Haringey Rhinos Ladies vs Barnes Ladies (13th December 2015)
A lovely little Christmas stocking filler
Sunday’s match saw Barnes Ladies playing their last game of the year over in Haringey at the lovely new sports complex on White Hart Lane. And what a way to end the year it was, with victory sealing us the top spot in the league going into the Christmas break.
Having been threatened with death and destruction for any late arrivals, we all managed to be out and warming up on the pitch before 1pm so we could walk through the changes that had been made in the team selection owing to a number of the usual stalwarts being unavailable. The back line had an interesting mix up (little did we know how effective it would be) while the forward pack remained largely unchanged with the exception of a few valuable additions from the Hammersmith and Fulham Ladies ranks who had joined us to get a game in and help bolster our numbers.
Having kitted up in what can only be described as a prison cell with coat hooks, we padded out onto the field with Nat (looking slightly worse for wear) taking us through the warm-up and settling the backs into their new positions – Amelia making her debut at 9, Fran bossing the game at 10 and Lorraine crashing down the middle at inside centre.
The ref brought some good banter onto the field, and offered a few anecdotes and coaching pointers on our line outs while the Haringey Rhinos warmed up down pitch from us. As with every team we’ve played against so far this season, their squad looked like a formidably tight unit as they practiced their drills.
With the Stone family, our Dave, Chloe, Emily’s Harry and Ruth’s brother all on the side-line, the whistle blew and battle commenced as the Rhinos received the ball and immediately set about trying to cut through our defense with their pacey backs. The Barnes defensive line was solid and although the Haringey Ladies forwards were both strong and quick, we rushed up to them and closed down their attempts to crash through the middle, swing the ball out to the wings or even think about looking for gaps to sneak into.
That said, the first 10 minutes seemed to be a battle of the scrums thanks to a few infringements and sloppy play by both teams as we struggled to settle into the game. The Haringey Ladies’ pack was strong and put the pressure on in each scrum - it was clear that their forwards were a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, following the collapse of a big maul their loose head prop picked up a calf injury and scrums went on uncontested for the rest of the game.
There was a lot of running and smashing from both teams, but about 20 minutes into the half Amelia popped the ball up off the scrum into Em’s hands and she zig-zagged through the Rhinos’ defence to draw first blood under the posts. A neat little conversion put us 7 up on the board. That was the only score of the half as both teams rolled through the phases to close out the first 35 minutes of the game, with territory being slightly in Barnes’ favour.
The start of the second half seemed to catch Barnes Ladies off guard, and shortly after the kick off, the Rhinos found a gap in our line and pushed through our defenders who were slightly out of position. They touched down near the posts and converted cleanly to bring the scores level.
For a little while following the restart, the game seemed to become a bit of a kicking fest, with Barnes not capitalising on our line outs which meant that we handed possession back to the Rhinos who ultimately resorted to kicking the ball down field to try and push the pressure out of their half. This worked for a while until Eleonore opted to charge the ball down with her face…KO!
There was a spell of play around the 65th minute when a series of silly errors undid our good work and Haringey’s Ladies rumbled right up to our try line, but we held such a solid defensive line that they couldn’t break through. Not even their attempt at rolling a maul forwards to claim a try was successful – the bunch collapsed in on itself with the ball less than a meter out from the line. The Rhinos maintained possession and tried to swing the ball out to the right only to knock it on just outside the whitewash as a result of the incredible discipline and pressure that Barnes executed in defense. Unfortunately the big effort did take its toll, with a few players picking up injuries off the back of the hard won battle.
After clearing the threat, we continued to set up camp in their half – pushing up at the line with some solid attacking and great communication around breakdowns as we ground out phase-after-phase to edge ourselves back up the field. With 8 minutes to go, a sneaky little move off the blind side of the scrum saw Lorraine charging hard at the try line, only to be cut down a few meters out. Fortunately, Amelia’s excellent work rate at 9 meant that she was up on Lorraine’s shoulder, ready to take in the offload and slice through the defence to crash over the line for a superb try.
With the game drawing in and Haringey desperate to get their numbers back down the field and out of their half, they made another attempt to drive the ball clear with a long kick, but Em was waiting for it and took the ball into hand after it bounced backwards through her fingers. With her ears pinned back and legs set at warp speed, she darted between the Rhino’s broken defence, narrowly outpacing three defenders on the left wing to punch through and dot down under the posts, setting up the last easy conversion for our Captain to slot between the posts as the final whistle went.
Highlights of the day:
• Back and Forward of the match: Laura for back of the day, finding the space down the right in the second half with a steaming run up field and some good, solid handling. Eleonore’s face charge and relentless tackle-after-tackle performance earned her the forward of the day bragging rights – although in hindsight it’s probably not a good idea to ask the person who got knocked out to down a pint!
• Finding the gaps: Fran, Ruth and Rhi all had superb little bursts down the field, and Fran’s tackling was on point!
• Solid as a rock: Ian and Rosie were incredible in defense, they were up in the face of the attackers off every breakdown. And possibly the best defensive move of the day was the one where the Rhinos hooker slammed into the brick wall that is Ian and came off second best – such a quality move, totally legal and the ref loved it too!
• Our speedsters on the wings: Laura, Georgena and Emily had a great day, with the ball sailing swiftly through their hands along with their serious defensive moves whenever the Rhinos tried to sprint their way up field along the touch lines. Em was fantastic at full back too!
• Our players on loan: we can’t thank our friends at Hammersmith and Fulham (Lauren, Paulina and Georgena) enough for joining us and for making such an impact in defense, in our scrums and on the wing. You’re welcome to join us for the remaining games on your loan sheets!
• Our supporters: Mr Stone was there as ever, with some new faces this week – Mrs Stone, Junior Stone and Chloe, Harry and Ruth’s brother. We are also grateful that Dave travelled up to support from the side line, as he called the play that lead to our second try of the game.
• Coach and Captain: despite Andy and Leslie's absence, Nat managed to keep us all in check for the game – it was possibly the threat of the beasting he was going to rain down on us in the New Year if we didn’t win that kept us honest. Lorraine as always, lead the charge from the front, although we did fear there was going to be a carding for some off the ball ‘argy-bargy’ at the start of the game! Come back to the forwards Cap – we missed you!
And now we have a break to rest up, unwind and spend time with loved ones. Let’s all have a safe festive season and come back fit and ready to focus on keeping our spot at the top of the league. We’ve still got some tough games ahead in the New Year, but for now let’s soak up the satisfaction of what we’ve achieved as a team in 2015 – both as players and as coaches.