The third round saw quality, drama and one tight finish. Saracens had to work hard to maintain their unbeaten run.
First the results:
Harlequins 39 Gloucester-Hartpury 12
Loughborough 24 Saracens 28
Richmond 35 Worcester 8
Wasps 29 DMP 14
Waterloo 0 Bristol 36
In the east Midlands Lightning led for most of the game. It took an immense effort by the champions to squeeze ahead at the death. May Campbell scored the decisive try in the 80th minute. Emily Scarratt had scored two tries, Katy Daley-Mclean the other. Those bald statistics suggest that their team wasn’t firing on all cylinders. They can’t rely on their most celebrated players to ensure victory week in, week out. If only Rhona Lloyd had scored her two tries for them rather than Scotland (see below).
The one-sided fixtures involved Worcester and Waterloo. Sadly, Loo’s progress in the third year of the Tyrrells looks to be filled with minefields. Bristol travelled north to gain a valuable bonus point. They ran up six tries through Lucy Attwood (2), Becky Hughes (2), Elinor Snowsill and Sarah Bern.
Richmond decisive win over Warriors will come as a huge boost to them. The visitors scored the first try through Akina Gondwe, but after that it was a huge advance for Richmond. When Alex Zdunek drove over for a try, it was their first of the season. Remember, they had had the doubtful pleasure of meeting Quins and Sarries first up.
Helped by two yellows for Worcester in the second half, they posted four more tries, two by their recent signing Ellie Boatman.
This is a worrying result for Worcester. They are still without Lydia Thompson and Laura Keates, but their new acquisitions couldn’t make the difference the management must have hoped for.
There were two high-grade games played out in London.
Wasps v DMP Sharks
Wasps had their work cut out to overcome a DMP Sharks side deprived of their Scottish internationals who were busy playing their second test in South Africa (they won 38-15). It was only in the latter stages that their strength up front led to more chances for their backs.
Katie Mason, who had a fine game in the No 15 shirt, opened proceedings with a try. Then Harriet Millar-Mills underlined her importance to the team with an unstoppable drive off the back of a scrum.
Sharks responded with a multi-pass move that showed the qualities they possess. But before Tamara Taylor could produce an excellent off-load to create a second try, Wasps had moved well ahead. Hannah West scored their third to give them a reassuring 19-7 half-time lead.
Then Abby Dow continued her sparkling form with two splendid tries to light up the second half. Hannah Edwards, replacing Lizzie Goulden at outside-half, produced a series of fine kicks out of hand and off the tee.
Sharks were game to the end. When they return to full strength, they should prove a handful for all but the strongest opposition. But they still haven’t managed to beat the Swarm in the Tyrrells.
Quins v Gloucester-Hartpury
Down at the Stoop, Quins and Gloucester-Hartpury put on a great show of attacking rugby under the lights. The big crowd was spoilt for choice: England’s two leading scrum-halves (Leanne Riley v Mo Hunt); two leading wingers (Jess Breach v Kelly Smith); two leading locks (Abbie Scott v Zoe Aldcroft), and so on.
The game was played at a furious pace, with big hits and a string of injuries marking the milestones.
From the start the visitor’s pack was put under strain – this is likely to happen to every opposing eight this season, except possibly Sarries once they can field a full-strength pack – but they held on gamely, denying Quins likely tries on several occasions when they pressed close to the line.
Leanne Riley got the hosts off to the start they wanted with a quick-thinking try. She went on to produce a wide range of No 9 skills, snipes close to the breakdown, angled kicks and changes of mind that caught the defence on the hop. Against her, Mo Hunt offered a stream of early balls to feed her eager backs. But strangely, few reached Kelly Smith for her to show her paces in space.
The other No 11 on show, a player called Breach, was very busy in support and attack. She needed careful marshalling, and the G-H defence did well to keep her from scoring too.
Instead it was a double from Shaunagh Brown – a frightening presence on the burst – then a try each from Giada Franco and Sarah Beckett that gave the home side a comfortable victory. Those names, added to others such as Abbie Scott, Amy Cokayne, plus Jade Konkel and Vickii Cornborough (both missing today), give you some idea of the challenges this pack poses.
And out behind we have Emily Scott now installed at No 10, showing her wide range of skills and experience. To accommodate her there Ellie Green has been moved out to inside centre, but she is still entrusted with all the kicks – very wisely, since she seems to find missing her target very difficult.
G-H kept posing Quins problems with their mobility and handling skills. They scored a try in each half, first through the impressive Zoe Aldcroft, the second by full-back Emma Sing after a combined move of great quality.
Afterwards Susie Appleby was unhappy about the amount of ball they coughed up. With better retention they might well have extended their score beyond those two tries.
We will get a better idea of relative standards when they come to play Richmond next up. By rights they should be able to put a heap of points on the Londoners, but they won’t recall Round 16 last year with any pleasure.
Other points of interest:
Rocky Clark was listed to play tight-head prop for Sarries. She may – possibly – be able to remember the last time she played on that side of the scrum.
The idea of playing co-captains is catching on. Bristol had Clara Nielson and Elinor Snowsill sharing duties for the Bears; Mackenzie (Kenny) Thomas and Heather Kerr likewise for DMP. By way of variation, two players called Scott found themselves as captain and vice-captain for Quins.
In the absence of Amber Reed, Kim Oliver brought in Lucie Skuse, who played No 10 for England Under 20s this year, at No 12; that meant Phoebe Murray taking station on the wing – for the first time ever?
For the record:
Contracted Red Roses on view
Not on view
The Table after three Rounds: