However, what we can’t ignore is the other girls that did not play today but are still, nevertheless, an integral part of the squad. If it wasn’t for all 34 girls that had played this season, whether this be in the National Cup, the Surrey Cup, or friendlies, each has supported the others and it was the squad, not today’s team, that got us to the final. I would therefore like to say a massive well done and a thank you to the following girls, many of whom had travelled to watch and cheer on the team today, who did not play but have helped get us to where we are. Abi Lunberg, Ava Magee, Belle Smalley, Eleni Davarias, Ellen Hutchinson, Emily Campbell, Erica Doane, Honey Morrison, Imogen Wheeler, Izzie Sheehan, Iris Matthews, Robyn Rooney, and Tess Hassan.
So, here we are, the final game of the season, competing to be crowned the best team in the country. Playing at Sixways Stadium, home of premiership rugby side Worcester Warriors, the girls ran onto the pitch in front of what must have been well over 1000 spectators, and braced themselves for what was to come.
With Cheltenham North kicking to OR’s, the ball was caught cleanly by captain Daisy Varney, who in typical fashion ran straight and hard at the opposing players setting up good early ruck ball. The way that OR’s took the ball into contact and rucked / counter rucked during the game would prove to be one of their real strengths today. When you have strong ball carriers in the shape of Holly Jackson and Elspeth Kinniburgh who drive low and hard it provides the platform for the rest of the team to play quick ball.
However, early nerves saw a number of balls dropped and stopped OR’s getting any real momentum and when the first scrum of the game was given to Cheltenham North after one such dropped ball, it allowed OR’s to show what they were made of up front. The shove from the second row combination of Pip Sutherland and Zoe Smith and the counter hook from Mia Newton saw OR’s win the first scrum against the head. As the commentator would later go on to say ‘the monster scrum’ and ‘monster pack’ of OR’s had put down an early marker of what they could do and there was no doubt that despite their larger stature, Cheltenham weren’t going to have things all their own way.
Ealy hits disrupted OR’s play and the team were unable to string consecutive phases together and any quick ball was denied. However, strong running from Bethany Willars and Ella Critchlow allowed OR’s to make slow progress up the pitch. Cheltenham were beginning to feel the pressure and began to give away a number of penalties. The forwards, marshalled by scrum half Caitie McGuigan maintained the pressure on Cheltenham but were unable to make significant gains up the pitch.
The game was being played at a ferocious tempo and the ball was exchanging between the two teams as they both continued to size each other up. With neither team giving an inch, OR’s eventually began to make way up the pitch as both Elsa Lenihan and Lily Woodhams made a couple of line breaks.
10 minutes into the game, the Cheltenham ball runner was stopped in her tracks by Mia and Pip, the ball was ripped by Ella and a quick pass to Laura Lopez on the wing saw her sprint 70 meters to score the opening try only for it to be immediately ruled out due to having placed one foot briefly in touch.
The ball kept going from end to end with neither team really being able to exert their dominance on the other but it was now Cheltenham that were beginning to get the upper hand. Pinned in their own 22, Rose Lacey, playing at full back, used her boot well to clear the lines but Cheltenham kept running the ball back. A resolute defence from OR’s prevented any points from being conceded and despite Cheltenham securing more and more of the ball, hard hitting low tackles forced errors and OR’s were able to get the ball back.
With ball back in OR’s possession, they began to make some ground and a number of high tackles from Cheltenham was the only way they could stop OR’s from breaking the line. After once such illegal tackle a well placed kicked from Tilly Palmer-Denning finally got OR’s into Cheltenham’s 22.
When another forced error was made by Cheltenham in front of their own posts, a solid scrum from OR’s, saw Caitie pass the ball right to Rugby Dingle, who, whilst being held by three defenders, had the leg drive to force her over the line to touch down and score a well deserved try. It had been hard fought but persistence paid off and OR’s had the first points on the board.
With just over 5 minutes left of the half, Cheltenham made another high tackle and having already been given a warning, the referee had no choice but to issue a yellow card. Cheltenham would have to play the next 7 minutes with 14 players.
In what had been a well contested first half, which could have gone either way, OR’s held on and went in to the break with a slender lead. OR’s made only one change at half time, brining on Jesse Parker to replace Caitie at scrum half. Jesse would go on to have an excellent 15 minutes, producing quick ball from the base of the scrum and rucks, but unfortunately her game was cut short with an injury to her arm.
If OR’s had thought they had been in a fight in the first half, the second would be a war!
It was one way traffic against OR’s and the majority of the second half and much of the play was conducted in their own half with OR’s finding it difficult to escape the Cheltenham stranglehold. To bring on some fresh legs, Misty Jetten replaced Pip in the second row who provided excellent support play in the ruck and helped to bolster the defence with her tackles. Elsie Parsons stepped into full back position instead of Rose and her strong running gave OR’s some much needed breathing space when they were up against it. Lilly Britton and Olivia Buchanan came in at the scrum to add strength where needed and Jocelyn deAcetis had the unenviable position of replacing Laura out on the wing who, had had a storming game. It was almost immediately that Jocelyn was called into action though as OR’s, who had fended off multiple attacks, it looked as though the defences may be breached and it would have been if it hadn’t have been for Jocelyn’s superb covering tackle.
When OR’s did have the ball, no matter what they tried, they could not clear their lines. Tilly was under immense pressure and the rush defence from Cheltenham were in her face time and again and she was taking hit after hit but still she stood and kept pushing the team forward. It was Ella’s display in defence though that was a real highlight. Like a player possessed, whereever the ball was, there Ella was, hunting it down and taking out which ever player was unfortunate enough to be holding it at the time.
However, eventually, despite their best efforts and having sustained heavy pressure, the defence could not stop the Cheltenham no.8 picking the ball up at the base of the scrum and she proved, on this occasion, to be too strong to be stopped from short distance.
With the scores now tied at 5-5 and only 10 minutes or so to play, OR’s were desperate to get their hands on the ball and put Cheltenham under some of their own pressure. This however did not prove to be the case and an uncharacteristically misplaced kick saw the ball fall in the hands once again of Cheltenham’s No. 8 who ran in from the 22 to score her second of the day and taking her team in the lead.
Didn’t get to watch the match, watch it above!
This Article was written by: Gary Newton