Belfast Telegraph

Schools rugby final: Young women line out for cup clash

Irish women's Six Nations hero Stapleton is a VIP guest at schools final

By Amanda Ferguson

The girls are shoulder to shoulder - and also going from strength to strength.

The rough and tumble of rugby has long been associated with burly men.

But girls and women across Northern Ireland have been taking to the scrum in increasing numbers, with the sport looking healthier than ever.

And, if proof were needed, yesterday's Danske Bank Girls Schools' Cup final showed that the future of the women's game is in very safe hands.

Enniskillen Collegiate won 14-4 over their Victoria College Belfast rivals at the Kingspan Stadium yesterday afternoon.

What the crowd lacked in numbers they more than made up for in noise, with Ireland's Six Nations-winning player Nora Stapleton also at the home of Ulster Rugby to cheer the girls on.

Following their sixth win since the tournament began nine years ago, Enniskillen captain Kathryn Dane (18) said: "I'm over the moon. I was an absolutely amazing experience. It's my fifth year at the final but this is definitely the strongest team we've ever had. I feel so privileged to play here.

"The girls from Victoria didn't let themselves down. An unreal performance from a young side who will be strong contenders for next year."

Kathryn told the Belfast Telegraph that the victorious Ireland women's team were the schoolgirls "idols" and their championship-clinching success over Scotland at the weekend inspired them to victory.

"They are great girls, so inspirational to us," she said.

Victoria College captain Zara Ryan (16), who has been playing rugby for eight years, was gracious in defeat, warmly congratulating the Enniskillen team.

"I loved today," she said. "I thought it was great. I couldn't be prouder of our team and think they did really well."

Yesterday's final involved the tag, non-contact version of the game and was played on a shorter pitch with 10 players on each side.

Ulster Rugby women's committee chair Dr Johnnie Neary said he could see this was a source of frustration for some of the girls. He added that he was thrilled to witness the development of the women's game over the years -from three teams and no youth players to 20 women's teams in Ulster and more than 60 schools taking part.

Dr Neary also said he was hopeful that at some stage, the Girls Schools' Cup final would be held on St Patrick's Day alongside the boys' annual event, which sees the Kingspan Stadium at Ravenhill packed every year.

"The Irish women doing so well, winning a Grand Slam gives the girls inspiration and the media will start to cover women's events more," he said.

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