In the 2019/20 season, The Huns have reserved their best performances away from the park, and here it was again, against Cuffley. Cuffley appear to be playing some home games away from home, so it was a trip to Cheshunt RFC in leafy Hertfordshire for the return fixture in the league and the chance to reverse a 27-5 home loss earlier in the season.
Not getting into the changing room until 1.30, with a KO of 2.15 wasn’t ideal preparation, but the ladies were focused and what we did do in warmup was excellent. We always talk about looking at our surroundings and pitch conditions and today this was particularly relevant as we were playing on a grass pitch which genuinely sloped from one corner 45 degrees to the opposite corner. With a stiff breeze blowing straight down the slope, not even Edmund Hillary or Sherpa Tenzing fancied playing up the hill, but we decided if we won the toss to play uphill first, as the second half would be easier playing downhill. The plan came to fruition and although kicking off we were playing uphill, we felt that the first half performance would be key, especially with a top corner quagmire of standing water – refusing to flow downhill – truly the strangest pitch we’ve ever played on.
However, to say the start was disastrous was an understatement. We kick off and their no. 6 catches and runs dead straight at the on-rushing Huns. Hannah (you know I think you’re brilliant) unusually misses the tackle and suddenly leaves the on-rushing player with only Lisa to beat and running downhill, she had got some pace up. Lisa always make her tackle attempt, and this was no different, but with her size and pace (I think Elliot Daly would have struggled to stop her) Lisa is bounced and they scored under the posts. She converts her own try and after 30 seconds and with Mount Everest to climb, we are 7-0 down.
Without feeling sorry for ourselves, our reaction to this was excellent. We played with maturity and structure and started to force our way up field. The forwards were winning good ball and the backs were using it well to keep Cuffley going backwards. When we did lose the ball, our defence was good and for the next 10 mins we were in and around the Cuffley 22 probing. Cuffley were defending well and with a clearing kick managed to get themselves down to our 22 with the ball just rolling and rolling. This gave Cuffley a bit of momentum and it was now we needed to be strong. After a few attacks with Hannah, Abbie, Kristie and Daisy all standing firm and Charli, Fresh and Katie stopping the attacks when they went wide, Cuffley finally felt like they had scored only to be held up. Winning the scrum against the head, we exited well and eased the pressure of the last 5 minutes.
With Daisy making ground every time we had the ball and Kristie and P in support, we really started to push Cuffley back again. With wave after wave of attack from 5 metres out, Cuffley were standing firm. We managed to get the ball wide to Sophie who beats the defence to score in the corner, only for our own linesman to flag for a foot in touch. We win the lineout and return to our attack, by this time Aimee was off having had her hand stamped on, and we were down to 14 as we had to match the numbers of Cuffley. Tracey had returned for Aimee and this white line fever continued. We must have charged down attempted clearing kicks at least twice to keep the pressure on and finally, creating some phases which sucked Cuffley in, the ball was released through hands to the backs where Chloe has the overlap. She had to sprint uphill and with the defence closing in on her, she dived over to score under the posts – a tremendous roar goes up as this is her debut try and a real lesson in determination to keep going. Everybody, and I mean everybody linked with Stockwood Huns were over the moon for Chloe – shame her first team boyfriend decided to miss this one – bad from Kyran…
With the conversion missed it was 7-5 with a few minutes until half time. I cannot tell you what a great performance that first half was, whilst there is an element of fun in the description of the pitch, to come off at 7-5 was incredible. Nothing is won until the final whistle blows, but the opportunity to really put pressure on Cuffley was there if we could play in there 22. It would be hard, but our forwards were stronger and fitter. With Kristie being replaced by “Yorkshiiiire” Dara, Lee-Anne on for Cath and returning to 15-a-side allowing Shania to come on, we were left with Cathy, T and Kim looking to get some game time. The next 5 minutes were almost as incredulous as the first 30 seconds, the ref had been pretty good all day, but we got a few strange calls from the re-start – a knock-on that clearly went backwards and in the ensuing scrum, the second row helping the ball back with her hand. This wasn’t good and suddenly found ourselves defending our 5-metre line. Cuffley put some phases together and moved the ball well, keeping it alive and then going wide followed by an inside pass, they found the space to score. 5 minutes in and 12-5 to Cuffley.
The ladies are made of stern stuff and from the re-start we caught them in their own half and that’s where the rest of the game stayed apart from a couple of forays into our half, which were met with excellent kicks from the returning Aimee. Putting them back in their 22 with excellent kick chase, we were putting them under immense pressure, using our phases, we sucked in and moved the ball wide for Sophie, at long last, to get the space she needs to ease away and score just to the right of the posts. At 12-10 it’s a two-point game. With wave after wave of attacking intent, surely it was only a matter of time. It looked for all the world that quick hands had put Fresh in the corner at Base camp, only for the ref to blow for a very high tackle. The yellow card game with greater pressure, with us pushing them back and back. They tried to run the ball out of their own try line, but Charli was there to put Cuffley under pressure and instead of touching the ball down, she tried to pass – losing control allowing Charli to pounce and score her first try in the corner to put us in front – a thoroughly deserved try after an all-round excellent performance. At 12-15 there was still 10 minutes or so left to go, and by this time T and Cathy were on with Kim debuting a new position of second row.
Again, the hill was now at its strongest as Cuffley couldn’t really go anywhere and were being dominated by the Huns. Credit must go to them though, because at no point did they roll over and every score we got we had to work for. Finally, again the pressure told as phase play followed by some lovely hands and a late run by Fresh left the gap that she always finds and was through and scored to take us further out at 20-12 – it would be difficult to lose from here. Creating more space, Fresh was through again and for all the world looked like she had scored again but a great tackle stopped her. Falling awkwardly and twisting her ankle, this was the only real down on what ended in such a positive day. Still on the attack when the whistle blew, a really professional performance got all it deserved. Cuffley are a good side and not easy to beat which makes the results better.
There were some incredible performances, P was great, Abbie so consistent and Daisy playing like a captain. Katie was revelling in her new position, Dara and Kristie enforcing all over and the backs linking well together. The forward of the match went to Lee-Anne for coming on at half-time and making a real difference with getting her hands on the ball and always going forwards and looking after the ball. Back of the match could only go to one person; “shirts in or out” Chloe.
Finally, a big thanks to Hannah, Sophie and Eleanor; Stockwood girls to the core and you know why!