Another brilliant Beavers performance
Third time lucky as the Ladies best Handsworth
‘I love doing sequels’, the great statesman Arnold Schwarzenegger said when re-elected as Governor of California. This maxim would be tested as we went into our first rematch of the season, against the only team to beat us so far – undefeated Handsworth Ladies. Rowheath Park is currently doubling for ‘External Battlefield – Muddy’ in a Netflix historical drama, so we managed to negotiate pitch space at the pleasant Moseley Rugby club ground.
Various injuries and mishaps meant the Beavers were reduced to 15 available players, with a few team mates coming along as fans with about two usable legs and arms between them. Unfortunately, we were reduced to 14 before kick-off, Liz G sensibly taking a step out as she had been unwell. In the spirit of sportsmanship, Handsworth agreed to keep their full complement of 15 players and substitutes. Meanwhile, the Beavers maintained their usual standard of preparations with a committed warm-up interspersed with moaning about how much bigger the other team looked.
Happily, we seem to have the ability to put the moaning away once play is underway. There is no denying that the oppo had a slight height and size advantage, but technique is a wonderful leveller. With early ball, Handsworth targeted running at our diminutive back-line, but smashing tackles from Megan and Ciara notably put the opposition on their backsides and realising that this was not going to be a run through. Handsworth eventually kicked away possession, unable to break our sterling defence, and Naomi pounced on the loose ball. Bournville ran solid phases, keeping the ball and protecting the rucks, before shipping it wide to Chloe, who stepped outside the winger, inside the 15, and scored under the posts to complete a superb try from half the length of the field. Sophie nailed the conversion – 7-0.
Receiving the kick, Chloe again got hands on the ball and broke the line. Alex supported superbly to get over the ruck and protect the ball. An infringement at the ruck gave Bournville a penalty which we sensibly kicked to touch for a line out, which we promptly lost. Ah the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Handsworth were again forced to kick away possession, which gave our backs a chance to get into broken play. Ciara took a brilliant line and inch-perfect offload, fixing the defender before unleashing Megan to speed under the posts; another kick, 14-0.
A period of attrition followed, with a knock on gifting Handsworth a scrum. Their extra player was made to count as they shipped it wide, managed possession well through the phases, and trundled over the line. 14-5. From the return, Beavers retrieved the ball and Alex made some good yards before a series of hefty encounters in the midfield unfortunately left Ciara injured. We were down to 13. Sportlingly, the opposition continued with 15. Great defence was undone by miscommunication on our own penalty, gifting Handsworth the ball which they eventually drove over to bring themselves into touching distance at 14-10.
Despite the other team getting close in score, and our increasingly dwindling numbers, morale remained high - the ladies commendable attitude to being at a two-player disadvantage says a lot about the character of the Beavers. We again started to put together good attacking phases, but were unable to add further points. Handsworth in turn got within 5m of our line before knocking-on. From our own 22, we shipped wide to Megan who made superb yards, supported by Naomi with her usual excellent ruck technique. Sheri made great yards but we were turned over without adequate support. Handsworth returned, but great tackling from Cat slowed even their most destructive runners. Again came Bounrville, Megan and Naomi breaking tackles and the gain line, Allie was doing a supreme job of managing the ball and the forwards coming in support. Another line break brought us into their half, Emma W driving through to secure the ball. Alex carried in to a maul and Emma T shoved back four of their pack to keep it moving forward. Lizzie and Emma W rucked well to get us within the Handsworth 22 but, unable to convert our attack into points, the ref blew for half time.
Now, we earlier pointed out that Liz G made a sensible decision to step out because of illness. This was slightly counteracted by the less-than-sensible decision to pop her kit on and come charging out after H-T because she couldn’t bear to see the Ladies two players down.
Receiving the kick, Sheri and Chloe again made good yards, but again we were foiled by solid defensive work by the opposition. Liz G made light of illness by hammering one of their players in the tackle, and Cat followed up with a lovely ankle-grabbing take-down of their biggest player. Liz G continued to disrupt the play, Josie continued to crash in with brilliant support lines. This was a real game of rugby; hard tackles, good running, sensible offloads.
A straight-arm strike to the face of Lou caused some consternation amongst the coaches on the sideline, reasonably sure that this hadn’t been legal since the 1970s. Helpfully, one of the Handsworth support pointed out that he was a ref and that, although he hadn’t seen it, it was perfectly acceptable. But, like Superman from his phone booth, Ivor stepped in to contest that he was a ref, had seen it, and no it wasn’t legitimate. This trigged an impromptu ‘ref-off’ on the touchlines. This is just like a dance-off, but with fewer spins and more laws. Your correspondent didn’t see who won, but fully expects that it was Ivor.
Meanwhile, Liz G’s exciting cameo came to an end with a knock to the head that couldn’t have helped the illness. Back to 13 and the intensity of the game draining energies, Handsworth again controlled phases well to use their physicality to best effect, getting over the line and taking the lead for the first time. 15-14.
The game was starting to take its toll on the players, as things briefly became a scrappy match-for-match series of line breaks and turnovers. Allie in particular did brilliantly to chase back and bring down a rampaging Handsworth forward. Clearly inspired, Josie flattened an opposition forward in the tackle. Lizzie, who carried well in attack all game, showed equal capability in defence, making a great tackle in the midfield. Lou scraped a turnover and the ball went wide to Megan who again ran in a try that was exhausting to watch, let alone run. Sophie’s conversion drifted agonizingly wide – 19-15.
Emma W did well to retrieve a trundling kick-off, and Sophie nipped in to move the ball to Allie, Sheri then Chloe who nipped down the line, but was tackled well by their 15. A high tackle gave Bournville a penalty. Strong carries by the forwards got the Beavers rolling, before a lovely pick up by Sheri finally saw the captain get in to the corner. An eagle-eyed Handsworth supporter spotted what no-one else anywhere near the pitch had managed – 50m away, through the maelstrom of players, this superfan had seen Sheri fluff the grounding of the ball! Having pointed this out to the referee, he sensibly suggested that he had not seen it, nor had anyone else, so the try stood. Again, Sophie, nursing a very sore knee, just left the kick short. 24-15.
A piece of magic soon followed, Emma T making a late call for a slot in the backs by performing a one-handed scoop pick-up from the kick and taking it far into contact. Lou followed in with some lovely rucking, and Chloe was again foiled in her race for another try by a scrambling tackle. Handsworth slowly got down the pitch, eventually making an overlap count to score a fourth try.
Whilst they were taking the kick, Nick, having seen Darkest Hour and in full Churchill mode, was emboldening the Ladies with a rousing talk. Alas, the referee blew for full time before he’d finished so we’ve no idea if it landed.
24-20, and a wonderful, well-earned result for the Beavers. There were so many positives to take from the game, but the most important is surely the character and team ethos that the Ladies have built over two years together. A strong win with two fewer players is hard at any time, but against one of the stronger opposition in the league, it was doubly satisfying.
Special mentions to Cat, who defended well and set up a couple of tries, and Allie, who marshalled the team perfectly from 10 and defended well when needed. Back of the Match ultimately went to Chloe for her work in defence and attack, and Forward of the Match to Alex, for outstanding work in the ruck zone particularly, and for being one of the most committed support runners on all our tries.