Rugby: Harlow’s girls tough it out and never give up against Hitchin

Rugby / Mon 29th Apr 2024 at 07:58am

Hitchin 47 v 12 Harcroft

AT the end of an attritional season, Harcroft travelled to Hitchin hoping for revenge following a narrow defeat on the same ground in February. They were met by inclement conditions, with a biting wind and freezing rain threatening the teams’ ability to play flowing rugby.

This would be an emotional afternoon for both sides, with Hitchin saying farewell to five players moving into women’s rugby next season, and Harcroft losing two of their own for similar reasons. Next year’s Harcroft squad will badly miss Alex and Lily M, who have both made outstanding contributions this season.

Harcroft made a strong start to the match, kicking off and winning early territory. The two sides looked very evenly matched, trading possession and competing fiercely at the breakdown. Despite the weather, both teams were keen to bring their backs into the game, showing several promising passing moves.

It took 10 minutes for the deadlock to be broken, and it was Harcroft that crossed the line first. Grace and Imogen played a significant part, making good ground with strong running. But it was Tilly who took the ball over the line, picking it up from the ruck and using her strength to beat two Hitchin defenders. The try went unconverted but Tilly’s score gave Harcroft a 5-0 lead.

After such an encouraging beginning to the game, Hitchin began to take control, with a very strong scrum and some fast aggressive running from two centres who would prove difficult to handle for the entire afternoon. Both Martha and Alex put in strong tackles, but Hitchin were not to be denied, levelling the game at 5-5.

Harcroft bounced back, with Lily C and guest player Max showing real attacking threat; their pace and strength were troubling the Hitchin defence, and Harcroft had several opportunities to take the lead. Josie also came close to breaking through but was held up by a last-ditch tackle.

Somewhat against the run of play, however, Hitchin scored next. A handling error in midfield gifted Hitchin the ball with Harcroft’s back line out of position. That enabled Hitchin to touch down in the corner, despite Edith’s efforts to chase the scorer down.

With 10 minutes to go to the break, the match looked delicately poised. Hitchin’s 10-5 lead looked anything but secure and Harcroft were continuing to move the ball around well. Abi’s linking play between forwards and backs was paying dividends.

However, two decisive moments would completely change the balance of the match. First, Lily C found herself isolated as Hitchin broke free of their own half; her outstanding tackle prevented a certain try, but she was injured in the process, forcing her withdrawal from the game. Hitchin capitalised on the restart, exploiting the space left by Lily’s departure to move 15-5 ahead.

Next, confusion at the line-out added to Harcroft’s sense of injustice. The referee’s decision to penalise Harcroft’s throw-in as not straight looked unfair given that Hitchin’s players had lifted too early. But from the resulting penalty, Hitchin crossed the line for a fourth try and a 20-5 lead at half-time.

Harcroft’s coaching team did their best to rally a disappointed side during the break, but the setbacks had hurt. A further injury for Abbie was also concerning, though she was fortunately able to carry on, and Harcroft’s second-half performance would be undermined by their travails – particularly in tough conditions that began to take their toll on a heavy pitch.

Indeed, the third quarter of the game was one to forget for Harcroft. As the depleted away side struggled to reorganise and regroup, Hitchin seemed able to score at will, eventually extending their lead to 42-5. It was a score that reflected their dominance but they would not have found it so easy against the full-strength Harcroft side that started the game with such promise.

However, Harcroft’s resilience has been a feature of the side all season. And while it would have been easy for the players to give up in the face of adversity, they were determined to salvage some pride. Slowly but surely they began to fight their way back into the game. Abbie and Imogen worked hard to break the Hitchin lines. Tasha fought valiantly to make ground. Martha had several clean runs.

This persistence was eventually rewarded. Harcroft won a line-out 10 metres from the Hitchin line and after three phases of possession, Charlotte touched down for a well-deserved try. Lily M converted with an excellent kick to take the score up to a more respectable 42-12.

Hitchin also deserve credit for continuing to play through the rain – and the home side had one more score in them. Their late try was the final action of the game, taking the finishing score to Hitchin 47 – Harcroft 12.

It was a tough way for Harcroft to finish the season. Without the injuries, as well as several refereeing decisions that seemed to go against them, this might well have been a different match. The opening exchanges of the game suggested there was little to choose between the teams.

Still, Harcroft’s spirit was not broken and the team left the pitch to enthusiastic applause from a contingent of away supporters who had faced their own challenges with the unseasonal weather.

Players of the match awards went to Grace, who fought hard in every ruck of the match, and Charlotte, whose try was the highlight of another strong performance. Roll on next season. 

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