Leinster will seek to make it back-to-back Women’s Interprovincial Championships when the three-week competition gets underway this weekend.
The Women’s Interprovincial Series starts against the backdrop of the announcement of Adam Griggs as Ireland head coach.
The current Leinster coach will get a close-up view of what the other three provinces have to offer, beginning with an away trip to play Ulster at Dromore RFC on Sunday.
A lengthy process of evaluation by Leinster concluded with Griggs choosing 34 players from eleven different clubs around the province stretching from Gorey to Navan with Old Belvedere leading the way with a dozen representatives, including Ireland’s Sophie Spence, Jenny Murphy and Sene Naoupu.
The latter has played all of her Interprovincial career in the green of Connacht and will make her debut in Blue, if selected for round one.
Talismanic Ireland forward Paula Fitzpatrick has accepted the captaincy. But, they will have to start off without the injured Murphy, who could be back for the Connacht match on Saturday week.
“It is funny in the last couple of weeks our preparations have gotten bumpy because of the Irish Sevens and a few injuries from the club rugby,” said coach Griggs.
“We are still pretty confident about putting out a decent side. We have a couple of returning players that are anchors for us, like Michelle Claffey and Sene Naoupu, who will be a big player for us.”
Generally, Munster and Leinster have taken it in turns to be the yardsticks for this competition.
However, Ulster have made changes to their backroom team with Davy Chambers coming in to become the new head coach under the guidance of rugby legend Derek Suffern.
Chambers has a deep knowledge of the players coming through the system in light of leading Ulster to the inaugural U18 Girls Interprovincial Series in 2016.
“There is so much exciting young rugby talent in the Women’s game across the province, whether that be in Enniskillen, Virginia, Belfast, Derry or anywhere in between,” he said.
“The task for us will be to introduce and nurture that talent, alongside the established provincial panel to improve the standards and results of the provincial team.”
Their screening process began back in August and they settled on an extended squad of 44 last week with Cooke RFC accounting for a remarkable 21 women.
A quick glance at All-Ireland League Division 1 will tell you that Cooke are the only Ulster club at that level of the game.
They are lodged in fourth after eight rounds of competition behind the only unbeaten side in UL Bohemians and Dublin clubs Railway Union – Ireland internationals Ciara Cooney, Cliodhna Moloney, Lindsay Peat and Ailsa Hughes are among their Leinster representation of eight – and Old Belvedere.
Leinster can also call on representatives from Tullamore and Blackrock College as their other two participants in the highest League in the land.
It would be tempting to skip ahead to 16th December when Munster host Leinster in what could turn into a winner-takes-all encounter.
Coaches Griggs and Ken Knaggs know all about the pitfalls involved in looking around the corner instead of what is straight in front of them.
Ulster are undergoing an evolution with a young side.
Connacht are something of an unknown quantity and their ‘modus operandi’ will be revealed when they host Munster at The Sportsground on Saturday.
Munster were able to swing a pre-competition match against The Barbarians at Thomond Park recently which should have them a shade sharper, at least for the first round.
They will also feed off the fact that UL Bohemians are the only 100% club in the League following their 12-0 win over Railway Union.
The Limerick outfit will provide the core of Munster’s squad for the series.
First things first, Leinster will have to do the business in Ulster.
Leinster Women’s squad – 2017 Interprovincial Series
Carla Claassen (Navan RFC)
Ciara Cooney (Railway Union)
Linda Dempsey (Rathdrum)
Linda Djougang (Old Belvedere)
Jennie Finlay (Old Belvedere)
Paula Fitzpatrick (St Mary’s) CAPTAIN
Orla Fitzsimons (St Mary’s)
Christy Haney (St Mary’s)
Oonagh Hynes (Old Belvedere)
Rachel Horan (CYM RFC)
Caoimhe Molloy (Gorey RFC)
Aoife McDermott (Railway Union)
Cliodhna Moloney (Railway Union)
Fiona O’Brien (Old Belvedere)
Lindsay Peat (Railway Union)
Ann-Marie Rooney (Blackrock)
Juliet Short (Railway Union)
Sophie Spence (Old Belvedere)
Nicole Carroll (Suttonians)
Michelle Claffey (Blackrock)
Aimee Clarke (Railway Union)
Eimear Corri (Blackrock)
Aine Donnelly (Old Belvedere)
Ailsa Hughes (Railway Union) VICE-CAPTAIN
Maria Kenny (Old Belvedere)
Meaghan Kenny (Railway Union)
Ciara McDonnell (Garda/Westmanstown)
Jenny Murphy (Old Belvedere)
Sene Naoupu (Old Belvedere)
Elise O’Byrne-White (Old Belvedere)
Meg Parkinson (Wicklow)
Molly Scuffil-McCabe (Garda/Westmanstown)
Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere)
Megan Williams (Old Belvedere)
2017/18 Women’s Interprovincial Series
Connacht v Munster, Sportsground, Saturday, 2nd December, 2.30pm
Ulster v Leinster, Dromore RFC, Sunday, 3rd December, 2pm
Leinster v Connacht, Donnybrook, Saturday, 9th December, 5pm
Munster v Ulster, Garryowen FC, Saturday, 9th December, 3pm
Munster v Leinster, Thomond Park, Saturday, 16th December, 2.30pm
Ulster v Connacht, Belfast Harlequins, Saturday, 16th December, 3pm