Home improvements for OEs Women
There was plenty of consolation in a battling defeat for Catherine Spencer's side against a strong Harlequins/Aylesford Development XV on Sunday.
Old Elthamians 5 Harlequins/Aylesford XV 38
OEs Women’s eagerly anticipated home debut at College Meadow ended in defeat on Sunday, but they acquitted themselves admirably against a strong Harlequins/Aylesford Development XV.
Quins are one of the leading women’s teams in the country, and although they were a long way short of being at full strength, they could still boast a line-up peppered with Premiership experience.
Indeed their back-line contained three players who had been called up to various England representative sides in recent weeks. It was that pace and power that Quins possessed out wide which ultimately proved to be the major difference between the two sides.
OEs continue to strengthen their squad and gave debuts to five recent signings - Hungarian international fly-half Csilla Feher, scrum-half Beth Shaw, centre Amy Abellone, hooker Katie Oaks and lock Justine Robertson.
All five made important contributions in an impressive team performance roared on by a sizeable home crowd keen to see their first glimpse of OEs’ new women’s team in action.
They were not disappointed either as OEs made a promising early start. From the kick-off, Catherine Spencer made good metres, and with flanker Kelly Davies (pictured), who enjoyed an outstanding afternoon both with the ball in hand and with her tireless work around the fringes of ruck and maul, making a strong carry in support, they forced Quins on the back foot. It allowed Clair Melville-Brown operating at inside centre to step her way through the visitors’ defensive line towards the 22.
OEs kept the pressure on but a turnover after 10 minutes saw Quins move the ball wide with ease to their quick outside backs who broke through for the first try of the game. It set the pattern for the rest of the half.
Harlequins looked dangerous every time they spread the ball wide with both wingers causing the tenacious OEs defence plenty of problems on the outside. However, the home side gave as good as they got with the ball in hand, preferring to use their bigger forwards to punch holes up the middle.
OEs also enjoyed a clear advantage at scrum-time with the front row of Miri Ravulo, Katie Oaks and recent Kent call-up Vicky Black outstanding in the set piece, while lock Vicky Benbow secured plenty of lineout ball.
Although OEs secured plenty of possession, Quins were absolutely merciless in capitalising on any turnover ball and they showed their class running in three tries, two of them converted, after slick hands by the backs to open up a commanding 24-0 lead by the interval.
With the wind behind them in the second half, Elthamians started strongly with Feher at fly-half pushing the ball into the corners and the OEs ball carriers picking up momentum with Fijian prop Ravulo making some strong runs.
Sustained pressure in the Quins 22 following a number of forward drives led to the experienced Davies capping an outstanding individual performance when she muscled her way over for Elthamians’ first try at College Meadow.
As the OEs forwards began to tire, Quins upped the tempo again, striking back with two well constructed tries after excellent interplay between their backs and forwards.
At this stage of the game, OEs could quite easily have rolled over against the pace and power of the Premiership side. But they fought back impressively with two more debutants, Scarlett Millen in the back row and Hannah Mackenzie in the midfield providing much needed fresh legs.
The impact of replacement centre Emily John also gave Quins something to think about and her abrasive carrying put OEs on the front foot for the last quarter of the match although they were unable to breach a well marshalled Harlequins defence.
OEs’ Back of the match went to scrum-half Beth Shaw who performed admirably after a number of seasons out of the game.
OEs’ Forward of the match went to Kelly Davies whose superb workrate around the park and willingness to grind out the hard yards with the ball in hand caused problems for Quins all afternoon.
OEs Women: Rance, Korro, Abellone, Melville-Brown, Fox, Feher, Shaw, Black, Oaks, Ravulo, Benbow, Robertson, Davies, French, Spencer.