Source: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

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Celtic Challenge – Round 5

Quite apart from some intense men’s Six Nations matches, there was competition in the women’s sector all over the place: a European Championship match, three PWR games, and the end of the first stage of the Celtic Challenge. All covered here in brief.

European Championship – Netherlands 59 Sweden 0, Amsterdam

A one-sided show, bringing as much heartache for Tamara Taylor and her Nordic side as delight
for the Oranjes.

The good news here is that the top end of the Euro champs has been extended to four nations, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden. It is the last two who have been making waves recently. The only pity is that all four are located in western Europe. The presence of an all-Georgian team of officials in Amsterdam reminds us of the importance of the other half of the continent.

Referee: Nino Eloshvili (GEO)
ARs: Khaka Gelozia (GEO) and Mariam Goguadze (GEO)

Next match: 24 February, Portugal v Netherlands, Lisbon

PWR – Round 10

Leicester Tigers 26 Gloucester-Hartpury 33
Bristol Bears 22 Exeter Chiefs 12
Saracens 48 Trailfinders 17

Bottom versus top should have led to an inevitable result, but Tigers rattled the apple-cart by taking the lead through Roisin McBrien. Even more surprising, they led the champions at the break 19-7.

They gave the cart another shake after the break. Amelia Tutt went over by the corner-flag, and Meg Jones still managed to convert. That was a bonus point for the league stragglers against the unbeaten champions. Funny game, rugby.

Then the progression we had expected before kick-off; G-H started their climb back. Perhaps it was inevitable that the scores were equal as play moved into the last ten minutes, 26-26. That scoreline has a history in the Prem 15s league.

And yes! G-H did get a vital decider through Emma Sing with only two left on the clock. Lleucu George converted that as well. 26-33.

So G-H continue their unbeaten run, but they had to come back from a 19-point deficit. I’m not supposed to say they had their reserve team out today, but they did.

Bristol Bears v Exeter

It was nervously cagey in the first half at Shaftesbury Park. 5-10. But two tries by Debs Wills in four minutes put a smile back on the faces of the viewing faithful. 15-12, and the Bears now had the benefit of the strong wind.

When Meg Varley went over for Bears’ fourth offering, they could begin to breathe more easily. That was the bonus-point and a 10-point gap squeezed open. It was to stay that way till the end, and Bears could look the world squarely in the face, after an up-and-down start to the season.

Back in November I had had them as sure-fire play-off contenders; it has taken them half the season to prove themselves. For Chiefs this was another unwelcome upset to their plans.

Saracens v Trailfinders

It was the usual tale at the StoneX, Sarries far too strong for the visitors, though once again TF were perfectly capable of scoring a string of fine tries. They held Sarries to a 10-point margin to the break, but found keeping defences tight increasingly hard.

Still to come: Quins v Sale Sharks at the Stoop.

Celtic Challenge – Round 5

The weekend matches decided the finishing order for the play-offs yet to come.

Results:

Edinburgh Rugby 35 Clovers 21
Wolfhounds 36 Gwalia Lightning 24
Brython 22 Glasgow Warriors 12

So Wolfhounds completed an unbeaten run and Brython gained their first win.

Edinburgh Rugby v Clovers

A throughly entertaining game, with plenty of movement and endeavour from both sides.

Clovers’ six changes were partly a reward for good performances last time (Panashe Muzambe’s last-minute winning try), and another chance to look at new combinations. The play-offs still beckoned.

The game started fast with good continuity by both sides.

Clovers took the lead as a short chip to the line bounced awkwardly for Edinburgh’s Nicole Marlow, and Alana McInerney was there to touch down. 0-7

Yet another wonderful break by Emma Orr led to the hosts’ opening try. No wonder the Scarratt- Hunt selection partnership opted for her in the 13 shirt for the Lions. Scorer Molly Poolman. 7-7

There was a nasty moment when Méabh Deely turned base over apex in a tackle, but she had leapt into the air pre-contact, so the referee’s verdict was a yellow card only for Nicole Flynn. Edinburgh paid the extra penalty with a try to Niamh O’Dowd after a series of patient build-ups. 7-14

On the half-hour Clovers had their third, quick hands delivering the ball to Chisom Ugwueru on the left. They needed to pile on the points before the break; the wind was proving a valuable friend. They were helped by a wonderful conversion into the strong breeze by Dealy.

Yet another break by Orr brought a try for Millie Whitehouse who latched on to a short pop-pass to go over.

Clovers were relieved to be able to hoof the ball out of play at the end of an exciting half. The one recurrent weakness was losing ball on contact.

Half-time: 12-21

Orr once again finished a flowing move, spotting a gap in the defence line and galloping right through. The momentum was all with them now – so was the wind.

Marlow profited from a penalty right in front to narrow the gap (15-21), but it took the hosts a long while to cash in, the scoreboard stuck on 20-21. Only ten minutes were left when constant pressure led to the captain, Sarah Denholm, crashing over the line. From there they dominated the game, to add another dozen points and ensure entry to Pool A of the play-offs.

Teams:

Edinburgh Rugby
15. Nicole Marlow (Cardiff Met), 14. Nicole Flynn (University of Edinburgh), 13. Emma Orr (Heriot’s/ Biggar), 12. Lisa Thomson (GB Sevens), 11. Cieron Bell (University of Edinburgh), 10. Sarah Denholm (captain, University of Edinburgh), 9. Leia Brebner-Holden (Gloucester Hartpury and Cheltenham Tigers), 1. Panashe Muzambe (Exeter Chiefs), 2. Millie Whitehouse (University of Edinburgh), 3. Molly Poolman (Watsonians), 4. Adelle Ferrie (Corstorphine Cougars), 5. Natasha Logan (University of Edinburgh), 6. Merryn Gunderson (Corstorphine Cougars), 7. Alex Stewart (Corstorphine Cougars), 8. Freya Walker (Watsonian)

Bench
16. Aila Ronald (University of Edinburgh), 17. Poppy Fletcher (University of Edinburgh), 18. Katie Lindsay (Corstorphine Cougars), 19. Fiona McIntosh (Saracens), 20. Samanther Taganekurukuru (Stirling County), 21. Jenny Maxwell (Loughborough Lightning), 22. Briar McNamara (Watsonians), 23. Hannah Walker (University of Edinburgh)

Clovers
15. Méabh Deely (Connacht), 14. Chisom Ugwueru (Munster), 13. Aoife Corey (Munster), 12. Kayla Waldron (Connacht), 11. Alana McInerney (Munster), 10. Kate Flannery (Munster), 9. Ailsa Hughes (Leinster), 1. Niamh O’Dowd (Leinster), 2. Beth Buttimer (Munster), 3. Róisín Ormond (Munster), 4. Ruth Campbell (Leinster), 5. Dorothy Wall (captain, Munster), 6. Jane Clohessy (Munster), 7. Brianna Heylmann (Munster), 8. Shannon Touhey (Connacht)

Bench
16. Aoife Fleming (Munster), 17. Grainne Burke (Munster), 18. Roisin Maher (Connacht), 19. Claire Bennett (Munster), 20. Sarah McCormick (Connacht), 21. Muirne Wall (Munster), 22. Michelle O’Driscoll (Munster), 23. Amy Larn (Leinster)

The Table after 5 Rounds                W    L    B    Pts

Pool A Qualifiers
Wolfhounds                                            5     0     4      24
Edinburgh Rugby                                  4      1     4      20
Clovers                                                     3      2     3      14

Pool B Qualifiers
Gwalia Lightning                                   2      3     4      12
Brython Thunder                                   1      4     2        6
Glasgow Warriors                                  0      5     0       0

Rounds 6, 7 and 8 will each involve two matches, to be played on 17 and 24 February and 3 March.

Afterthoughts:

One small detail: the officials for each match have come from the host nation. Wouldn’t it be possible for neutrals to do the job next season? That would require extra expense; is that the reason for their absence at the moment?

Ireland take the honours at the halfway stage, finishing first and third.

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