U18 Borough Girls triumph in clash of the champions, past and present
“How many sleeps until Winscombe?” was the talk of the coaches, and Bear Chair.
The long awaited game of the 2016 national champs (Pulborough) versus the 2017 champions (Winscombe) was one that all players, coaches and parents, from both sides, had been looking forward to for some time.
Both sides are unbeaten this season; WInscombe apparently unbeaten last season as well. What better way to get a feel for the 2018 Cup run than to match these two ambitious squads in a new year battle; one to blow away the cob webs and perhaps give someone a fright.
Reading RFC had kindly agreed to host the match to reduce the travel times, and so for the second time in recent months the Pulborough caravan headed north west, following a star, and signs towards Woking and Bracknell.
The warm hospitality of Reading had not warmed the ground, however, nor did the legendary grandstand on pitch one shield the players on pitch three from the chilling wind as the girls set about their warm up.
Parents hunkered down at the bar, sucking up Guinness and IPA in a hope that the vital vitamins would stave off the cold wind outside, and block out the memory of new year resolutions.
Mike ‘bull horn’ Fisher was warming up his larynx for the mighty bellows that would ensue. The Technical, Videography and Skills Assessor was leaning nonchalantly against the bar, exuding quiet confidence in the coming team performance, if not his camera skills.
And so began a proper game of rugby, with a sizeable and athletic looking Winscombe team putting Borough to the test in a way that the girls have not seen so far this season.
Both teams swapped territory in the early part of the game, as the two sides probed each other’s defence and tested their mettle. Very quickly it was clear that this was going to be a tough game, based on fine margins.
With kicking being a rare feature of the girls game, it was this early tactic by the capable Winscombe 10, into a swirling wind and low sun, that was to give Borough, and full back Lauren, some early challenges.
Winscombe were able to turn the pressure from Borough back on itself, and it wasn’t long before Pulborough were defending their 22. And then the 5 metre line.
But perhaps one of the best qualities that Borough showed throughout this game was the determination and awareness to defend the 5m line, with continued defence over multiple phases; something we have not always done so well.
But in this game we did, with some stout defence throughout, (super try saving tackle from Aliya), and we cleared our lines each time.
And so a tight game continued for the first quarter, until the deadlock was at last broken by Flo taking a quick penalty, before off-loading to a rampaging Emily, to make the first try a well-earned family affair, and one that reflected the developing flow of the game.
Fishy showed what she could do with the boot, and now the Borough girls definitely had their tails up, demonstrated by a mild excess of fist pumping, roaring and the collective squad gathering unceremoniously for high fives on the field. Tch tch.
While the Borough girls continued to build the pressure on Winscombe, the oppo were showing their quality and constantly posing a threat that could negate the score with one missed tackle.
The threat was being met with palpable resolve, with big first tackles, and second tackles, and some double tackles bringing down Winscombe’s biggest runners, yet with the some of the Borough girls looking suitably winded by the pace and ferocity of the game.
And finally Winscombe slipped the net; some good distribution and fading through the Borough back line led to a deserved result for the effort they were showing, and with the conversion the two sides went into half time on an even 7 points a-piece.
The second half saw a couple of swaps, but the biggest change was in the Borough girls finding a 5th gear, and then some. The second half was awesome.
All the same qualities of resolve and desire were still there, but were now matched with a controlled tempo of the game and the composure and patience to work on the Winscombe pressure points.
With the line-out working better than we have seen all season, a scrum stable under pressure, and more work being done outside the contact areas, Pulborough were able to control the game in impressive style.
Being camped around the Winscombe 5 metre line might have turned into one of those occasions where careless turnovers cost us points. Not this time. Patience and a few good passes offered the ball eventually to Cat, who pounced over the line like a….. cat. Another conversion slotted by Fisher.
Winscombe were trying to find solutions with use of the boot once more, but the distances were all wrong and it was becoming a welcome pattern of turnover for Pulborough to capitalise on.
The Borough breaks were penetrating the Winscombe defence more regularly. Izzy took 30 yards or so out of everyones legs, before recycling a few phases and the ball was finally worked out wide to Lottie, who finished as capably as she had defended her wing. A wide angle and breezy draft meant a single miss for Lauren off her boot on the day.
The whole team was putting in a super performance and it would make for a slightly tedious and perilous match report to start listing accomplishments. But of special note were the J&J twins who probably had their best game in Pulborough colours, in both attack and defence. Ellie had a blinder, her work rate helping smother opportunities around the ruck.
Flo harassed and gnawed away at the opposition, while Emily had another truly smashing performance, showing a fleetness of foot to make vital recovery tackles, in addition to her usual smash & grab qualities.
Fishy had an impressive performance at 10, with a lovely interception in her own 22 being the start of a break that saw another star, Cap’n Carnforth, end up running 30 metres to the Winscombe 22. A beautifully timed offload to a supporting Legs Lauren meant try number four was slotted under the posts, before Fisher finished what she started with another solid conversion.
With the game slipping away from Winscombe it was clearly time for the Borough finishers to come on and finish the job.
Six subs and the Pulborough side continued in the same controlled manner. Showing the same desire, high skill sets and a shared ambition.
It was great to see the last 10 minutes largely played out in the Winscombe half, and the last try coming from another patient set of phases on their 5 metre line; the ball released down the backs, to be hit by Izzy running a sweet line at pace to finish. Fishy nailed 4 out of 5 over the sticks.
So clearly a very encouraging performance. Composure and skills under pressure. A 6th gear when needed. A broader set of tackling - everyone stepping up to the mark. And more organisation around the set piece and contact area.
Some areas to work on too though, (line speed, and speed to the ruck….) but still a great performance to build on.
And of course Winscombe will come back on another day with their full squad, and an even bigger ambition to beat Pulborough - but that’s OK, because for now the Borough girls seem to relish the pressure. Bring it on.
Next stop - Essex.
Team (tries): Niamh, Cat (1), Ellie Mae, Jas, Jade, Katya, Emily (1), Zoo, Flo, Lauren F, Sarah (c), Aliya, Rachel, Grace, Lauren S (1)
Finishers: Lottie (1), Cally, Izzy (1), Jess, Ella, Hannah, Rosebud, Lucy, Carla, Harriet, Molly