The big news came from the north – Worcester again failed to produce the goods, as the Sharks kept a clean sheet, and a Katy Daley-Mclean cross-kick to Alex Wallace provided the only 5-pointer of the day.
Obdurate defence was needed to keep the Warriors out, but we have to question the visitors’ tactics. At 8-0 down, they twice opted for a penalty-scrum. They won both easily, but neither led to points.
Another calm KD-M kick from 40 metres out made the game safe, and there was great rejoicing in South Manchester.
Exeter v Wasps
Their fellow newbies, Exeter Chiefs, put up stiff resistance to the visiting Wasps, but couldn’t maintain the pressure to the end.
Wasps had no fewer than nine full England internationals on the coach to the south-west, a figure more associated with the perennial leaders, Sarries and Quins. And they had a tenth ready to join in, Amy Wilson Hardy, making a welcome return after a long lay-off.
They nearly produced an all-England back-line, but Giselle Mather has stayed faithful to her captain, Kate Alder, who has rewarded her with outstanding performances all season.
Exeter could boast only one Red Rose, Lauren Cattell, but she was joined by a trio of international captains in the side, from Holland. the USA and Spain.
On eight minutes Claudia Macdonald indulged in one of her specialities, collecting an Exeter overthrow to cross. Meg Jones converted. 0-7
Patricia Garcia profited from a series of Chiefs’ drives. She tapped a penalty and was over. Gabby Cantorna converted. 7-7 Just before the break two scores: McKinley Hunt put the hosts in front (14-7), but Maud Muir responded at the other end for Jones to convert.
Amy Wilson Hardy now made a welcome return to battle, and Sarah Mitchelson chalked up a 200th appearance for her club.
Though it was nip-and-tuck all the way, only Wasps managed scores in the second half. Jones knocked a penalty over, then Ellie Kildunne added another piece of magic with a kick and collect to add a final try.
Gloucester-Hartpury v Quins
Just in case anyone thought the Red Roses were all pals together, they should have been at the Alpas Stadium. The polite term for what went on is ‘feisty’. The referee, Nick Wood, deserves credit for maintaining the calm of a Michel Barnier in the maelstrom. He probably spent more time talking to captains and players than in all previous games combined.
One England scrum-half was not going to let another England scrum-half get away with a tap penalty and run. She blocked her path and spent the ten minutes off the field.
But in that time Quins didn’t concede a point. There were massive hits going on all over the field, but G-H couldn’t keep their thrusts going right to the line. They had a fine forward drive under way, but Quins won a held-up decision – that was another chance gone.
Their one success came after the break: another drive by the forwards was completed by the combative Shona Powell-Hughes.
It took Quins 56 minutes of hard labour to clinch the bonus point. The cheer that went up at Amy Cokayne’s try showed their relief. The pack’s skill at completing drives remains one of the biggest selling points. They accounted for three of the four tries; the other was an interception by Lagi Tuima from a long way out.
But they failed to look like future champions. There was an edge to their game which didn’t reveal total confidence in their methods. At its worst, they were niggly. When they come to face their biggest opposition, Saracens, in a fortnight’s time, we will see how calm and collected they can be when under pressure to win a game that really matters.
Now that law-changes are all the rage, perhaps it’s time to alter the scoring system. Points scored against Sarries should count double. The Bears managed two tries through Simi Pam and Jasmine Joyce. That would boost them to 20 points.
Anyone in favour?
Bristol 10 Saracens 36
Exeter 14 Wasps 24
Gloucester-Hartpury 5 Harlequins 22
Loughborough 57 DMP Durham Sharks 3
Sale 11 Worcester 0
Bristol Bears v Saracens
Referee: Nikki O’Donnell
ARs: Lloyd Davies and Richard Waller
Exeter Chiefs v Wasps
Referee: Harry Walbaum
ARs: Adam Wookey and Max Weston
Gloucester-Hartpury v Harlequins
Referee: Nick Wood
ARs: Neil Sweeney and Ben Wood
Loughborough Lightning v DMP Durham Sharks
Referee: Daniel Rowlands
ARs: James Clarke and Katherine Ritchie
Sale Sharks v Worcester Warriors
Referee: Charles Gayther
ARs: Elliott Lewis and Kieron Henry
Table P W L B Pts
Quins 6 6 0 6 30
Saracens 6 6 0 6 30
Lightning 6 5 1 4 24
Wasps 6 4 2 4 20
Glos-Pury 6 3 4 4 16
Exeter 6 2 4 3 11
Bristol 6 2 4 3 11
Worcester 6 1 5 2 6
Sale 6 1 5 1 5
DMPDS 6 0 6 0 0
The following Red Roses weren’t listed to play: