Nuns Pass First Preseason Test
A solid performance over a seasoned Championship 2 side welcome the Nuns back to XVs rugby after a summer of 7s.
ABBEY NUNS opened their 2017/18 league campaign with a well-deserved win over Old Albanian Saints in a much-anticipated preseason friendly played on the immaculate facilities of their hosts in St Albans. A game of four quarters, the Nuns had specifically booked this friendly against a side well used to the rigour of Championship 2 in order to best prepare them for the season ahead.
The Nuns started the brighter team with structured play from the kick-off, their quick line-speed closing down Saints' ball. Execellent paired rucking from the back three of Gingell, Maybanks and Chandler allowed scrum-half Ellie Rice to probe the Saints defence and force errors and turnovers. The subsequent scrum, a stronghold of the Nuns' game all day, ensured the backs received quick ball in order to exploit the gaps in defence. Good tackles from the Saints winger though kept the Nuns from an early score. However it was not long until hooker Claire Stevens, who was outstanding all game, stole ball from the opposition and perfectly releasing winger Gingell, debuting for the Nuns having trained at Abbey RFC since she was a Mini, raced down the wing to dot down in the corner.
Saints responded quickly however and the resulting restart was knocked on by fly-half Annette Tomas. From their scrum, quick hands allowed their dangerous inside centre to break the line, who then moved the ball to the wing until that move was halted by a cover tackle from Tomas. Saints continued to apply the pressure however and their pacey winger finally beat the defence on the outside and raced in for her maiden score. Keen to respond, Nuns replied with an excellent turnover from flanker and debutant Pippa Robinson, and good hands from prop Jess Potter to Tomas allowed the fly-half to show and go through the gap and race in under the posts. Full-back Tish Maybanks slotted the only conversion of the day.
At half-time it was 12-12, after some indecision by the Nuns had allowed Saints to creep into their 22 and although the Nuns' blitz defence was initially strong, resisting wave after wave of Saints attack, their backs were eventually released to score in the corner. However, by the end of two quarters, the Nuns were confident they could see this game out to the end.
The second half saw the Nuns play their best rugby and the forwards came into their own, with excellent carries from Potter, Nat Mitchell, Joey Fowler and Meg Fowler. After countless impacting runs from inside centre Annabel Hawkins, who received back of the match for her efforts, Tomas changed the game plan to start releasing outside-centre Louisa Burgham into the fray. The tactic worked, and Burgham handed off four defenders in an incredible solo effort to score on her debut.
Now in control of the game, the Nuns were firmly playing in Saints' half. Intelligent kicking from Rice, Hawkins and Tomas pinned the hosts back deep in their 22, allowing the forwards to execute their set piece moves. The most exciting passage of team play saw several forwards, including props Molly Wells and debutant Gwen Cartwright crash towards the line, until the ball was released to the backs. Burgham was denied centimetres short but then Rice released Hawkins on a crash ball for a well-deserved score.
Determined to have the final say, Hawkins cleared well from the restart, with Robinson and replacement winger Amy Wilson blistering down the pitch after the ball. While the latter put in the tackle on the full-back, the former stole the ball cleanly, and the Nuns drove for the line once more. Carries from Mitchell, Potter and Gingell were stopped inches short until skipper Joey Fowler, who had led from the front all match, dove over for the final try.
OA Saints 12-27 Abbey Nuns
Tries: Gingell, Tomas, Burgham, Hawkins, J Fowler
Convs: Maybanks (1)
Forward of the Match: Mitchell
Back of the Match: Hawkins