A solid victory against underwhelming odds
The Beavers come out on top in the battle of the depleted squads
Terry Pratchett wrote in one of his many novels, ‘when you seek advice from someone it's certainly not because you want them to give it. You just want them to be there while you talk to yourself’. It can sometimes feel like this as a coach. When asked by some of the players ‘how should we adapt our game when the other team has only brought 9 players’, both coaches present suggested keeping to your normal game, maintaining tactical and positional discipline and calm the speed down because you’ve still got to play 60 minutes. Of course, everyone fundamentally ignored this and after 15 minutes were blowing as heavily as a toddler smacked off his face on Haribo and running around the garden in mid-summer.
In the end, our return fixture with UoB started as 11v11 when Liz and Lizzie volunteered to play the first of three 20 minute periods with the opposition. The calm and sensible start was blown away when Allie retrieved the kick, Cat and Josie crashed through the ruck, and Bournville moved the ball wide for Chloe to rush around the edge and score within 10 seconds. Allie was clearly in the mood, crunching the opposition player to force a knock on soon after the restart. We soon lost the ball again, attempting to play at the kind of frenetic pace usually only seen in Benny Hill videos, but Allie popped up again to produce a superb try saver tackle, Alex forcing the turnover with her usual busy energy despite playing with broken fingers. Megan got the ball out wide, but a brilliant break was wasted as her teammates adopted the ‘cheering from 50 yards’ support technique, not recognised in any rugby tactical book, and there was no one on hand to retrieve the ball when Megan was hauled down just short. After some more chaos, Allie nailed a superb show-and-go on her opposite number to glide inside and score our second try.
UoB were matching us for intensity in the ball carrying. Possibly Liz did well making yards through the middle, but we couldn’t comment on someone playing for the other team. Strictly Beavers in our match reports. Naomi did what all good 15s do, pulling off a technically perfect try saving tackle to stop their pacey winger nipping into the corner. Soon after, Cat’s promising start was curtailed by an ankle injury that brought an end to the first twenty minutes.
Lizzie and Josie swapped shirts for the second twenty as we faced running uphill for the middle period. Seeing the slope from the other side, I could see some of the players considering feigning muscle strains having blown so much energy going full headless chicken in the first twenty minutes downhill. We started again like the proverbial runaway train, Naomi counter-rucking brilliantly, Camille moved the ball out quickly, and Megan shot down the wing, scoring under the posts having again run from her own 22. Zoe chipped the kick over to give us a 17 point cushion. Undeterred, UoB again put pressure on us in our own 22 and, despite an excellent counter-maul involving most of the squad, subs, fans and a few roving pigeons, got the ball out wide and scored down in the corner, despite a brilliant defensive tackle from Chloe.
UoB made strong yards from the kick off, Chloe again getting across to haul down their winger with an arms-and-legs-all-in technique reminiscent of a lion bringing down a buffalo. Big Dave Attenborough could almost be heard whispering a quiet voice over. Allie pinged the ball out of our own 22, and Chloe chased it down, got the nudge with a kick and continued to dribble down the pitch, shouting wildly possibly at the ball, the opposition, or just the sheer injustice of being beaten to the touch down by the scrambling UoB defender. The feat was repeated almost instantly, as Alex spotted a loose ball behind the resulting ruck, nudged the ball downfield and got the chase going again, possibly inspired by the woeful football match taking place on the neighbouring pitch. Again a UoB defender got to the ball just before a Beaver. From the resulting drop out, Emma W drove through the middle, Emma T picked from the ruck to carry the ball and half the UoB team and Allie found the gap to score her second try. Another dinked conversion by Zoe and we were flying. Unfortunately Allie had to leave the pitch at this point, a knock on the head shortening her game despite her protestations (‘surely seeing double makes me twice as effective?’).
Back in defence, an excellent scrambled tackle by Zoe slowed down another opposition maraud. Lizzie stole the ball in the ruck, shipped it to Sheri on a great line to break the play. Emma W followed in and we were moving up the field. Alas we were turned over again, and only excellent tackling from Chloe and Naomi prevented a further try. Camille got a kick through that almost bounced favourably, but the unfortunate UoB player who did collect the kick was hammered by Megan. Emma and Emma got a maul moving forwards, but despite an entire patient session of explaining how to shift the ball out of a maul the ref rightly blew up for the end of the second twenty.
With both teams haemorrhaging players like an unlucky gambler at a Vegas betting table, some quick maths was needed to ensure even teams for the final twenty. UoB suggested that if we wouldn’t mind awfully lending that half-decent Liz for a third third, then we could perhaps get underway. Liz was a good sport and happily crossed over, despite our usual rule of always getting a chance to don the Beaver burgundy if you’re available for the match. Two energy sapping twenty minute periods had started to take their toll. Alex rested a shin swelling that made it look like she had two knees, a reward for another lung-bursting display of ruck-smashing. Emma T recovered the loose ball from kick off, Lizzie demanded the ball from Camille’s pop, and Sheri reacted quickest to two successive penalties to tap and go within the opposition 22, hugging the ball so tightly it might have burst as she dived inside and scored. A third Zoe conversion ensued.
Pinned down from kick off in our own half, Sheri finally listened to Nick’s desperate pleas and kicked the ball over the top of the fullback-less UoB defence. Emma W kept the ball moving with her usual vigour in the contact zone. We forced a scrum, Camille fixed the defender and a swift offload put Megan through for another try. As the severely bruised opposition winger made the sign of the cross and thanked any god which would listen, Chloe had to hobble off for the last ten minutes. Our defensive alignment went slightly to pot with this further numerical dismembering, and UoB quickly added their second try by the simple tactic of running around the edge of our line. Tired, nearing the final whistle and desperately wanting it to end, some vague notion, a whisper, one small neuron firing in the sluggish minds of the remaining players, recalled something a coach had once said, many minutes ago; ‘keep your defensive structure, space evenly, and drift as the ball moves’. Yes, this was it. This was what he had been talking about. Four players lined up, beautifully spaced apart, wonderful starting position, shoulders aching for the tackle. As with all near-perfect preparation, one tiny flaw can undo all good work. The flaw here was that the entire opposition attacking line were on the other side of the field. Even more inconveniently, with the ball. UoB jogged in unopposed for a third try.
From the kick off, and with time finally running down, a huge hit from Emma T forced a knock on, from the scrum, Camille flipped the ball up to Sheri who gathered enough energy for one final dive for the line, and an impressive 41-15 victory.
Special mention to Camille who coped well with the pressure of playing scrum half in her first match, but player of the match went to Chloe for her excellent game in attack and even more excellent work in defence. Well done to all the Ladies who took part in another physically draining game.