The last round before the break for the 6 Nations, and the stakes keep rising.
Wasps v Quins
The game at Twyford Avenue was in the hands of Nikki O’Donnell, only the second female referee of a Tyrrells game your correspondent has witnessed all season. She was given this important fixture as a warm-up for her debut 6 Nations appointment next week. It needed all her calm and authority before the end.
When Wasps, in fourth place, started their contest with Quinn’s, in second, few could have predicted the drama that was to take place in the last quarter. The hosts desperately needed the points to ensure their right to the play-offs; the visitors wanted to guarantee a home fixture.
The waters were mudded by England’s requirements next week. Ten contracted players were listed to be turning out for their clubs in this round, but there seemed little rhyme or reason to the split between them and the 24 allowed a break – three are out of commission with injuries.
Certain players needed more game time. At Twyford this meant the juicy confrontation of Abby Dow and Jess Breach, but neutral patrons wouldn’t have minded at all if onlookers such as Shaunagh Brown, Leanne Riley, Abbie Scott and Rachael Burford (water-girl today) had been called into action.
After 15 minutes a wayward Quins throw-in fell into Wasps’ hands and they took full advantage as Claudia Macdonald stormed over the line. 5-0
Next Quins were presented with a penalty in enemy territory. Interestingly, they went for the three points, duly posted by the reliable Ellie Green. No thoughts of a line-out, then catch-and-drive? 5-3
In the Dow-Breach singles, Breach went 1-0 up as she latched on to an interception to cover half the pitch and finish in an oasis of solitude under the posts. 5-10
On another day Quins might have strolled away from the opposition after gaining the lead, but this was no ordinary day.
Just before the break Wasps mounted a big attack. More than once the referee decreed ‘held up’ as they thought they were over. After several more rumbles they moved the ball right. Nolli Waterman timed her final pass so brilliantly that she was leaping in the air long before Abby Dow hurtled over in the corner. Quins had untypically left themselves one short on the open side Lizzie Goulden couldn’t quite convert from that angle. That made the wingers’ score 1-1 or rather…
Another boring draw? Just wait for those last fifteen minutes. In the third quarter the game swung end to end, but neither side could create a decisive opening.
The deadlock was broken when Wasps drove Quins back far enough for Goulden to slot a crucial penalty. 13-10.
But now the Quins pack, which had had the upper hand in the set-scrum from the outset, began to assert itself. There followed a sequence of play which had the crowd all rushing towards the north-west corner of the ground to observe events more closely.
Drive after drive was stemmed, not always by legal means. O’Donnell now flourished a yellow card at Kasey Allen, and Quins opted for yet another 5-metre scrum. Their problem then was to keep their drive straight. As soon as a scrum goes one short, the chances are it will veer off course. And so it proved.
By now the referee was being offered all manner of advice from the touchline. There were perhaps six or seven penalties awarded to the visitors during this prolonged attack, but no offer of a penalty try. Finally – and it seemed to come at the end of a 7-years-war – Wasps buckled under the strain, Chloe Butler dived over and Quins took a deserved lead. 13–17.
As Goulden dropped out, the clock was reading 80 minutes. To most people’s surprise Wasps, still a player short, built a determined attack down the slope. Now spectators needed to be in the south-west corner to catch the final scenes in close-up. Wasps fought magnificently to threaten the line again and again.
The clock reached 83 minutes and still they were pounding away. One try needed to raise their total points from one to four.
Two chances came in quick succession as they sent the ball wide right. Sadly for them, twice the player inside opted to charge for the line herself, rather than release the dangerous Dow outside her. That final flourish saw Wasps right over the line, but just when it looked easier to score than not, the ball bounced out of impeded hands; it bobbled forward across the in-goal area and O’Donnell blew the whistle. Wasps’ hands all went to their heads; Quins rejoiced at their let-off.
Quins can feel proud of their achievement: six first-choice players short and a half-back pairing that totalled 36 years on this earth.
Player of the Match: Khadidja Camara (Quins’ No 13)
Final score: 13-17
But before the Gloucester girls could rub their hands in glee, they had to face Richmond the next day and, somewhat more threateningly, a Quins side that would be restored to full strength, they hope, post-6 Nations.
DMP 14 Waterloo 8
Saracens 17 Bristol 14
Worcester 0 Loughborough 24
These scores are what the Tyrrells needs: close encounters all across the line. Even the Valkyries keep Lightning down to a mere quarter century.
Sarries were leading the Bears three tries to nothing (two more to Georgie Lingham) right up to the 71st minute, then Flo Long, replacing Sarah Bern at half-time, powered over. Two minutes from the end, Lucy Attwood completed a fine afternoon’s work by passing two opponents to the line and converting. But the earlier margin proved just too wide to close.
The ‘Battle of the North’ in the Northern Echo Arena went to the Sharks in their last home game of the season. That’s how far we’ve reached through the Tyrrell’s second season! But they needed a second-half turn-around after going 0-8 down at the break. The decisive score was made by one Tamara Taylor, who once more entered the bull-ring late off the bench.
A Lightning newbie at Sixways called Scarratt got her name on the board as she converted Natasha Jones’ opening try. She stayed only till halfway, then Lightning doubled their score to finish with a modest 24 points on the tally.
Round 16 – Part Two (Sunday)
Richmond v Gloucester-Hartpury
Not more drama. surely?
Once more the home team denied themselves the joy of a Sunday lunchtime round the table. Such are the sacrifices rugby players inflict on themselves
If Gloucester-Hartpury (hereafter G-H) could gain a bonus-point victory, they would come level with Wasps in fourth place. That would not end their challenge – they would still have to face a Quins side reinforced with their England stars. Today G-H had to do without their own star winger Kelly Smith, but their back-line had chalked up nearly 100 points more than the Amber-and-Blacks.
Few could have predicted the way the game played out. At the start Richmond showed shortcomings in the link between forwards and backs, and sure enough, G-H exploited handling errors and a string of penalties by mounting the first driving maul. 0-5
But after that the hosts turned the tables to mount three scores through the strength of their forwards. The pick of them was yet another burst by Laura Kapo, who looked more like a winger than a loose-head.
The side hoping for a nice straightforward away win now found themselves 16 points in arrears.
Susie Appleby’s half-time chat made its mark. G-H discovered new gears in their engine. Led by Ceri Large’s influential contributions with hand and foot, they dominated territory. Another successful forward drive led to a second try, converted by the reliable Ellie Underwood. 21-12
G-H won three balls in succession; each time they finished behind the gain-line; but crucially they found a gap in the defensive armoury and Beth Randall went through for their third try. 21-19
They needed one more for the bonus point, and sure enough, they got it, Underwood once more providing the vital extra two. 21-26
With the scoreboard not operating, few people present knew how much time was left.
The drama threatened to equal the previous day’s at Twyford Avenue. so much hung on the visitors’ future success.
Richmond responded well. They advanced menacingly into the opposition 22, but were stopped short by a knock-on. Despite Large’s defensive expertise, the game remained too close to her defensive line for comfort. It cost G-H two yellow cards in the closing stages. Sure enough, Richmond contrived a drive, then a passing move for a dramatic try out on the right. Abi Chamberlain’s conversion attempt swung across the posts.
So the game finished with the second draw this season of 26-26 – as unlikely an outcome as you please.
Table after 16 Rounds
The Tyrrells is put to bed for a couple of months, Now we wait impatiently for the announcement of the England squad on Wednesday.