Stockwood ladies showed yet again how much improvement they have made in the last couple of season by narrowly being defeated away at unbeaten league leaders Hitchin on Sunday.
In a wonderful advert for ladies rugby the game ebbed and flowed with Stockwood at first having to defend their line for the majority of the first half. Some wonderful defending from front row pair Abbie and Amy and the true never say die Stockwood spirit, shown especially by the excellent Hannah, they kept the hosts at bay and gradually Stockwood confidence grew and they were able to turn defence into attack.
A Hitchin chip over the top very nearly resulted in a score, especially when the ball rebounded off the post, thankfully full back Annie was cool enough not to panic and touch the ball down, before the on rushing Hitchin attack could get there.
Our hosts began to get more and more frustrated as they were unable to turn possession into scores and a succession of Stockwood turnovers form Shania, Abbie and Amy allowed Danni, Daisy and Freya to get us going forward and put doubt into Hitchin’s play.
With good clearances from fly half Tracey, especially as we were playing into a strong breeze, Stockwood began to get some authority of their own on proceedings. With our captain, Katie, having to go off with a knee injury midway through the half, some teams may have panicked, however Charli, playing her first game as Scrum Half, really stepped up and we were able to build some quality play of our own.
The last 15 minutes of the half really belonged to us, the hard work of our defence now bearing fruit as we were now getting to see more and more of the ball. Stockwood now had the platform to attack and Fresh, Sophie Ellen and Lil were able to get us going forward and at times get behind our opponents, who were now on the back foot, however their defence was also equal to ours.
On the stroke of half time all of Stockwood hard work paid off, a great platform built by the forwards allowed Tracey and Fresh to link up, gain 10 meter’s and get outside centre Sophie into a small amount of space. From the half way line she was able to weave her way around the outside of three despairing tackles to touch down in the corner and give Park 5-0 lead at half time. A memorable moment for all of us involved, but credit to Sophie who was coolness personified, every time it looked like she had been caught she changed her angle and found that vital space, that she adores so much.
Hitchin are an excellent side and are not unbeaten for a reason and Park were fully aware that the second half was going to be difficult and ten minutes into the half our defences were broken for the first time. This gave Hitchin more confidence and Stockwood were struggling to get any clear possession of the ball and wave after wave of attacks were repelled by some truly remarkable defending by Faye, Hannah and Abbie. On at least four occasions Hitchin crossed our whitewash only to be denied points, by players getting underneath the ball or holding our opponents up. It really was a remarkable passage of play, where sheer determination and will power was evident in everyone of Stockwood’s players.
Unfortunately the lack of being able to get the ball from our opponents in this period of the game resulted in one too many attacks and as a result midway through the half Hitchin got their noses in front.
As expected due to such a tough and physical game some of the Stockwood players were now feeling the strain, however the squad we have is outstanding. Hazel was able to come off the bench twice to give players a breather for two good shifts and Pariese also came on
A mark of how far this team has come however was their reaction to going behind, as the whole team were somehow able to increase their levels of performance and determination, with the remainder of the game seeing Hitchin defences being probed and tested time and time again.
Stockwood began to vary their play, Tracey putting in a lovely kick in over the top for Sophie to catch and just get caught. Fresh seeing more of the ball was now punching her way through, our support play was also allowing Hannah, Pariese, Amy and Daisy to get us going forward and the general structure of our play by all the players was excellent.
Ellen looked like she had managed to break through only to be thwarted by a superb tackle at her feet. Then there was a succession of scrums, Cathy who had been in excellent form all day rallied the forwards and time after time Stockwood drove the league leaders back.
The last few minutes were really nip and tuck, Kiera and Cath were now on the wings and were able to contribute and then Sophie received an awful high tackle that resulted in a yellow card for the opposition player.
Unfortunately for Park with time running out they were unable to take advantage of their numerical advantage and could not break the white wash, for what would have been a deserved equalising score.
So Hitchin continue their unbeaten run with a 10-5 win, but Stockwood should now look to maintain this level of performance for the rest of the season. The team spirit showed today, by the whole squad, from the moment we arrived at Hitchin to when we left the bar following the speeches, was excellent and if we maintain this level of commitment in training and match days there is no limit to how far this team could go.
We must not concentrate on what happened at the end of the match as this will only take away from an excellent display by the team. Truly excellent performances from every member of the squad with Hannah and Charli excelling, however this level of performance must now be repeated until the end of the season.Special mention to a great turn out from Stockwood Park supporters, which was really appreciated from everyone associated with the team. OWTP!