Barnes vs East London Ladies (20th March 2016)
What a brave performance
I’m not sure I can speak for everyone, but I have to say that I don’t think that my body has felt so beaten up from any game we’ve played so far this season – including the game against Lewes who were some pretty tough competitors. I don’t know whether it’s the fact that our league hopes were dashed that makes the pain a little worse, or whether it was just that the East London Ladies front row steam-rollered me (all of us) on several occasions during the game.
In the animal kingdom, bright colours are generally associated with danger…it was definitely so in the rugby kingdom on Sunday as the luminous pink socks and bright blue and pink scrum caps of East London ladies bore down on the ball from the kick off. They executed their game plan with ease, and it was clear from how confident and comfortable they were with the ball in hand that this has been how they’ve dominated the league this season (except for when we smashed them at the start of the season of course.)
We pinned them back in their half for the first 5 or 6 minutes, our defense holding strong, not letting them pass through the middle and halting them along the edges of the pitch with some superb tackling from our wings and fullback when they had a stab out wide. But we weren’t able to hold them indefinitely and a great spell of play by their backs off a break down in the middle of the pitch saw them narrowly scrape a try in the left-hand corner of the pitch.
We reassembled and chased up the field on the restart, but were pushed back into our own half for a bit longer than we were comfortable with. We wrestled East London Ladies back downfield and although the scrums were tough, we stayed steady and managed to keep them from scoring for a good 10 minutes or so, with a bit of too-and-fro in territory as we traded blows. We weren’t able to capitalise when we had ground on them and again they slowly clawed their way back into our half. Before long, they’d managed to swing the ball out to the right, pushing over in the corner for another try.
We lifted our heads at the restart and stuck to our game plan, putting in the crashes and working hard at the breakdown to keep possession and deliver some quick ball for the backs to use. In a rare moment when we caught the East London Ladies’ defence off guard, the ball swung beautifully through the hands of the backs, with Em getting it just outside our 22m line and running an incredibly zig-zaggy route to outsmart the opposition and dot down under the posts, with our captain safely converting for the extra 2 points.
We were back in the hunt and the points had definitely helped to boost our spirits as we rucked harder and cleared out better at the breakdown. Another superb passage of play saw us forcing an error from East London about 8m off their try line. The scrum was solid and the ball flew out of the set piece for Amelia to take a chance at a gap in their defensive line. She almost made it through and tried her best to execute and Antony Watson-esque twist to place the ball but wasn’t able to ground it. Before long it was half time and we had five minutes of respite.
In the second half, the grind continued. We seemed to match them well at the beginning of the half and even the fresh legs from the substitutions in their forward pack weren’t enough to swing the momentum in their favour. We learned to hold them off in the scrums and Kaeli’s appearance as a sub at hooker proved quite useful as we managed to steal one of their put-ins. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to capitalise on it and it seemed that the game carried on with us exchanging possession and penalties, Lorraine’s kicks driving us into their half, their tight-head prop’s mighty boot pushing us back into our own.
Eventually, with about 3 minutes left to play, East London Ladies hammered the last nail into the coffin with a try down the blind side of the set piece. We managed to hold them off for a while, but it was clearly a move that they’d practiced before and their blind side flanker peeled off a still-standing maul to crash down over the try line far on the right hand corner.
It was a heart breaking moment. The second half had flown by and although we thought we might still be able to get some points in at the end of the half, we only had a minute to spare. That didn’t stop us from playing our hearts out, but it wasn’t our day and the team that had composure for about 10 minutes more than we did ultimately took the game.
There were some positives in the defeat, one being that it will make us stronger in future and has brought us closer as a team. There were some of us carrying injuries but we got Eve to strap and tape us up to within an inch of our existence, and we went out onto the pitch and gave our all.
Another positive was seeing how much that win meant to East London Ladies, and that the loss for us wasn’t a throw away for them – it was just as big a game for them on the day. As gutted as we were to lose, seeing some of the East London Ladies in tears of joy, realising that the league is theirs (they should win their remaining two fixtures fairly comprehensively) was a reminder of the fact that other teams have ached, bled and worked as hard as we have this season. Despite the stature and power behind the team, and the scary screams from their hooker every time the scrum set, they’re a good team who seem to have progressed the way Barnes has over the last 7 months. It’s hard to say because the defeat hurts, but well done to the East London Ladies.
Highlights of the game
• Our spirit: By the end of the game I don’t believe there was a single player who hadn’t left their heart and soul out on the field. We put everything we had into the match – our aching bodies are a clear testament to this. The way we looked after one another and played for each other speaks volumes about us and what we’ve become as a team. Perhaps this season was just a test run – next season we’ll be incredible!
• Our supporters: And what great numbers we had!
o The whole Stone family was present, and Jo’s parents popped in to see her making some solid tackles.
o Kaeli had a whole contingent of supporters in Darien, Andrew, Kelly and Ruby – and we can’t forget Mike with his ‘Teddy on tour’.
o Our very own Barnes 1st XV Loose-head prop Tom kept Andy company – absolutely fantastic to have some representation from the men’s team on the side lines.
o Cathryn, Nat (taking photos) Noleen, Grace and Jo were cheering us on.
o Ever faithful Pete supported us from the side lines – don’t judge him for being Welsh!
o And Mr Davies, passing on the very true words that it was a ‘very exciting match, and we will all have learned a lot’ was present with the post-match chocolates as always.
o The handsome Golding brothers were there to cheer on their little sister
o And finally, Zoe and Abbi, looking after us as always back at the clubhouse when we’re battered and bruised and in need of food and a stiff drink!
o Apologies if anyone has been missed out, but we were very thankful for your support, it meant a lot to hear so many people cheering us on, we’ve never had a turn out like that but we certainly hope we’ll have so many supporters in future!
• Our support team: we can’t thank Eve enough for all the amazing strapping that happened before the game, I think for some of us it was the only thing holding our bodies together! And the on field support was top notch as always. Bethan turned up with the goodies (naturally) and ferried the water and good spirits onto the field. There’s a rumour that there may have been some fairly enthusiastic side line commentary from our beloved forwards coach during the game that would have had Andy blushing, but it was good to hear the directions and instructions coming out across the field to pick us up and get us back in the game when our shoulders dropped . As always, Nat maintained a steely silence at the edge of the pitch, but gave us the right words of encouragement in the huddle just when we needed them. It was great to have Andy with us too, guiding us through the warm up and watching from the sidelines. What an amazing coaching team we have!
• Forward and back of the match: As mentioned, Kaeli put in another stellar performance, but Anna holding it together for us in the scrums and putting in the big hits in defense made for a much deserved forward of the match award. Em’s running and superb tackling earned her back of the match – not forgetting that dizzying try!
It’s good to have a rest this weekend and to spend some time with our family and friends. Lorraine is arranging for us to hopefully have a game of touch rugby with our Veterans team on Tuesday – they really are a nice bunch of guys and we could definitely pick up a thing or two from them as they’ve learned a lot of tricks in their years of rugby. There should also be a run through session at 7:45pm on Thursday, so please make yourself available to attend that as we’ll need to get our heads back into game mode ahead of our plate match with Windsor on 3rd April.
Happy Easter everyone, stay safe.