby the following Saturday, and the Clovers (14 points) play the Scots on Sunday, March 3, as part of a double header at Parc y Scarlets.

Although Edinburgh made the early headway with a scrum penalty and an advancing maul, Ailsa Hughes ripped the ball loose in a tackle and Méabh Deely used her strong right boot to find touch on the right.

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The Clovers’ first lineout opportunity went awry, but a Kayla Waldron poach quickly regained possession and there were some bone-crunching tackles from both sides as the amount of turnovers continued to increase.

After Ugwueru, on her first Clovers start, had gobbled up a fumbled pass from Edinburgh, Waldron, inspirational skipper Dorothy Wall, and O’Dowd all got over the gain-line. The Edinburgh cover then failed to deal with a Kate Flannery kick over the top and McInerney swooped in to open the scoring.

Flannery’s low-slung conversion from the right made it 7-0, but it was a brief lead as the Clovers were unable to build on Wall’s bulldozing run which saw her bounce off two tackles. Instead, Edinburgh hit back on the 20-minute mark.

Orr’s midfield break had the visitors backpedalling and just a couple of phases later, prop Molly Poolman burrowed over for Nicole Marlow to land the levelling conversion. Again though, another momentum shift soon had Fogarty’s youngsters on the front foot.

With Flynn seeing yellow for a tip tackle on Deely, the strong-carrying Wall was heavily involved in the build-up to O’Dowd’s well-taken effort, as the Old Belvedere loosehead accelerated around the side of a ruck to thunder over in the 26th minute.

Flannery converted and Ugwueru soon added her name to the scoresheet, flying over following a Hughes tap penalty and good hands across to the left with centre Waldron providing the assist. While Flannery received some treatment, Deely converted superbly from out wide.

Edinburgh snapped back to score just after Flynn’s return to the pitch. Centres Thomson and Orr caused trouble again for the Clovers, with the latter offloading out of a tackle for hooker Millie Whitehouse to pull back five points.

It was the hosts who seized control early in the second period, launching themselves forward with a smart break from Leia Brebner-Holden. O’Dowd and Waldron combined to hold up Panashe Muzambe, but Marlow split the posts with a penalty to close the gap to 21-15.

A misfire from the Clovers’ lineout allowed Edinburgh to exert more pressure in attack, before Brianna Heylmann’s impact at the breakdown forced a crucial knock-on.

However, Deely could not find touch from a couple of penalties, and the defensive workload increased for the territory-starved Clovers. Orr delighted the home crowd by shrugging off McInerney’s attempted tackle and racing clear for a fine 40-metre try which went unconverted.

With their lead cut to just a single point, knock-ons prevented the Clovers from working their way back into scoring range. Beth Buttimer’s textbook rip in the tackle kept the Scots at bay, only for Deely to slice her kick to touch.

Despite O’Dowd doing well to ground the subsequent maul and win turnover ball, Edinburgh countered sharply from a Deely kick. They went quickly from a penalty and the pressure led to out-half Denholm crossing to the left of the posts.

Influential replacement McNamara converted, but the Clovers were a whisker away from responding. Jane Clohessy and Wall made inroads in the opposition 22 and set up McInerney to gun for the right corner yet she was just held up by Thomson and Jenny Maxwell.

Edinburgh did have a big let-off as the Clovers winger, as she headed towards the try-line, received a high tackle from Cieron Bell just metres out. On another day it could have resulted in a penalty try, but the match officials felt it did not even warrant a penalty.

Ironically, McNamara punished Grainne Burke for a high tackle just minutes later as she extended Edinburgh’s lead to 30-21. Thomson then found a sliver of space between Flannery and Muirne Wall to register the final try in the right corner.

TIME LINE: 14 minutes – Clovers try: Alana McInerney – 0-5; conversion: Kate Flannery – 0-7; 20 mins – Edinburgh try: Molly Poolman – 5-7; conversion: Nicole Marlow – 7-7; 23 mins – Edinburgh yellow card: Nicole Flynn; 26 mins – Clovers try: Niamh O’Dowd – 7-12; conversion: Kate Flannery – 7-14; 30 mins – Clovers try: Chisom Ugwueru – 7-19; conversion: Méabh Deely – 7-21; 35 mins – Edinburgh try: Millie Whitehouse – 12-21; conversion: missed by Nicole Marlow – 12-21; Half-time – Edinburgh 12 Clovers 21; 45 mins – Edinburgh penalty: Nicole Marlow – 15-21; 57 mins – Edinburgh try: Emma Orr – 20-21; conversion: missed by Nicole Marlow – 20-21; 70 mins – Edinburgh try: Sarah Denholm – 25-21; conversion: Briar McNamara – 27-21; 78 mins – Edinburgh penalty: Briar McNamara – 30-21; 80 mins – Edinburgh try: Lisa Thomson – 35-21; conversion: missed by Briar McNamara – 35-21; Full-time – Edinburgh 35 Clovers 21

EDINBURGH: Nicole Marlow (Cardiff Met); Nicole Flynn (University of Edinburgh), Emma Orr (Heriot’s/Biggar RFC), Lisa Thomson (Great Britain Sevens), Cieron Bell (University of Edinburgh); Sarah Denholm (University of Edinburgh) (capt), Leia Brebner-Holden (Gloucester Hartpury/Cheltenham Tigers); Panashe Muzambe (Exeter Chiefs), Millie Whitehouse (University of Edinburgh), Molly Poolman (Watsonians FC), Adelle Ferrie (Corstorphine Cougars), Natasha Logan (University of Edinburgh), Merryn Gunderson (Corstorphine Cougars), Alex Stewart (Corstorphine Cougars), Freya Walker (Watsonian FC).

Replacements: Aila Ronald (University of Edinburgh), Poppy Fletcher (University of Edinburgh), Katie Lindsay (Corstorphine Cougars), Fiona McIntosh (Saracens), Samaanther Taganekurukuru (Stirling County), Jenny Maxwell (Loughborough Lightning), Briar McNamara (Watsonians FC), Hannah Walker (University of Edinburgh).

CLOVERS: Méabh Deely (Blackrock College RFC/Connacht); Chisom Ugwueru (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster), Aoife Corey (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster), Kayla Waldron (Railway Union RFC/Connacht), Alana McInerney (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster); Kate Flannery (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster), Ailsa Hughes (Railway Union RFC/Leinster); Niamh O’Dowd (Old Belvedere RFC/Leinster), Beth Buttimer (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster), Róisín Ormond (Ballincollig RFC/Munster), Sarah McCormick (Galwegians RFC/Connacht), Dorothy Wall (Blackrock College RFC/Munster) (capt), Jane Clohessy (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster), Brianna Heylmann (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster), Shannon Touhey (Tullamore RFC/Connacht).

Replacements: Aoife Fleming (Ballincollig RFC/Munster), Grainne Burke (Ennis RFC/Munster), Roisin Maher (Galwegians RFC/Connacht), Claire Bennett (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster), Eva McCormack (UL Bohemian RFC/Connacht), Muirne Wall (UL Bohemian RFC/Munster), Michelle O’Driscoll (Ballincollig RFC/Munster), Amy Larn (MU Barnhall RFC/Leinster).

Referee: Rob McDowell (SRU)

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