The First Rugby of a New Year
Three games survived from the five scheduled. The really bad news came with the abandonment of Sarries’ home game. Surely it signals the end of matches in London till the current lockdown can be eased.
We were left with two high-class contests at Shaftesbury Park and Hartpury, plus the now predictable one-way traffic at Sixways, as DMP Durham Sharks buckled to another heavy defeat.
Bristol Bears v Exeter Chiefs (aka Wales v The Rest of the World)
Sarah Bern was back for her first start since since October, but Bears’ positive news was countered by a late cry-off from the skipper, Clara Nielson.
Four minutes in Patricia Garcia hoisted a deadly box-kick. Moments later she spotted an unguarded edge to a ruck and was nearly through to the line. Bristol could only carry the ball over, and at their next blast the Chiefs’ skipper, Linde van der Velden, scored. (0-7)
Rugby can seem a very unfair game with Jasmine Joyce in her present mood. How do you stop her? She motored away from the half-way line to equalise, then did the same from an interception that seemed to start on the hard-shoulder of the neighbouring M32. That took her to 10 tries for the season.
But Bristol couldn’t keep the control they needed to stay ahead. They weren’t accurate at the line-out and Elinor Snowsill’s kicking from hand lacked its usual precision.
Ebony Jefferies, an ex-Bear, spotted a gap and powered over for the Chiefs, and although Snowsill added a penalty, another powerful drive by van der Velden put the visitors ahead at the break (17-19)
As a precaution Bern played the first half-hour only.
This was to be a game that Garcia would not forget in a hurry. Eight minutes after the turn-round she found herself facing Joyce who for once ran straight at her opponent only to finish up behind her, landing on the back of her neck – fortunately not seriously hurt. A red card for Garcia.
The rest of the game merely served to show Bristol’s shortcomings. They couldn’t hold out against fourteen.
Yes, Joyce completed a hat-trick with another scything run through traffic, but Exeter’s forward power helped to bring them two tries to clinch the match, first to Emily Tuttosi, the second on 67 minutes through Garnet Mackinder. She somehow managed to plant the ball under huge pressure after the pack had created the position and the ball swept wide to her on the left.
Final Score: Bristol 27 Exeter 31
Player of the Match: Jasmine Joyce – not the first player on the losing side to win the distinction this season (awarded by another Welsh international, Keira Bevan)
This great result sees Exeter enhance their position to fifth in the league. They will have to do without the influential Garcia for a number of games, but have shown the accuracy and power to cause worries for future opponents.
15 Kayleigh Powell
14 Lily Stoeger-Goddard
13 Phoebe Murray
12 Lucie Skuse
11 Jasmine Joyce
10 Elinor Snowsill
9 Lucy Burgess
1 Simi Pam
2 Alice Lockwood
3 Sarah Bern
4 Hollie Cunningham
5 Natalia John
6 Alisha Butchers
7 Manon Johnes
8 Siwan Lillicrap (captain)
Bench: Lockwood, Wynne, Evans, Boyd, Barwick, Settembri, Jones and Coles
15 Merryn Doidge
14 Lottie Holland
13 Lauren Cattell
12 Gabby Cantorna
11 Garnet Mackinder
10 Taylor Black
9 Patricia Garcia
1 Sachiko Kato
2 Emily Tuttosi
3 Laura Delgado
4 Poppy Leitch
5 McKinley Hunt
6 Ebony Jefferies
7 Kate Zackary
8 Linde van der Velden (captain)
Bench: French, Roberts, De Merchant, Johnson, Fleming, Robinson, Sheehan and Terry
Gloucester-Hartpury v Loughborough
G-H were missing six first-choice players to injury and work commitments, but they won’t use that as an excuse for succumbing at the end to Lightning, who reasserted their position in the top 4 with a strong second-half showing.
G-H began really well. In the first minute a clearance kick was charged down and Shya Pinnock found herself driving over the line. Daisy Fahey converted. (7-0)
But Lightning knew they had a ready answer: a penalty aimed at the corner, an accurate line-out and Lark Davies completed yet another try. Emily Scarratt converted. (7-7)
Helena Rowland, who had another heart-warming day at No 10, showed the range of her skills by inserting a telling grubber kick off her left foot. In attack and defence she was always adding deft blows to the cause.
At the first water break you wondered what beverage was being shipped on to the field, mountain-stream iced water, hot coffee or brandy?
The only other first-half score was curious: it looked as though Kelsey Jones had driven over, but the AR confirmed a nudge forward, so Sara Cox ran under the posts for the referees’ pet hate, pulling down. (14-7)
G-H were quite unable to maintain this lead. Within five minutes of the restart Lightning had the lead. First Katie Trevarthen sped over the line, then Emily Scarratt was offered space. Unwise; she drew the last defender and gave to Rhona Lloyd. (14-17)
Ten minutes later Lightning resorted to their sure-fire winner, a penalty kick to the corner followed by a catch and drive.
They competed their day’s work with a great surge by Courtney Holtkamp to the line. G-H had the doubtful consolation of adding the last score after a splendid break by Bryonie King. Emma Sing completed the deed, but it wasn’t enough to earn a losing or a try-scoring bonus.
Once more Kelly Smith’s skills on the wing went for nothing.
Final Score: Gloucester-Hartpury 21 Loughborough Lightning 29
Player of the Match: Courtney Holtkamp (awarded by Zoe Aldcroft – it takes one lock forward to recognise another one)
Worcester 70 DMP Durham Sharks 6
Harlequins v Wasps POSTPONED
Saracens v Sale POSTPONED
There would have been an even more welcome return to the game than Sarah Bern’s. Rosie Galligan was listed to play No 19 for Saracens after a long painful recovery from two successive blows, meningitis then a broken ankle.
Who would be in your England Six Nations side to play Scotland in a month’s time? Yes, it’s not going to happen, but we haven’t been told that officially yet. It makes the world we live in even stranger.
Indeed the latest developments in the UK don’t look promising for a smooth continuation of the Premier 15s.
Table P W L B Pts
Quins 8 8 0 8 40
Saracens 7 7 0 6 35
Wasps 9 7 2 6 34
Lightning 10 7 3 6 34
Exeter 8 4 5 6 22
Glos-Pury 9 4 5 4 20
Bristol 10 3 7 6 18
Worcester 10 3 7 3 15
Sale 8 1 6 1 5
DMPDS 8 0 8 0 0
Bristol Bears v Exeter Chiefs
Referee: Nikki O’Donnell
ARs: Ben Wood and Richard Waller
Worcester Warriors v DMP Durham Sharks
Referee: Daniel Rowlands
ARs: Callum Watson and Jonathan Petzing
Gloucester-Hartpury v Loughborough Lightning
Referee: Sara Cox
ARs: Lloyd Davies and Ryan Collier
Lead photo: Jasmine Joyce in Wales colours