Theory: you can’t hope to win the title if you don’t take on major reinforcements pre-season.
In a magnificent advertisement for the tournament at the Alpas Stadium, Bristol Bears fought back to overcome their local rivals Gloucester-Hartpury 25-17 (all results below).
Before kick-off G-H’s head coach, Sean Lynn, hinted that signings might be on the way. Such things are possible mid-season in the wonderful world of transfers, as witnessed this week by Quins adding Amelia Harper, late of Lightning (and England), to their strength.
G-H had been very quiet on that front over the summer; they lost Sarah Bonar, Ellen Murphy and Maisie Allen to other clubs. Unlike them, Bears’ buy-ins have been well publicised.
It needed a big Bears’ comeback in the second half to gain an important away win. The introduction of Rownita Marston for Siwan Lillicrap made an instant impact; she continued to create huge go-forward for her team.
G-H went 10-0 up early on, but four tries to the visitors in the second half (two to Phoebe Murray) meant a fine attack finished by Kelly Smith wasn’t enough for G-H. The Bears have put together a thoroughly impressive squad. Any purring to be heard might have come from England fans watching Sarah Bern warming to her task after a long lay-off. It will be fascinating to see whether the Bears can get the better of any of the top-4 teams.
Like G-H, Lightning have suffered player exits over the summer (Sophie de Goede, Olivia Jones, Amelia Harper, DaLeaka Menin and Ella Wyrwas), plus the sad absence of Emily Scarratt for the foreseeable future. A worrying loss at home to Wasps 0-29 strengthens my concerns about AP 15s teams that are not underpinned by a Gallagher Premiership club.
Lynn and Rhys Edwards (i/c Lightning) will know the size of the task that faces them this season. Edwards is having to make do without his influential Scottish players, starting their World Cup campaign today, Monday 13. And GB Sevens players are also due for action this week in Vancouver,
The result at Sixways was a rarity, the losing side, Warriors, scoring five tries to earn a bonus point. A final score of 31-66 reads more like an end-of-season festival match than a typical hard-grind AP 15s bout.
Rather than praising their attacking skills, Gerard Mullen may be asking his Quins’ team how they contrived to leak those 31 points. Warriors showed tremendous commitment, but, as in the past, their defensive mechanisms proved inadequate. Ellie Kildunne turned on another display, completing a hat-trick of tries near the end.
DMPDS returned to the Darlington Arena for a double-header with their menfolk for the first time in just under two years, but the change of air brought little respite. Their one shaft of sunlight was to score a try against last season’s league toppers.
It’s hard to feel comfortable about these margins of victory. Even the top-4 clash, Lightning v Wasps, saw a 29-point gap. Only the clash at Hartpury brought a tense struggle worthy of the league’s aims.
DMPDS 5 Saracens 77
Gloucester-Hartpury 17 Bristol 24
Worcester Warriors 31 Harlequins 66
Exeter 54 Sale 0
Loughborough Lightning 0 Wasps 29
DMP Durham Sharks v Saracens
Referee: Rebecca Rees
ARs: David Charlton and Alan Hughes
Exeter Chiefs v Sale Sharks
Referee: Ben Wood
ARs: Ellis Davies and Ian Pengelly
Gloucester-Hartpury v Bristol Bears
Referee: Owen Taylor
ARs: Thomas Falkingham and Joe Binfield
Loughborough Lightning v Wasps
Referee: Joe James
ARs: Peter Connor and Jon Petzing
Worcester Warriors v Harlequins
Referee: Hamish Grant
ARs: Calum Watson and Paul Hill
with thanks to rugbyreferee.net