Stockwood ladies travelled to The Heath at Royston in their latest league outing. Royston, who had beaten league-leaders Old Northamptonians last time out, were now joint top and using social media to let us know they were looking to settle the score from the previous meeting last season.
Our last game against Royston was the defining moment of last season, securing second place with a fantastic display of grit, determination and skill. It’s relevant to mention that from that day we have had a change of 12 players, which is a lot and makes a massive difference today. Our recent injury troubles have been well documented, whilst not wanting to dwell on it, as every side has their issues, it does feel like we’ve been hit particularly hard. We have been working very well in training, with lots of players in new positions or inexperienced players getting greater opportunities with the injury count, all in all, it’s coming together.
A new pre-match structure seems to be having a positive effect with the Huns, with the need to switch themselves on. We wanted to kick into the sun first as later in the game it would be very low. Abbie: on-pitch captain, as Daisy is long-term injured, won the toss and we got what we wanted.
Royston are always a well-drilled outfit, but they rely heavily on their 10-12 axis and their fullback, we discussed shutting them down as best we could. The forwards had worked massively on the breakdown and support play and the early skirmishes were very encouraging, as ball retention was excellent and counter rucking brilliant also. The scrum was functioning well and even the lineout was on point. We were trying a little too hard and rushing a little, and whilst on the front foot, gave Royston some possession. The aforementioned 12 pushed us back into our own half for a while. A slight criticism was that we were not coming up quick enough as a defensive unit and once 12 had got some speed up she was always making ground of offloading at the right time. Charli, Fresh and Sophie were doing a great job with a scrambling defence, and Lisa at fullback looked like a brick wall. From an attack of our own after good handling from Abbie, Dara and Claire, there was a breakdown on Royston’s 22. I then heard a call for a change, as Ally had hit the ruck with her forehand, with a golf-ball sized lump appearing, she had to come off and Lee-Anne was on.
Royston started to get a little possession, we missed a couple of tackles and found ourselves defending our own 5 metre line. No. 12 was trying to knock the door down, finally scoring and converting. At 7-0 it was a little disappointing, because we made an error and they scored. This is where these games are won and lost, and I think this disheartened us a bit. Again, after some excellent play, we managed to lose possession and once more the 12 broke the line and pushed us back again. By this time Cathy was on for Lee-Anne as she would be needed in the second half, as with Ally off, we only had one sub. With 12 scoring again and converting, at 20 minutes gone it was 14-0. We had had a lot of possession and played with excellent structure, so possibly not that reflective or our performance. Royston, however, had taken advantage of their opportunities, where we had missed a couple of ours. With a couple of minutes left of the half, Royston kicked for territory, won back possession from a knock on and scored once more. Half time score: 19-0.
The half-time discussion was around the effort and structure which had been exceptional, but we needed to defend coming forward. Royston had some strange rallying call which suggested they knew the second half wouldn’t be easy. I thought we had better forwards and should look to dominate that area. We started the second half well, with Royston only getting out of their half 2-3 times. Once, unfortunately, was for 10 to pretty much run the full length to score. From a scrum she tried to go blind, Abbie had read the move and shut it down, where she ran back the other way. With Katie getting blocked from tackling, which the ref missed, she ran through the space. She possibly could’ve been stopped twice but did enough to get herself over. At 24-0 this was a long way back. I saw something return from last year, the belief in themselves. The Huns started to grind Royston down and with wave after wave of attack and numerous penalties, it looked like we couldn’t get over. But with excellent ball retention, we finally had some space wide and through hands to Aimee who cut back inside, she forced her way over and converted her own score. 24-7 and no more than was deserved.
Once we had the ball again, we drove forward. It was clear that Royston were struggling, and we were really growing in confidence, with Dara having an exceptional game, Shania driving at the line, P and Tracey securing some awesome turnovers, we had the lions share of possession. From a scrum, Katie picked and went blind, and for all the world, Sophie looked like she was in. But Royston scrambled her out of play. Again, as the pressure built, Royston were giving away penalties in the danger zone. Fesh, Charli and Claire all being forced off the line. Somehow, Royston turned the ball over and went to pass their way out of trouble only for Sophie to intercept and score in the corner. 24-12 and definitely in control. However, this proved to be the last play of the game and albeit another loss, this was a very good performance and without 4 or 5 errors, may well have been a different outcome.
At 24-0 it could have been easy to give up, but that’s not what this group is about. In the 3 years I have been here, there are only a couple of times that you could say we have “dropped off”. It was a great game, fiercely contested and in good spirit. We are growing and coming again, with 18 fit and ready, we have our challenges but with some new players shaping up nicely, and the core staying together we are in a good place. If we continue like this, the results will come.
Katie and Charli, who rotate scrum half duties, had great games. P, Abbie, Dara, Tracey, Shania, Cathy, Cath, Lee-Anne, Claire and Ally were, as a group, awesome. Not forgetting Aimee, again in controlling form of the undeniable talent that is Fresh. Stonewall Lisa, firewoman Sophie, and of course Chloe, who whatever happens, always has a smile on her face.
Well done Park, well played!
Forward of the match: Pariese Roberts
Back of the match: Aimee Aslam
Gnome one like you: Sophie King