Tyrrells Round 14 – Saracens v Harlequins
We thought the reverse fixture was pretty high class – Quins inflicting Sarries’ one and only defeat thus far at the Stoop. But the game at Allianz Park must rank as the best, the most dramatic of all the Tyrrells games yet put on show.
Consider the facts:
The first time ever we have seen fourteen professional women players contesting a club match. Only Ellena Perry was missing from the line-up of newly contracted Red Roses.
They have been searching through their largest dictionary for adjectives to describe their feelings: ‘thrilling’, ‘buzzing’ and even ‘awesome’. All of them deserve huge congratulation.
First against second. Sarries’ lead is 4 points, which means that Quins could overhaul them with a bonus-point win.
Sarries thirsting for revenge after suffering that solitary defeat in Round 6.
Two promising youngsters restored to the home ranks, called Packer and Cleall.
England players in direct confrontation all over the pitch (e.g. Shaunagh Brown and Vicky Fleetwood).
Then there was the game.
Let’s start 75 minutes in. The home twitter saga reads: ‘Sarries desperately trying to gain a losing bonus point.’
Now read on.
Quins’ tactics were evident early on: get the ball moving, take quick taps force the oppo to turn. This they did, only to be penalised three times when on the front foot. Still, it was they who scored first Emily Scott showed how to kick ‘to grass’, as they say. The ball bounced wickedly for the defence, she regained possession and went over. Ellie Green added the two points. (0-7) She was to complete another clean sweep of conversions.
Sarries returned smartly to type. A catch and drive was completed, almost inevitably, by Bryony Cleall. (5-7) Scott produced her second try of the day (5-14) before Hannah Botterman powered over at the other end. This time Zoe Harrison converted. (12-14) Several times more Quins managed to halt Sarries’ powerful thrusts, and occasionally get a turnover
Spectators’ necks were twisting to left and right as if on Centre Court.
There was time for Heather Cowell to score her sixteenth try of the campaign before everyone had a chance to catch breath. Despite all Sarries’ big guns blazing away at them, Quins had shown great resilience in defence and the skill to finish promising moves off.
The biggest surprise of the first half was to see their pack marching their opponents rearwards at the set-scrum. In Allianz-land that isn’t supposed to happen, but Quins’ eight are turning into a mean machine these days.
After the restart Jade Konkel made her presence felt off the back of the scrum. (12-28). Quins were nearly out of sight.
From there the scoreboard went into hibernation for a long period. The hits grew more painful (to watch); the fitness of the modern player shone through the drizzle.
Five minutes left on the clock. Personnel have changed by this late stage. One feature remains: Quins domination at the set scrum. Questions will be asked. But that makes no difference to the hosts’ skill at the driven maul. They send Quins tumbling backwards, forcing the referee to run under the posts. (19-28)
Two minutes left: Sarries now make almost the only lengthy break of the entire match from around their own 22. They manage to get it into Sydney Gregson’s hands, and she shows why the England selectors picked her on the wing as a youngster way back in 2015. (24-28) It’s pandemonium in the stand, so goodness knows what it’s like on the field.
No minutes left: Sarries manufacture another powerful drive down the right. A discerning eye spots Vicky Fleetwood opting for the open-side winger’s ploy of dropping off ever wider on the left. Sure enough, brave passes loop through the breeze into her hands. She shows both her stamina and her pace to get within two metres of the line. As she’s hauled down, Hannah Casey claims the ball and deposits her entire weight on it over the line.
Zoe Harrison makes up for a less than perfect display of tactical kicking in the first half by slotting a fine conversion over from three metres from touch.
The main stand threatens to collapse under the roars and stamping of the home supporters.
Quins thus achieve the rarity of two bonus points from one game.
Final score: 31-28
The two Teams (the Contracted Players in bold):
11 Clapp (C)
4 Newman L.
7 Packer M.
8 Cleall B.
Replacements: Campbell, Layola, Cleall P., Searcy, Hayward, Viksten, Gregson
15 Scott E
12 Burford (C)
4 Scott A
Replacements: Viksten, Ashworth, Voyle, McCarthy Packer L. Mullen, Newman G.
News from elsewhere
DMP 14 Lightning 53
Richmond 12 Wasps 38
Valkyries 7 Glos-Pury 27
Waterloo 0 Bristol 14
Richmond flattered to deceive. In the early stages Abi Chamberlain made good use of her kicking boot to force Wasps to scramble back and clear. At the fourth time of asking, she got her deserts. Wasps decided to counter from their own 22, but the third cross-field pass was intercepted by Jess Wooden who cantered over.
But Wasps stretched to a 12-7 half-time lead, and, sure enough, Richmond couldn’t keep pace with them in the second half.
Valkyries have recently signed the following players: Alisha Butchers, the Wales flanker, more Welsh players in Alex Callender, Kenzie Tutton and Millie Williams, plus flanker Katie Jenkins from Waterloo. These welcome additions have their downside: they further weaken the Welsh elite division, though they will take back added strength to the national squad. While Valkyries held Gloucester-Hartpury to a 20-point margin, astonishingly Kelly Smith contrived to score four of the visitors’ tries.
So the only crucial tussle in the league remains for fourth place and the chance to turn the tables on the leaders and walk off with the title. Wasps stay one slender point in front of Glos-Pury.
Place-kicking has come in for a lot of criticism in the women’s game over the last year or two. But performances in this season’s Tyrrells tell a different story. Katy Daley-Mclean and Emily Scarratt no longer stand alone among the great kickers: youngsters like Lucy Attwood (Bristol) and Ellie Green, (Quins) have proved capable of knocking the ball over from the widest positions in the wildest of storms. This is an area of great promise in English rugby. it may yet prove vital in in test matches of the future.
Table after 14 Rounds