Source: PWR

Another Battle of the Giants – PWR – Round Five

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Exeter Chiefs and Gloucester-Hartpury met once more; once more G-H proved the stronger. How must Susie Appleby have felt at seeing the side she built up and left getting the better of her new club again?

It was as tight as you could wish at Sandy Park, the visitors creeping ahead at the close with some wonderful rugby. A long cross-kick by Lleucu George bounced twice as two opponents rushed to collect; Mia Venner was first there, then had to use a deadly feint to escape and accelerate to the line. A worthy clincher.

It shouldn’t have been like that: they had a decisive lead at the break, 7-19, and all the tries to forwards. But two tries by Claudia MacDonald changed the shape of the game. One of them came from yet another ill-considered kick out of defence; an awkward bounce, a jink, and the England winger was in open country.

This was a win that may prove decisive by the end of the regular season. The winners looked almost too exhausted to enjoy post-match celebrations.

Result: 27-31

Bristol Bears v Trailfinders

Bears get on top at once. Two minutes seems to be the favourite moment to tick the board over this season. A traditional line-out, catch-and-drive and try (Lana Skeldon) do the job. Holly Aitchison uses a post to get her kick over (7-0).

On six minutes TF enter the opponents’ 22 for the first time. They can’t repeat Bears’ efficiency, but Ella Amory’s cross-kick is almost captured by Julia Schell and TF exert pressure. Ellie Green gets them off the mark with a penalty from in front. 7-3

The forward battle gets interesting. TF are able to drive a scrum and put pressure of the home defences. Green repeats her medicine to bring the visitors within a point. 7-6

Bears widen the gap with a second for Skeldon. 12-8. But TF show they are in for the long run; on the half-hour Rosie Inman finishes off a sweeping movement in the left corner. 12-11 Tries away from home count for so much.

Another Green pot at goal strikes the post; otherwise TF would have gone into the warm two points up. Be honest: did you predict that?

Half-time: 12-11

Giselle Mather makes her first adjustments: Andrea Stock and Elisa Riffonneau come into the front row. Result: TF have the nerve to take the lead: Green slots her third penalty. 12-14

The worry for Bears is that they are not commanding the field. They remain close enough to their own line for Green to add her fourth kick. What is happening? 12-17. Title-contenders 5 points down at home to babes in arms?

Ah! Here is the answer: on 55 minutes the England front row are at last allowed to strut their stuff. Hannah Botterman makes her typical contribution to affairs by bundling over between the posts. 19-17 Next it’s Lark Atkin-Davies’ turn to cross. 26-17

From here the tide turns. The question is how TF would have fared if Bears had started with their strongest Fifteen.

It’s noteworthy that Meryl Smith is entrusted with the kicks. That’s good news for Scotland, if not for Trailfinders.

As the game moves into its last quarter Phoebe Murray completes a nice move, helped by a neat off-load from Meg Varley. 31-17 Varley adds a second to emphasise Bears’ superiority. 36-17 Meryl Smith is the last to turn the knife, just before the close.

The shape of the game distantly recalls games played by Wasps a few years ago. There it was Liz Goulden accepting offers of penalty kicks at goal, but that way the score rises far more slowly than through tries. So here, Ellie Green’s fine kicking couldn’t keep pace with Bears’ torrent of tries.

Result: 41-17


Bristol Bears:

15 Jenny Hesketh, 14 Meg Varley, 13 Phoebe Murray, 12 Amber Reed (co-captain), 11 Ella Lovibond, 10 Holly Aitchison, 9 Keira Bevan, 1 Gwenllian Pyrs, 2 Lana Skeldon, 3 Elliann Clarke, 4 Hollie Cunningham, 5 Abbie Ward (co-captain), 6 Alisha Butchers, 7 Claire Molloy, 8 Rownita Marston-Mulhearn
16 Lark Atkin-Davies, 17 Hannah Botterman, 18 Sarah Bern, 19 Gabriella Nigrelli, 20 Evie Gallagher, 21 Meg Davies, 22 Meryl Smith, 23 Deborah Wills


1 Liz Crake, 2 Cristina Blanco, 3 Sara Seye, 4 Amelia Buckland-Hurry, 5 Tyson Beukeboom, 6
Rowena Burnfield, 7 Megan Barwick, 8 Kate Zackary, 9 Ella Amory, 10 Ellie Green, 11 Rosie
Inman, 12 Carys Cox, 13 Julia Schell, 14 Vicky Laflin, 15 Abby Dow
16 Elisa Riffonneau, 17 Amanda McQuade, 18 Andrea Stock, 19 Shannon Ikahihifo, 20 Lauren
Brooks, 21 Lindelwa Gwala, 22 Sophie Molton, 23 Jess Cooksey

Sale Sharks v Loughborough Lightning

There was a welcome tight struggle at the CorpAcq as Lightning had to work hard to subdue Sharks. The league needs more of these low-scoring close finishes to retain its honour. Lightning did just enough to ensure a vital bonus point. 12-24

Leicester Tigers v Saracens

Another shock opening: Francesca McGhie puts the Tigers in front in four minutes! Meg Jones made the big break to open up defences. That shakes off any travel fatigue Sarries may have suffered, in no time Sharifa Kasolo gives an answer.

But the bookies are getting worried: Morgan Richardson adds Tigers’ second after an extended period threatening the line, 12-5 Marlie Packer comes off the bench in the 18th minute to replace Grace Moore; Austerberry isn’t dithering. the almost inevitable result: try Packer!

As with Trailfinders, Tigers can’t keep up the pace, and Sarries’ overwhelming strength of international players ensures the biggest total of the day. They complete ten tries to refute the idea of an ever narrowing competition.


Bristol Bears 41 Trailfinders 17
Exeter Chiefs 27 Gloucester-Hartpury 31
Leicester Tigers 17 Saracens 60
Sale Sharks 12 Loughborough Lightning 24

Table ​​​

                                    P​     W​      L​      B    Pts

Saracens                  4       4       ​0        4    20
Exeter​​​                       4      3        1        5     17
Bears       ​​                 5       3      2         3     15
Glos-Pury         ​​      3        3      0        2      14
Lightning                4        2     2          2     10
Trailfinders      ​​​      4         1     3          2       6
Harlequins  ​​           4       1       3          2       6  ​
Sale         ​​                 3       1       2          1       5
Tigers​​​                      5       0       5          1       1


There’s just one more round to fit in before the Christmas break; it’s Tigers’ turn to sit out. Then it’s the traditional gap till 6 January 2024, when we will be only one year away from the next World Cup.

Gloucester-Hartpury’s suspended 5-point deduction for failing to have medical support on site is not the first time this shortage has occurred. We have to wonder what the RFU deems a sensible reaction. Perhaps to request two ambulances to attend, to double the chances one of them will be able to honour the engagement. It’s not as if rugby clubs have any sort of control over the NHS ambulance service and parallel voluntary organisations. The government certainly doesn’t.

What an irony if a club was denied the trophy thanks to events entirely beyond its control.

Of the twelve officials on duty only one is female.