Welwyn U15 girls reached the semi-final of the RFUW National 7s tournament held at Lichfield on Sunday to become one of the top four teams in England.
The Welwyn girls, sponsored by JCA Group, played some fine rugby throughout the day to reach the semi-finals. A couple of notable injuries along the way, then left them short in a close match against a very physical opposition.
The competition drew sixteen teams from all four corners including Devon, Yorkshire and Lancashire as well as teams more familiar to the Hertfordshire players from across the whole of the south east and midlands.
The girls played three matches in their group winning two and drawing one. The first two matches against old rivals London Irish and Newquay Queen Bees had a very similar story. On both occasions Welwyn started very strongly and in control, scoring three tries. Then team changes during the second half, resulted in a few minutes tumultuous play during which the oppositions rallied with three matching tries.
Welwyn beat Irish by a solitary conversion 17-15 with tries from Hannah Botterman, Sara Blissett and Sophie Gregory. They drew against Newquay 19-19, with tries from Zoe Harrison, Sara and Megan Smith.
The form book from the season's leagues and the first couple of rounds of matches suggested the hardest of the matches would be against South Sussex Baa-Bas, and yet this was perhaps Welwyn's most composed, controlling performance of the day. This was despite South Sussex scoring first and then Welwyn losing their divisional prop Elle Perry with an arm injury in the first half that would keep her out for the rest of the day.
Elle had started the day alongside fellow prop Lucy Corrigan, but her departure gave the coaches licence to play our second rows, Floss Jones and Megan, in a front row partnership. A lifetime of playing together at Royston showed and meant control was maintained. Welwyn ran in three successive tries from Sara, and Zoe twice, winning by 17-5 to top the group.
The quarter-final match was a pleasant surprise as Hertford were drawn out of the hat: nothing like a little local rivalry to add some spice and this tie also meant that most of the Herts county first team would be playing each other. Once again the opposition scored first, within the first minute, but Welwyn responded with three tries – Beth Summerfield scored twice, and Saph Bennett was awarded a penalty try. With the game almost won there was further incident with a dead-leg injury to Hannah before Hertford scored a second try in the final play, resulting in 21-10 victory for Welwyn.
In the context of the quantity and quality of matches played, the injury to Hannah was a big loss, notably for the quality of her tackling. Judging by the group results, Welwyn had perhaps the toughest group. All the other group winners seemed to had at least one "easy" match that would have allowed for the less experienced players, Sophie and Helen Roberts (playing her first ever matches), to be given more match time in less demanding circumstances. This would have given others more of a break - especially the half-backs Kate Summerfield and Zoe, who both played every single minute of all the matches.
The semi-final was against Lancashire Lightning, an unknown quantity but who certainly looked the part stature-wise at least. Welwyn scored first through a try from Sara, but the Lancashire team responded quickly and scored a second before half time. Welwyn were picking up more injuries and were inevitably tired which allowed Lancashire to play their own, hard physical game. Nevertheless, Welwyn were never dominated, and Zoe got another try back to give some hope. A sprained wrist to Beth in the final minute added to the injury list, and so the tournament ended with a 10-22 loss and a team bloodied but unbowed.
The team's coaches Gareth Bowser and John Harrison congratulated the girls and thanked them for their efforts over a long day adding "At the start of the season we set our goal on winning the league, which we did, so anything more than that would have been a bonus; a semi-final place and the style in which we achieved it are further proof, if it were needed, that Welwyn U15s can rightly claim to be in the top handful of teams in the country."