So, with the second week of the league campaign upon us Park had a trip to Northampton; traditionally a strong Rugby town, with ONs potentially one of the strongest clubs in the area. The changes in the league this year with new oppositions, and ONs being relegated from the division above, it was never going to be easy. Park are developing and improving week on week but today in what can only be described as conditions like playing in the Transvaal (hot and rock-hard ground), this would make the challenge even harder coupled with potentially 4 or 5 East Midlands players to contend with this could prove daunting.
So, the game really took part in two halves, (doh! I heard you say, but bear with me), especially as the pitch was sloped and the wind was blowing down it. The key was to take advantaged of the conditions when we could. We kicked off and the ball was knocked on just outside of ONs 22; we stayed there for the next ten minutes or so. A very competitive forwards competition was brewing and our backs line speed was quick enough to force errors in handling. We were comfortable at the scrum, with Katie feeding Aimee (her first competitive league game in 2 years), who shipped the ball well to Eleanor and Sophie, who were always a threat with Ellen also on the wing. If we could move it fast enough we would have a chance. ONs however, had a solid defence and were particularly good at the breakdown, with the second person in very quickly onto the ball. From one of these steals practically on their own line, they managed to break away and their elusive 11 got them up to our 22 before she was caught by Sophie M.
From here ONs kept possession well but we were keeping them at bay. However, working hard, they finally managed to overlap for their fast 11 to get over the whitewash for the first score of the day. At 5-0 with only 15 minutes or so passed, it was disappointing, especially as we had probably hashed a couple of our own opportunities prior to this, with the first real possession for ONs ending in a score. However, this galvanised us as we had some confidence from being toe to toe with this experienced team. Finally, putting some good passes together, Sophie M had enough space to sprint away and score under the posts, with Tracey adding the extra 2 points. With 20 minutes gone it was 5-7 to Stockwood.
Stockwood’s efforts were beginning to have an effect as ONs didn’t seem to like the fact that we were being competitive, and there was a bit of an arm wrestle beginning to happen. The game was mainly in the middle of the pitch with thrust and counter thrust being thwarted. Unfortunately, we were just not using our possession well enough and were starting to drop off a bit. ONs managed to create a bit more space again for the 11 to run in and score behind the posts the conversion making it 12-7 to ONs at half time.
The heat and the ground had had an effect, with Daisy off just after half time with a knee injury, and a few others suffering. But we had a squad of 21 so could swap about, the only thing being that a few people were slightly out of position. Whilst it is a credit to us to be able to do this, it can be a bit destabilising, especially under pressure. The opposition were also changing with injuries, but it appeared like for like. Tracey had come out to fly half as Aimee had come off to protect her knee; we have a long season and need to get through it with everyone intact. This year, more than the past two, the whole squad will be stretched as the league appears to be the most competitive we have played in.
The first 10 minutes of the second half were back to something of a competition, even though ONs had managed to get over again, at 19-7 we needed to score next to reassert ourselves. However, we were coughing up possession and defending by letting them come at us rather than going to them. It was getting a bit feisty, with the RFU protocols on concussion and protection of the head, I am not sure why they are yet to stop hand offs to the face which are always contentious as if the arm isn’t dead straight it’s either a punch or a slap. We have hearts of lions, and whilst not necessarily helping ourselves, we never give up and in the heat and with another score converted, at 26-7 the game was gone; there was no doubting that we appeared out on our feet. With two more scores from ONs to finish the game completely, in the end it looked a comfortable victory; I would say it was anything but and the fact that 19 of the 36 points were scored in the last 10 minutes points to that fact.
Despite the victory for ONs, I feel another big learning curve for us, our structure was pretty good and the lineouts and scrums were good all day. With Chloe and Catherine sharing wing duties for potentially the longest league game time, Kristie playing her first game in ages, along with Aimee. Claire H had only her second game ever, against a team of this standing, and was truly excellent. We never took our opportunities when they arrived and ONs experience told in the end. Hopefully by the time the next game is around, Fresh, Debs, Fran, Charli, Lisa, Emma and Sophie K will be fit and available; add these seven to any squad and we have just got stronger. We are becoming a strong squad and sometimes just need days like this to grow, and that is what will happen.
Forward of the match: Shania Mulvihill – tackling left, right and centre; she was everywhere
Back of the match: Sophie Maddock – the fastest person on the field, with the compliment of 2 people marking her
Gnome one like you: Catherine ‘Swing’dell – showing an alternative tackling style, effective, nonetheless
A rest on Tuesday then 5 Training sessions before next game. We are shaping up well despite changes going on.