Leinster needed scrum-half Ailsa Hughes’ late try to give them control of the Women’s Interprovincial Championship at Donnybrook on Saturday evening heading into their final outing against Munster next Saturday.
There was a fast tempo from the kick-off, Leinster flanker Ciara Cooney rattling into the tackle and right wing Megan Williams making ground up the left.
In between, Allison Miller broke two tackles for a hint of the danger she posed.
Leinster raided down the left again and moved the ball to the middle where Connacht were over-eager at the ruck, centre Aine Donnelly pushing a penalty right of the posts.
There were good intentions on both sides to play the game in a positive way.
However, the fact both provinces won their first-round matches may have contributed to the hectic and error-prone opening quarter. They just needed to settle down and get into a rhythm.
The Westerners won a scrum against the head for number eight Nichola Fryday to power forward unable to connect with the unmarked Miller to the left.
The intensity was fierce and the first piece of coherent rugby produced a sweeping backline movement, initiated by Leinster out-half Sene Naoupu’s unorthodox pass, taken on by the calmness of centres Michelle Claffey and Aine Donnelly and, finally, the finish of Aimee Clarke on the right for 5-0 in the 17th minute.
The Blues were looking good again from full-back Susan Vaughan’s hard line onto scrum-half Ailsa Hughes’ flat ball until lock Nicola Caldbeck executed a fine turnover.
Connacht hooker Ciara O’Connor got the crowd going by refusing to go to ground on a carry through bodies.
There was well-earned reward from out-half Hillary Griffin’s penalty on the right.
They were beginning to take over, in terms of territory, and it required a textbook tackle from Naoupu to prevent second row Amelie Roux from getting into the clear.
It was a matter of time before Connacht found a crack in Leinster’s wall and Ireland’s Mairead Coyne arrived on cue to blast through two defenders for 8-5 on the half-hour.
A stunning offload by Leinster second row Orla Fitzsimons to prop Lindsay Peat led to a recycle and simple, quick hands for Michelle Claffey to make the line for 10-8 in the 37th minute.
Ireland’s Peat began the second period by ripping the ball away from O’Connor and flanker Cooney was twice involved in progress down the right.
Still, the girls in green kept their shape in defence and centre Shannon Touhey’s counter had to be contained by the alert Williams.
Then, Williams’ late line onto a short pass threatened a greater return than Leinster could deliver on.
Instead, they made further gains in more conservative fashion, their lineout working well for Donnelly to put Williams in space.
She was quickly closed down as Touhey arrived on the premises to almost release Miller on the right.
Cooney was yellow-carded on the advice of the touch judge to give Connacht a glimpse of something special.
Leinster lock Aoife McDermott grabbed a lineout and centre Claffey charged forward.
It was turning into one of those edgy encounters where it was as likely to come down to who wanted it most as it was to an act of skill.
Replacement Nicole Carroll entered the contest just past the hour mark for her Leinster debut on the right wing.
The return of Cooney from the bin signalled the home side’s use of the maul, hooker Cliodhna Moloney breaking free and Peat going close.
The recycle came and Naoupu came up a metre short, Miller seeing yellow for her part in the prevention.
Eventually, the close-in driving of Fitzsimons and Peat sucked in numbers and scrum-half Ailsa Hughes sniped for the try for Donnelly’s conversion to make it 17-8 in the 74th minute.
At Donnybrook – Leinster 17 (A Clarke, M Claffey, A Hughes try each; A Donnelly con); Connacht 8 (M Coyne try; H Griffin pen).
15. Susan Vaughan (Railway Union)
14. Megan Williams (Old Belvedere)
13. Aine Donnelly (Old Belvedere)
12. Michelle Claffey (Blackrock College)
11. Aimee Clarke (Railway Union) / Nicole Carroll (Suttonians) 61 mins
10. Sene Naoupu (Old Belvedere)
9. Ailsa Hughes (Railway Union)
1. Lindsay Peat (Railway Union)
2. Cliodhna Moloney (Railway Union)
3. Fiona O’Brien (Old Belvedere)
4. Aoife McDermott (Railway Union)
5. Orla Fitzsimons (St Mary’s College RFC)
6. Ciara Cooney (Railway Union RFC)
7. Meg Kendell (Railway Union)
8. Paula Fitzpatrick (St Mary’s College RFC) CAPTAIN
15. Mairead Coyne (Galwegians)
14. Orla Dixon (NUI Galway)
13. Shannon Touhey (Tullamore)
12. Jane O’Neill (Old Belvedere) / Susan Shirley (Old Belvedere) 74 mins
11. Allison Miller (Old Belvedere)
10. Hillary Griffin (Tullow)
9. Mary Healy (Galwegians)
1. Laura Feely (Galwegians) / Lisa Anglim (Galwegians) 75 mins
2. Ciara O’Connor (Galwegians)
3. Anne-Marie O’Hora (Castlebar) / Katie O’Dwyer (Railway Union) 67 mins
4. Amelie Roux (Galwegians) / Michelle Ring (UL-Bohemian) 74 mins
5. Nicola Caldbeck (Tullow) / Sabrina Egan (Galwegians) 74 mins
6. Edel McMahon (Galwegians) / Denise Redmond (Galwegians) 76 mins
7. Grainne Egan (Railway Union)
8. Nichola Fryday (Tullamore)
Referee: Thomas Lyons, IRFU