Another lovely day to greet the fourth round of the Tyrrells Premier, and thrills all the way.
Who could have imagined Saracens going two scores down at the start of their clash with Richmond? Whoever heard of a win by the odd point in 81, thanks to a penalty try?
First the scores:
Bristol 41 DMP 14
Glos-Pury 40 Loughborough 41
Harlequins 27 Waterloo 6
Richmond 12 Saracens 30
Wasps 29 Worcester 10
So it’s very much as you were: Sarries and Lightning remain unbeaten, but had to suffer unsavoury shocks on the path to victory.
It was good to see Vicky Fleetwood restored to full working-order in a 15’s game.
Richmond v Saracens
Sarries resembled mid-table hopefuls in the opening stretches of their game at the Athletic Ground. Richmond came out of the blocks at 100 mph to complete a fine opening try off a catch and drive (5-0). When Alice Soper, the hooker, took a quick pass from a ruck and refused to stop running till she was over the line, Sarries looked bewildered (12-0). They dropped passes and suffered turnovers to prove they are human after all. Surely, this was the first time in the two years of the tournament they had gone two scores down.
It took them till a few moments before the half-time whistle to return to type: the pack drove and drove. Richmond defended stoutly, but something had to give, and did. Bryony Cleall claimed the points.
Cleall was the second England prospect to find herself playing unexpectedly in the front row. Shaunagh Brown may have enjoyed the experience last week, but she was back at No 6 today. Bryony’s feelings may be recounted in her memoirs one day,
The suspicion was that the second half would tell a different story. And so it proved. Sarries went up several gears; Marlie Packer reminded everyone of her qualities, and it was good to see Sarah McKenna pulling a lot of strings behind. Packer scored two tries of quite different character: first the final touch on a catch and drive, then a winger’s special, round behind the stand to dot down like a true No 11.
Sarries didn’t have it all their own way, but none of Richmond’s determined assaults bore fruit. By contrast, the visitors could attack from way back in their own half and still carry the ball safely over the line. So their total climbed till the 82nd minute when they chalked up their 30th point. They aren’t infallible but have the quality to overcome lapses of concentration and see off all-comers.
Richmond should look at their defensive patterns. Too often in the second half they were negligent in reshaping their alignments. They left opposing backs completely unmarked on one side of the field: no calls audible from the isolated wingers out there. Fortunately for them Sarries are so used to keeping the ball tight inside the pack that these gaping holes went unnoticed.
Wasps v Valkyries
Earlier in the day there was an attractive contest between two of the W’s at Twyford Avenue. Every neutral observer present – were there any? – desperately wanted Worcester to do well. They are the only side to remain winless after 21 rounds of the league. They proved their quality by remaining on par for a good half hour. It took Amy Wilson Hardy’s skills to slide through for an opening try.
Valkyries responded with a defiant raid that saw them over the line too. But it was a sign of their abiding weakness that they allowed Claudia Macdonald to dot down just before half-time. Macdonald presents an example of an increasingly rare career path in English women’s rugby: a late starter – at university – but able to shift rapidly into top-flight rugby via DMP then the Amber-and-Blacks.
With the slope in their favour, Wasps confirmed their all-round superiority in the second half. Katie Mason gave England’s selectors a timely reminder of her midfield qualities as she burst through a porous defence, then offered gilt-edged passes to her pals.
Tova Derk couldn’t manage another 80 metre run-in this time, but she kept her try-tally mounting. Just as well for the rest of the world that there aren’t fourteen more players like her, otherwise Sweden would be the No 1 rankers, not the Kiwis.
Abby Dow, starting at the back in place of the absent Nolli Waterman, made a timely (more below*) contribution to the opposition’s misery, before her rival for the England No 14 jersey, Lydia Thompson, had the last but unavailing word (29-10) .
Rugby anoraks may well be able to prove me wrong, but Lightning’s away win in the depths of Gloucestershire must rank as unique in the game’s annals. In one of the most palpitating contests in Tyrrell’s short life, Loughborough needed the referee to award them a penalty try in the closing moments to overtake Gloucester-Hartpury with the decisive score.
This was a topsy-turvy encounter. The hosts had taken a 13-point lead by half-time, and Bianca Blackburn’s try two minutes from time had surely sealed the deal, but no! (40-41, just to repeat the unlikeliest of results)
Bristol came through safely against DMP. Like fellow-sufferers Worcester, the Sharks mounted two fine tries (both converted), but were unable to stem the tide against a superior attack (41-14).
More this-worldly fare at Guildford, where Waterloo’s only response to Quins’ five tries was a brace of penalties by their fly-half Beth Stott (27-6).
*Final Word: Abby Dow came off the park to be met by her nearest and dearest with 21st birthday greetings of a quite different order.