Rugby: Harlow’s young rugby women show talent and resilience

Athletics / Wed 17th Apr 2024 at 08:00am

Harcroft 25 v 43 Datchworth and Hertford

SOMETIMES, rugby requires resilience as well as raw talent. Short of players and coming to the end of a tough season, Harcroft hoped grit would see them through a testing match as they hosted Datchworth & Hertford at Harlow.

It was not to be, with a physical encounter taking its toll, but Harcroft once again showed plenty of promise for better results to come.

On a warm day, playing 10-a-side rugby on a large pitch, stamina was always going to be key. All the more so, since unlike Datchworh & Hertford, Harcroft began the game with no replacements – and would see injuries add to this disadvantage.

The game began with a rapid exchange of tries. Datchworth & Hertford opened the scoring before Tilly struck back to level the match at 5-5, showing her speed and strength to break free. Her long-range effort was typical of the powerful running she displayed all afternoon.

However, Harcroft’s strong start faded quickly, as Datchworth & Hertford’s backs began to take control, exploiting the wide open spaces that the pitch offered up. Harcroft found it difficult to close down their fastest runners and while Josie, Grace and Martha repeatedly put tackles in, they were unable to prevent a number of opposition scores.

Both sides had agreed to play three thirds of 20 minutes, and at the end of the first of those thirds, it began to look as if Datchworth & Hertford would overwhelm the home team. With four tries in addition to their opening score – all converted by a front-row forward who showed excellent kicking ability – Datchworth & Hertford went into the break with a 33-5 lead.

The middle period started worryingly too. Tasha picked up the ball from the back of the scrum and showed quick footwork to make rapid ground, only to be hauled down by two opposition players. A knee injury sustained during the tackle forced her to leave the field for treatment.

However, this setback appeared to galvanise the Harcroft team, which went searching much more aggressively for a toehold in the game. Their courage paid off almost immediately with the try of the game. Martha took the ball on from the ruck before feeding a perfectly-timed pass to Lily whose speed helped her get over the line.

Even better was to follow. More Harcroft pressure pegged back Datchworth & Hertford, forcing several errors and penalties. Eventually, Tilly and Lily were able to bundle the ball over the line together, with the team crediting Lily with her second try of the game.

Though unable to convert either of her own tries, Lily’s brace had reduced the deficit, with Datchworth & Hertford now leading 33-15. Harcroft have made a habit this season of coming back strongly after falling well behind and now they looked to repeat the escape act.

Unfortunately, their momentum was immediately checked by a second injury, with Kaiyah forced to join Tasha on the sidelines after taking a knock; having found Kaiyah’s running testing all afternoon, Datchworth & Hertford looked relieved to see her leave the pitch. And as the referee blew his whistle for the end of the second third, the odds look stacked against Harcroft.

That, however, was to overlook the healing powers of the team’s backroom staff, with physio Simon able to get both Tasha and Kaiyah back on for the final third. And that boost saw Harcroft make further inroads into Datchworth & Hertford’s lead almost straight away.

Both Edith and Abbie had gone close, with last-ditch tackles holding them up, but Harcroft continued to press. Any one of a series of moves could have resulted in a try, but Martha was eventually on hand to score from close range.

Another converted try from Datchworth & Hertford then restored their lead, leaving Harcroft 40-20 down with 10 minutes to go. However, the home team refused to surrender.

Tilly was one again able to break free from a midfield position. She looked set to score her second try of the game, only to be brought down within metres of the line, but Josie had supported her strongly and was able to pick up the ball and complete the move. It was a well-deserved first try of the season for Josie, who had worked hard in the scrum and the ruck all afternoon.

At 40-25, Harcroft’s vociferous home support began to believe once more. But tiredness was beginning to creep in, and the pitch looked larger than ever, particularly with Harcroft now playing into the wind once more. Inevitably, Datchworth & Hertford had one more try in them, taking the game to 45-25 and finally putting it beyond Harcroft.

It was tough to take. Harcroft were fairly beaten by a good side, but with a full-strength team, this would have been a much closer match-up. Their determination was to their huge credit, but the attrition told in the end.

Well-deserved player of the match awards went to Abbie, as back of the day for her consistently strong running and passing, and Josie, as forward of the day for her try-scoring breakthrough. There is more to come from all these players.

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