Portlaoise U-18 Girls travelled to Greystones RFC in Mill Road for the return match against the composite Tigers’ team drawn from Tullow, Gorey and Greystones, expecting a tough encounter.
A losing bonus point for Portlaoise would keep them ahead by a single point, but in the end they recorded a nine point win.
Portlaoise had won the first match in Togher but now they were playing in Tiger territory. Aoife McNeill stepped in as hooker propped by Abigail Mullen and Niamh Riordan. Locks Sarah Culliton and Shona Whelehan combined with flankers Rebecca Mullen and Captain Róisín McWey. The forward line was completed with Number Eight, Emma Hooban.
From the outset, this turned into a battle of the forwards. The opening ten minutes was tough and tense with little separating the sides but Portlaoise slowly but surely worked their way up the field. Aoife McNeill was particularly impressive with her drives.
The ball was kept tight and there was a relentless march to the Tiger try line. However the Tigers intercepted and their speedy winger sprinted towards the Portlaoise line. A super saving tackle near the line by Eimear Corri, who had raced diagonally in pursuit, left the Tiger player isolated and allowed Portlaoise to regain possession.
Portlaoise regrouped and again began to make ground. Again however a pass was intercepted by Tigers’ Maebh Donohue who ran through unopposed for a try beneath the posts but Donohue missed the conversion. The rest of the half was played out on equal terms leaving the score at 5-0 at half-time.
Portlaoise half-backs Mairéad Keogh and Aoife Murphy came out in the second half determined to bring centres Tara Buggie and Eimear Corri into play. These engaged with the back line of Laura Scanlan, Áine Comphuijsen, Lauren Roberts, and Anna O’Neill. Laura Scanlan’s powerful surges supported by Tara Buggie and Anna O’Neill were impressive given her recent entry into the game at this highly competitive level. Five minutes after the restart the strategy paid off when Aoife Murphy off-loaded at the ten metre line to Eimear Corri who avoided three tacklers and managed to stay in play close to the side line and outpace the defence to touch down beneath the posts. Under pressure, Anna O’Neill converted and Portlaoise nudged ahead 7-5.
Aoife Murphy, Tara Buggie and Lauren Roberts opened up the wings and put Tigers under continuous pressure. Again it was Eimear Corri who collected a pass, this time from Tara Buggie, to score a second try under the bar. A more relaxed O’Neill slotted the conversion. Áine Comphuijsen closed off any attempt by Tigers to kick their way back into the game.
The forwards, particularly Abigail Mullen, Niamh Riordan and Emma Hooban increased the pressure. Aoife Mc Neill, Sarah Culliton, Róisín McWey and Rebecca Mullen dominated play from the set pieces and safely saw out the last ten minutes to finish the game at 14-5 for Portlaoise. The referee nominated Aoife McNeill as Girl of the Game for her display of running rugby and deputising as hooker for the first time.
Portlaoise are now eight points clear at the top of the table. A win from any of their final three matches, at Home to Wicklow and Railway Union, and Away to Mullingar, will see Portlaoise the Leinster Division One Champions. Their next game is against Wicklow in Togher on Sunday, March 23.