(words by Luke O’Donnell, Connacht Rugby)
Two thrilling finals set NUIG’s picturesque Dangan sportsfields alight on Thursday afternoon, as the 2012 Womens Intervarsities Rugby Championship drew to a close.
By tournament’s end, incumbent title-holders University Limerick were in tears, their sobs barely audible below University College Cork’s frenzied celebrations after the latter winning the feature final in the most bizarre fashion.
Drawn nil-all at the end of regular play, the first of two 10-minute extra-time periods commenced.
The 0-0 scoreline reflected not an inability to create scoring opportunities on either’s part, but a dogged determination that the other would convert none. The error count from both sides could have been tallied on one hand, bone-jarring tackles however, and desperate turnovers soared into double figures.
UL had the run of the backlines on offer, Claire Keohane and Aisling Hutchins two of the show’s stars. Against that provincial and international-calibre centre pairing, their opposites had a torrid time throughout the fixture containing the pair. That said, they did, and UCC had the livewire Amy O’Callaghan minding the rearguard at fullback. If she was a little lacklustre getting to the rolling ball, she more-than-compensated once retrieved and made several searing runs without having to resort to her able boot or surrender possession.
Scoreless at full-time, referee Daniel Collins began the third chapter. The Cork crowd enjoyed the run of the green for the most part and having camped 5m out from the UL line made a fourth desperate attempt at the goal-line and broke through. With an arm clear and the ball fast-approaching the turf, Keohane stole it from the outstretched scorer, broke left inside the dead-ball area, jinked to avoid the upright and threw a short pass to Hutchins 2m out from the line.
Hutchins swerved toward her 22m line veering left away from the UCC forwards, and on crossing the 22m line straightened once clear of outstretched arms. The halfway line came and went and she met the cover on the UCC 10m. Having cut inside one, stepped a second, she continued her bee-line for the posts and within five or six seconds she found it.
Keohane added the extras to go 7-nil up with 12 minutes to play.
The second half began is desperate fashion, neither side dropping the ante on defence. UCC now with nothing to lose was the more-expansive unit, unafraid to sling the ball about both in and out of contact, and UL content to retain what little possession they could acquire.
With four minutes remaining, the UCC midfield found forwards in the opposition backline, and sought space at the far right.
With ball-in-hand and Cork hopes in her pocket, UCC’s right winger tore down the right-hand touch, would be chasers gaining little as she squeezed the gap between her own 10m and the opposition goal-line. By the time she crossed the tryline 15m in she had the luxury to saunter around behind the bar and dot down to guarantee the full seven.
Collins blew the second full-time, again, tied at the death. The title then laid with toes, and the tee.
The three-apiece penalty-shootout began with UCC who went wide with the first from the 22m inline with the right upright. UL’s corresponding attempt went adrift as well. UCC drew first blood and sent a wobbly but successful effort through the sticks. UL failed a second attempt. If tied after the initial six kicks, the competition would go to sudden-death – first success or first miss.
One to none from four, and tighthead prop Kelly McGuinness stepped up to the plate. Opting for an angled attempt just off the left-hand upright, McGuinness waited, as did her team-mates, and waited. And waited.
Whether she had budgeted for a post-match beer or not, her last-gasp title-winning success ensured she needn’t have broken a fiver on Thursday night. UL, having scored none from two with a solitary kick remaining, could do little but drop to their knees as UCC’s valiant challengers turned victors.
The Division Two final pit Queen’s University Belfast against Cork IT, and as Queen’s posted a third try (and second conversion) on the six-minute mark, little was going to stop the rampant northerners from taking silverware across the border.
It remained 19-nil at the break, and CIT came out all guns blazing in the second. It was a shortlived revival however, given QUB had the luxury of 2012 Six Nations debutante and Belfast Harlequin Ashleigh Baxter at fullback. Any inroads CIT made, Baxter snuffed out in bruising fashion. Any CIT excitement on finding space beyond the Queen’s defensive frontline was tempered by the sudden realisation discomfort would shortly follow.
If Baxter at the back on defence was a luxury, having her there on attack was something else entirely. Responsible for two of the first half’s three tries, she scored five in the second, and helped blow out the final score to 75-5. CIT latched on to a well-spotted intercept pass for a late consolation try.
It was little surprise when Baxter won player-of-the-final. Her seven try effort was not enough to push Mairead Comerford (WIT) off her perch as Division Two player of the tournament. Amy O’Callaghan (UCC) won the Division One player-of-the-final award, Kelly McGuinness (UCC) player of the tournament, Division One.