No fewer than three delayed games were fitted into the gap weekend of 22 January:
DMP Durham Sharks v Worcester (Round 6, played at Blaydon RFC)
Sale Sharks v Saracens (Round 9)
Wasps v Loughborough Lightning (Round 10)
Three high scoring games gave two losing sides a try-bonus, but Sarries reinforce their position at the top.
Wasps v Loughborough Lightning
Wasps had five players away on international duty plus various injuries. so a much changed side saw skipper Claire Molloy turning out in the centre, scrum-half Sammy Wong on the wing and winger Jess Cooksey alongside Molloy. Lightning’s side was packed with unfamiliar names too. No Scarratt, O’Donnell, Talling or Harper, and none of their Scots, away on more urgent business.
Lightning soon took the initiative, taking advantage of a rejigged back-line to carve lines through centre-field. Once more Helena Rowland was mistress of all she surveyed, concentrating on swift movement out behind and allowing her wingers, Bo Westcombe Evans and Georgie Lingham, to score, Lingham twice. After Sara Svoboda secured the bonus-point well before half-time Rowland danced through to the posts for a fifth.
Wasps had to rely on their surviving Red Roses, Maud Muir and Abby Dow, to restore some balance, Muir powered her way over, then late in the half Dow produced her regular moment of magic. She spotted a small stretch of unclaimed real estate, chipped over the top and won the race for the touch-down.
But the half-time score of 10-31 showed the challenge that faced the hosts. Things got worse soon after, Svoboda claiming her second. Courtney Holtkamp registered Lightning’s last offering from a line-out. From there, Wasps showed huge resilience to fight back.
Bryony Cleall won’t claim all the credit for the turn-round, but it was heartening to see her return to action mid-way through the half. She made her mark by converting Heather Kerr’s try off a line-out peel. With Cleall came Melanie Combebias, a newcomer who figured alongside Safi N’Diaye in the Montpellier pack back in 2016.
Seeing the chance of that try-bonus, Wasps kept hammering at Lightning’s defence. Sammy Wong tapped a penalty and fed Emily Stone for a fourth try in the corner.
Both sides were well short of full-strength, but Lightning were deserving winners. Only that late Wasps’ bonus keeps them one point ahead.
Wasps: 15. Abby Dow, 14. Emily Stone, 13. Claire Molloy, 12. Jess Cooksey, 11. Sammy Wong, 10. Rosie Wright, 9. Lucy Nye, 1. Mica Evans, 2. Heather Kerr, 3. Maud Muir, 4. Ciara Cooney,5. Sam Monaghan, 6. Helene Caux, 7. Kay Searcy, 8. Rowena Burnfield
Bench: 16. Kanyinsola Adefemiwa Afilaka, 17. Bryony Cleall, 18. Melanie Combebias, 19. Christiana Balogun, 20. Alex Wilkinson
15. Fran Goldthorp, 14. Bo Westcombe Evans, 13 Bulou Mataitoga, 12 Emma Hardy, 11. Georgie Lingham, 10. Helena Rowland, 9. Eloise Hayward, 1. Katie Trevarthen, 2. Lark Davies, 3. Charli Jacoby, 4. Courtney Holtkamp, 5. Lilli Ives Campion, 6. Sara Svoboda, 7. Sadia Kabeya, 8. Sarah Hunter
Bench: 16. Maja Meuller, 17. Beyonce Fowler, 18. Abby Duguid, 19. Hallie Taufoou, 20. Nikita Prothero, 21. Amanda Swartz, 22. Isla Alejandro
DMPDS v Worcester
For the second time running the Darlington Arena ground was frozen over. This time Blaydon RFC came to the races. Thanks to them. But for their intervention Warriors might have fallen even further behind in games played; this was their first since 18 December.
They drenched themselves in tries, but the biggest cheer of the day greeted a second try on the bounce for the Sharks’ No 8 Jasmine Hazell.
Sale Sharks v Saracens
Sarries go sailing on. Their fans have probably already booked their seats for the final, but they’ll be disturbed to see how hard Sale pushed them, totalling a creditable four tries.
You can count on very few fingers the number of times Sarries have gone 0-14 down at the start of a match – tries to Lauren Delany and Vicky E. Irwin. Let’s say they enjoy a challenge, but Sharks showed once more how close they are to achieving that long-desired breakthrough to sunny uplands. May Campbell complete two more forward drives and Lotte Clapp swept over the line. Sharks nearly turned round 21-all, but Sarries are the come-back queens; Campbell again.
Sharks claimed their fourth try – no mean achievement – and Zoe Harrison’s two penalties showed how desperate Sarries were to stay ahead. Her kicking these days seems laser-controlled. They did pull away by the end, but the hosts can be very proud of their showing.
DMPDS 5 Worcester 74
Sale Sharks 26 Saracens 41
Wasps 22 Loughborough Lightning 41
Table P W L Pts
Saracens 11 10 1 48
Bristol 11 8 3 41
Exeter 11 8 3 38
Harlequins 10 7 3 35
Gloucester-H 11 6 5 33
Wasps 10 5 5 27
Loughborough 11 5 6 26
Worcester 9 3 6 12
Sale 11 1 10 7
DMPDS 10 0 10 0
DMP Durham Sharks v Worcester Warriors
Referee: Neil Chivers
ARs: Fraser Gill and Simon O’Neil
Sale Sharks v Saracens
Referee: Nikki O’Donnell
ARs: James Gray and Peter Allan
Wasps v Loughborough Lightning
Referee: Ben Simpson
ARs: Jason Newell and Anthony Gordon-Eales
with thanks to rugbyreferee.net
The non-availability of players has reached a worrying peak. Wasps have been posting teams one and two short of the 23 permitted, but for the Lightning game there were only 20. I can’t remember another example in Prem 15s history. DMP had 21 players listed, Lightning 22. That is three out of six clubs short-staffed.
This is the first time I’ve found myself concerned about the reduction in squad size to 40.
Of the possible causes of absence the collision of 7s and 15s calls should already have been addressed.
The England 7s squad keeps on changing. With only ten core players nominated, it means James Rodwell is always looking for at least two more to attend a competition. Injuries such as Amy Wilson Hardy’s leave more gaps. In Malaga no fewer than six non-core players were added in: Chantelle Miell (Saracens), Ellie Boatman (Wasps), Georgina Tasker (Lightning), Heather Cowell (Quins), Kelly Smith and Tatyana Heard (both Gloucester-Hartpury). Fixture delays meant that Miell, Boatman and Tasker were missing from important AP 15s matches