Round 3 of the Tyrrells offered some surprises, some shocks and a few told-you-sos. The fixture-setter-in-the-sky had a sense of humour when sending out the bottom three clubs of 2017-8 in turn against the almighty Saracens to launch this season. So no surprise that Sarries are already closing in on 150 points.
Lightning v Quins
This promised to be a gripper – second versus third, and two sides flush with international players from three continents. The game was in the safe hands of England’s leading whistler, Sara Cox, but even she must have have surprised by the ease with which the hosts saw off the visitors.
There was plenty of movement in the damp opening phases, but little scoring. Katy Daley-Mclean popped a penalty over after 22 minutes, but Quins replied with a try soon after (3-5). Once Justine Lucas powered over twelve minutes later, Lightning never looked back. They drove good line-out ball and Cath O’Donnell heaved it over the whitewash (15-5). Then they won a penalty try as referee and AR agreed an illegality had taken place at the end of a fine move close to the left corner flagpole (22-5).
This half-time score looked like a horrible reminder of the Stoop game last week (7-26). Could Quins repeat their breathtaking comeback? The answer was a resounding No! Carys Williams snaffled an interception to run in from a long way out, and Lightning’s total went on mounting into 40s.
Quins did at least repeat their cameo of two fine tries right at the end, thanks to spirited running by replacement winger, Heather Cowell. Too little, too late. (41-17)
As we hunt for excuses for Quins, we can point to the absence of two leading figures, Vickii Cornborough and Leanne Riley through injury. Another plea might be a quite unexpected switch of positions, Shaunagh Brown shunted from No 6 to No 3 of all places. The inside story was that persons in high places wanted to see her performing there. She’s a mighty warrior, but it can’t have helped the cohesion of the pack. And this lack spread to the backs who were unable to turn useful possession into consistent scoring till the floodlights were shining brightly.
Something like the reverse has happened to Olivia Jones. She’s been found out: too fast to be a forward! She has found herself translated from the second row into Lightning’s first-choice full-back.
So Quins failed to repeat their second-half recovery against the Bears. Instead, Lightning defied the wet ball to produce a sequence of attacks that left their opponents marooned in the defensive zone for long periods. The purple pack is taking on menacing proportions; they have gained a Canadian, Daleaka Menin, and a New Zealander, Maryke Penman, to provide ballast, and with three Red Roses, Lucas, O’Donnell and the mistress of the ship Sarah Hunter, they could fancy themselves to take on the Sarries’ juggernaut – but not just yet.
As rugby goes on hunting for new words to add to its complex vocabulary, we have a flurry of offerings for ‘Replacements’ or ‘the Bench’. Eddie Jones has made ‘Finishers’ popular. Quins’ ‘Game-changers’ sounds a bit hopeful, as things might change for better or worse. ‘Also-rans’, ‘Afterthoughts’ ‘Came-along-for-the-ride’ have been rejected out of hand
Elsewhere, the three big away wins all took place at the familiar venues. Richmond chalked up their first victory of the season at Sixways, as the Valkyries missed both their England stars, Keates and Thompson. Their sorry winless run continues.
Wasps treated Waterloo similarly in Lancashire, to produce an unusual trio of results: two away wins and a home loss (excuse: they don’t consider Ealing Trailfinders their true parish).
Meantime down in the West Country, a mighty derby took place at Ashton Gate between Bristol and Gloucester-Hartpury. Susie Appleby will be concerned by the size of the defeat. Her side are mixing huge wins with disturbing frailties.
Bristol 43 Glos-Pury 5
DMP 0 Saracens 61
Lightning 41 Quins 17
Waterloo 14 Wasps 52
Worcester 12 Richmond 43
As the Quilter autumn internationals draw closer, guesses at the likely names in the Elite Squad list grow wilder. Several younger players are throwing their hat into the ring to make prediction even harder. You could sit back and say there are around 35 players already capped for England and available.
But that isn’t the way of Simon Middleton and his adjutants. If they spot real class, that player is quite likely to see herself vaulted into the highest echelons. It happened last year; it might well happen again. Several players, yet to reach 20, have shown outstanding qualities already this season. Senior Roses will be all too aware of the position and anxious to ensure that their performances in the coming rounds of the Tyrrells show them at their very best.