Barnes Ladies vs Millwall Ladies (1st November 2015)
By Ashley Brandon
Two for two...
First off, what a fantastic turn out for the game on Sunday. The numbers were great with subs for both backs and forwards. It definitely made a difference to the tempo of the game in the second half with big hitters Kaeli and Anna subbing on to make a massive impact for our forward pack, and fleet footed Emily challenging the defence for our backs. It's really reassuring to be building up that level of depth and quality in the team. Our newbies are proving to be a real force to be reckoned with!
There was a great buzz in the packed changing room on Sunday afternoon, it definitely felt like Barnes were up for the game despite some players looking a lighter shade of green from the previous evenings Halloween celebrations - pretty sure it wasn't just residue from the make-up left over from Saturday nights costumes.
Once out on the pitch, we should have taken the heavy hanging mist as good indication of the weight of the game ahead. To make sure we got a solid 15s game in, we handed Tracy over to Millwall Ladies to help them get their numbers up to a full quota.
Barnes started the game off with a lofty kick up the left of the field, and within minutes we were switching out our fullback...thank the porcelain gods for rolling subs! New Emily, subbed in and had a little trot up the left but our surge was cut short just over the 22m line. Which was where we seemed to set up camp for the first 25 minutes of the game. Millwall ladies' defence was solid. They were determined not to let us through, and at times we made it easy for them to pin us back with fumbling hands, some errors in playing the ball while on the ground, and not rolling away.
They managed to break through our line and push us back down to our 22m where a penalty gave them a good vantage point to set up for the first try of the game, forcing their way through our backs as our forwards were slow getting up in support. It was a well worked try by Millwall. The frustration started to show and even though our scrums were just about holding, Millwall Ladies slowly started to unpick us bit-by-bit. We tried to get quick ball out to the wings but Millwall read our game plan and shut us down. Their disciplined defence in the midfield meant that even powerful attacking runs from our human battering rams Eleonore, Rosie and Bethan were held at bay despite some serious efforts from them. Amelia pushed up at the line from the left wing a good few times, making some really strong breaks but not quite getting the support she needed to be able to get us across the line.
For the last five minutes of the first half, we resumed our position agonisingly close to the try line but never quite crossing it. After a spell of scrums we managed to close the half out with a sensational try from Em, who'd returned to the field and managed to sneak up the right side of the pitch to dot down in the corner.
The half time talk was stern. Dave, Nat and Lorraine highlighted areas for improvement and sent us back out to face the second half. It seemed to work as we started to move the ball through hands a bit more securely and doubled up in attack so that we were holding onto possession a bit better. There was a fantastic passage of play where Lorraine managed to execute a Sonny Bill Williams style back handed offload to send the backs tantalisingly close to the try line. Laura and Hellie got in the mix too with some solid hands and attacking runs at the Millwall Ladies defence, but it was Rhiannon who drew first blood in the second half, smashing through defenders to cross the whitewash.
Wear and tear on the team meant that our subs started to roll onto the field from about the 55th minute. Unfortunately, following a big effort by GB at 9 her knee gave in and she had to be carted off the field by Nat. Jo subbed on to resume scrum marshalling duties for the rest of the game. Kaeli and Anna subbed on for our forwards and made an immediate difference to the game. Kaeli was throwing Millwall bodies all over the place in defence, while Anna (despite the hangover and kick to the head) managed to stop a speedy attacker twice her size dead in her tracks.
Momentum shifted for us as Em switched on the speed to cross the whitewash twice early in the last half, making it a hat-trick for the match. 'Five' did her usual L-shaped manoeuvres from the middle and left of the field all the way out to the right wing before straightening up and powering over the line, tiring out and dodging defenders as she went. I'm sure she only does it because she loves running so much, it's her favourite thing!
The Millwall Ladies made it clear that they weren't going to give up without a fight, and managed to get through our defence with about 7 or 8 minutes to go off the back of handling errors from Barnes. Just as the game was wrapping up, our captain (who had kicked two conversions and put in countless brutal tackles) managed to pull her calf muscle again. She'd done a proper job on it this time, and for the last few minutes while she received expert medical attention from the Millwall physio (we're really grateful for her assistance - another wonderful South African) the red and black jerseys managed one final push over the line to close out the game.
Highlights of the game:
Our army volunteered photographer Jess who took some brilliant shots of the game - Thanks!
The fact that we had so many subs to choose from, and the quality of play that they added to the field when they stepped onto it.
More freshly blooded newbies - Kaeli and Emily making their Barnes debuts for us this weekend.
Our lineouts were solid, with Roishi managing to disrupt Millwall on a couple of occasions and steal one off them.
Jen managing to put in a full game despite it being her turn to cough up a lung for this game.
Our players of the match: Em for 'd*ck of the day', Rhiannon as 'back of the match' for her massive try, Obama for her debut and immense tackling, and the horrifically hungover Rosie as 'forward of the match' for her solid defence and her dogged attacking.
Our spectators, who seem to be growing by the week - Special thanks to Rhi's dad for being there to make sure she crossed the try line at least once, and our very own adopted mascot Dave who attempted to bribe Lorraine with Guinness from the side lines if she made her conversions.
Millwall's Ladies were a formidable team and deserve our utmost respect for showing us where our weaknesses lie despite our win. They managed to play against us for a full 80 minutes with pretty much the same 15 players (with the exception of Tracy who returned to us at half time) and still kept their heads up, fighting back with so much heart in the second half despite being three tries and two conversions down. That said, we came away with a victory and we need keep that winning momentum with us going into our next game. It was a scrappy win but we know we can do better and we will.
And with this in mind it seems only fitting to thank the coaching team we've accumulated this season. We've gone from Andy doing a great job of coaching us (or herding cats as he's referred to the experience before) all on his own (and I'm fairly certain he had a full head of hair before pre-season training started) to being directed by a coaching combination that now consists of our backs coach, former Leicester Tigers player Nat Mabbett (who has played positions 6-15 in his career) along side former Canadian Women's International Team captain and loose head prop Leslie Cripps as our forwards coach, with Andy still firmly at the helm as Head Coach due to his many, many, many, many years of wisdom and rugby experience. Barnes Ladies are holding our own so far this season, with a two game winning streak that we're confident we can continue to extend. We're incredibly fortunate to have a coaching team of such calibre and can only thank them for the time and effort that they're putting into us this season - we hope we can continue to do them proud. Ladies, let's demonstrate just how much we appreciate their efforts by keeping our numbers up at training on Tuesdays.
We've got an away game with Kilburn Cosmos this weekend, let's push on to make it three in a row Ladies.