The success of Manchester’s U18 Girls was always going to be difficult to maintain with six of last season’s “stars” moving on to senior rugby this season. On the basis of this match however, the future looks bright with four players new to the game making their debuts and the team still holding their own against established opposition.
Manchester seemed quicker to settle into the new season, setting up camp in the host’s half but unable to progress far into their 22. When they did however, Vale’s defence stood firm and an unnecessary penalty was conceded with Manchester looking likely to open the scoring. A good clearance again moved the match back to around half way with some early season handling errors allowing plenty of scrummaging practice.
Manchester continue to be impressive here with a strong front row of Charlee Chambers, Alyx Maw and Amber Smith again having the edge over larger opposite numbers.
A new half back pairing of Hannah Johnson and Leanne Murray continued to improve through the game as Hannah provided quicker service and Leanne began to rely on her centres. The speed of Hannah and the strong direct running of Leanne proved a handful for their opposite numbers throughout.
The untried three-quarters did a tremendous job as proven by the fact that the team's defence was only breached twice in the match – a real achievement when three of the four backs available (Lucy Colledge, Hannah Gordon and Rachel Twigg) were playing their first league game. Although U18s regular Eleanor Harper missed a number of games last season, it was good to see her slotting back into the side to give possibly her best performance with a real contribution to attack and defence alongside her new team mates.
A scoreless first quarter was finally over when the forwards marched a maul towards the Vale line to set up an attacking platform for the backs. A well timed break from the maul by Charlee was resisted by an alert defence but Rachel was able to keep the move going and passed out to Hannah for one of her shorter gallops to the line to make it 5-0 to Manchester.
It looked as if Manchester would be able to build on this foundation as they frustrated Vale by retaining the ball. Unfortunately this was without the penetration that would really have troubled the hosts. A rare excursion into Manchester’s 22 saw a penalty being awarded for handling in a ruck just 10 metres out. A predictable but effective forward drive from that distance followed, forcing the ball over for the equalising score (5-5) on the stroke of half time.
The match seemed to be set up for Manchester to take charge at this point, certainly on the basis of the first half stats! Converting territory and possession into points was a weakness of Manchester at the start of last season before a couple of morale boosting big wins provided the confidence in the team’s own abilities. Let’s hope that doesn’t take as long this season as the hard work being done deserves more reward on the scoreboard.
In any case Manchester deservedly got their noses in front with a great penalty try, courtesy of new U18s captain Alyx Maw. A loose ball was seized upon by Alyx who had the presence of mind not to try to pick it up but to use her footballing skills to take it towards and over the line. Having the measure of her nearest attacker Alyx only had to touch the ball down for the score. A reflex intervention by the defender saw Alex being held back, an action not lost on the referee who signalled for a penalty try to make it 10-5 with a conversion in front of the posts to come.
Charlee stepped up to claim the extras and set the ball on the tee. An early charge by a couple of the Vale of Lune girls led to Charlee pulling out of the kick as she approached it. The referee warned the girls and signalled that Charlee could re-take the kick. Unfortunately in the confusion caused by the charge and perhaps an unfamiliarity with the rules, the kick was rushed and drifted to the left of the uprights to keep just the five point advantage.
The gap was not decisive and a series of penalties against Manchester, all due to inexperience rather than cynical play, progressed Vale towards Manchester’s line. It wasn’t pretty but from that distance the forwards were once again able to force the ball over the line for the equalising score. From wide out the conversion was unsuccessful and the game remained in the balance.
It still seemed likely that Manchester would pinch the game but a sustained attack was spoilt by a careless penalty which led to a series of penalties being conceded, again moving Vale into Manchester’s half. Vale’s progress owed more to the penalty count on the day but even the most understanding referee has to apply the rules and it was Manchester’s naivety which was being punished – fortunately something which will be put right through experience.
A final dart into the home side’s half from a fine run by Lucy with Rachel in support could have secured all the points right at the end but time ran out and the spoils were shared.
This was a match that could and probably should have been won. It served its purpose though in that the new girls became part of “the team”. In case there was any doubt, the established girls will now realise that our new recruits are already prepared to fill the gap to keep Manchester’s U18 Girls competitive this season.
Captain's Player of the Match: Lucy Colledge