And Talking Points from the start of the new PWR
Just the one game left over from yesterday, but its interest lay in the debut of Leicester Tigers. Could they outdo the other newcomers, Trailfinders Women, to record a win on debut?
The outlook was dim; Chiefs are dead set on achieving a first ever top spot in the league. Let’s see how it worked out.
Leicester Tigers 27 Exeter Chiefs 44
The established team got the win it expected, but the other half of the scoreline is a huge tribute to Tigers. Can Chiefs really have expected to concede four (bonus point) tries?
It’s difficult not to compare Tigers with Trailfinders yesterday. Both got off the mark with a penalty, the one at Welford Road by Meg Jones. They didn’t manage to take the lead, but they did draw level at 15-15. That’s when the opposing management knows it was wise to emphasise the strength of the new opponents pre-match.
Tigers’ proud try-scorers were Meg Jones* (just before the break, with a delightful chip and chase) Caroline (Caz) Collie (straight after the break), Francesca McGhie (another Scot, with a winger’s special) and finally Becky Noon, well known in Prem 15s circles.
But Chiefs’ greater know-how and togetherness helped them get close to a half-century of points.
The two games involving the debutants were of vital importance for the future of the league. Tigers and Trailfinders simply had to prove they deserved to be sitting at the top table alongside the grown-ups. This they most certainly did.
It’s impossible to know what the two DoRs really expected from them. All their talk in preparation will have been of optimism and confidence. But back at home? Probably something closer to hope that the players would enjoy the occasion and put on a good show.
And they went better than that. A reminder of yesterday’s score: Trailfinders Women 17 Harlequins 22; just a 5-point margin against a past winner of the trophy. Then today: a half-time score of 10-15, plus a final bonus for all those tries.
Inevitably it takes a good while for players coming from such different backgrounds to settle in to a uniform style of play, but they have the advantage of being in the hands of two experienced DoRs. Now comes the big challenge of recording that first victory. ‘Gallant losers’ is not a term they want to hear.
Life doesn’t get easier for them. Next week Trailfinders welcome the once permanent trophy holders, Saracens, while Tigers go hunting in the west country, facing the current champions, Gloucester-Hartpury.
*we have to be careful this season; three Jones in the starting XV!
15 Swartz 14 Collie 13 M. Jones 12 De Filippo 11 McGhie 10 N. Jones (captain) 9 Nye 1 J. Jones 2 Bainbridge 3 Ugiagbe 4 Donaldson 5 Noon 6 Richardson 7 McBrien 8 Brody
Bench: 16 Martin 17 Bartlett 18 Sagapolu Sanele 19 Fray 20 Orrow 21 Relf 22 Childs 23 Feury
15 Cramer 14 Sinclair 13 Doidge 12 Cantorna 11 Buchanan 10 Tessier 9 Bradley 1 Swann 2 Moloney 3 Hanlon 4 Fryday 5 Millar-Mills 6 Jefferies 7 Leitch (captain) 8 Orchard
Bench: 16 Nielson 17 Middlebrooke 18 Sams 19 Van der Velden 20 Feaunati 21 Ortiz 22 Langford 23 Macdonald
Referee: Holly Wood
ARs: Ian Bibey and Simon Park with thanks to rugbyreferee.net
Who shall I play for?
When we see Ella Wyrwas appear in in the 58th minute for Sarries, we have to wonder how prepared top players are to figure for only a fraction of a game. Leanne Infante got the nod. One solution, Holly Aitchison’s move to Bristol meant that Alex Austerberry wasn’t confronted with choosing between her and Zoe Harrison, two outstanding 10s.
But one after another players move to a top club. The only way to counter this is for the PWR board to place limits on player movements, otherwise known as restraint of trade. Lawyers rub their hands at the very thought.
When everyone returning from WXV is deemed fit to complete a full 80 minutes, we will see how selectors resolve the problem of having two top international players competing for one position.
Cards for Sale
The opening round has offered us a blizzard of cards, the most serious a red for Shannon Ikahihifo for a high tackle.
The questions remain: are cards having their desired effect, to reduce in number as players improve their techniques? The answer must be a regretful no!
Things grow quite complicated: it was Trailfinders who went a player down inside the first half-hour, yet they finished only one score behind the mighty Quins, so a huge feather in their cap. Conversely, the Quins’ management must be concerned about their inability to put an inexperienced opposition away.
How the spectator reacts to such imbalances is not an issue to bother the lawmakers.
Mitchell facing big problems
But the head coach’s difficulties are of the right sort. Who exactly will form his support staff, and who will start for the Red Roses in the first Six Nations game in March?
Take the half-backs for instance: John Mitchell has to choose between Leanne Infante, Mo Hunt, Ella Wyrwas and Lucy Packer. My sequence gives away my preference. How much onfield time will Wyrwas get when she represents the same club as Infante?
When Zoe Harrison is fully back in the groove, does she get the nod or Holly Aitchison? In the past Simon Middleton’s option was to move one of them to the centre. But with the current strength there (and everywhere else in the back-line) that looks less certain. And we must hope that one day Emily Scarratt will be able to make the management’s task even harder.
Not a shadow of a doubt
The PWR reasserts its place as the top club league in the world. But there is a price to pay; as outstanding players arrive from abroad, who is left at home to act as the trend-setters for the local game?
The Italian league struggles to advance; Beatrice Rigoni’s move to Sale can’t possibly help the cause. And she is joined in England by Sara Seye, Silvia Turani and Sara Tounesi, to name but three. Other Azzurre operate in the French league.
When we look at the top four nations in the world, only Black Ferns have resisted coming to England, though other Kiwis have. French players too have been a rarity – two who did come over, Gaëlle Mignot then Léna Corson, were near the end of their careers, but Elisa Riffonneau’s move to Trailfinders is a hint of how the tide might turn. Canadians are in the PWR by the dozen, and making the positive impression we should all expect.