Lions first outing a resounding success
The Lions team took to the fantastic 3G pitches at Hertfordshire University’s De Havilland campus on Saturday (8th Feb) for the first tournament stage of the Sapphire Series, BAFA’s flagship women’s tackle competition. With four 5 v 5 games ahead of them the Lions won three out of four, finishing second overall.
Convincing wins against Southampton Stags, Hertfordshire Tornadoes and Portsmouth Destroyers were interjected with a sobering loss to Kingston, the latter proving the most valuable lesson of the day as a small but well drilled squad took eventual tournament honours, shutting out the Lions (disappointingly but convincingly) in their second round match-up.
The tournament couldn’t have got off to a better start however, Lions taking an early lead courtesy of pint-sized half-back and absolute rookie Ruth Matta’s electric running, with too much fizz for the Stags D to contain Matta went in for two in quick succession to get the Lions’ moving. The Lions’ defence was equally clinical, holding the Stags on successive drives with some belligerent assaults on the opposition’s under pressure QB and running game, Nose Tackle Michelle Gwynne and Linebacker Phoebe Schecter contributing in particular.
A combination of good slight of hand in the backfield and strong running from wing Laura Moore and End Becky Williams helped seal the game early in to the second half and with the game in the bag wholesale changes were rung introducing all of our O and D rookies to the game; good early showings from linebacker and nose tackle Aimee Cottingham and Cheryl Ireland respectively were brought to a premature halt when Cottingham sustained an unfortunate finger dislocation (both headed off to hospital; Aimee is now ok and hoping to be back training soon).
Stags mounted a rallying come-back, notably from their stand-out player Laura Hill but it was too little too late as Lions wrapped up their first ever tackle appearance with a “W” (34-12).
Next up was the more significant challenge of Kingston, who we knew – having just lost out to home side the Tornadoes – would be an interesting proposition…and that they were. Kingston jumped out of the blocks and simply never looked back. Caught cold the Lions struggled in the horrendous conditions to get back in to the game, their passing game faltering and their running game losing some verve as Kingston’s defence applied the pressure. Kingston subsequently turned the screw and closed out the game with a nous and maturity that demonstrated their commitment to this series (L, 0-22).
With a less than acceptable shut-out registered the Lions knew they had to get back on it, and fast. Stern words from coaches Kilby and Branagh and some consolidation by the team as a unit brought about a much more patient approach to their next game, against Herts’ Tornadoes. Coach Kilby’s calls coming in were spot on and the offence marched Herts down the field, quick scores coming from Moore and Matta, the former off a short drag, the latter off a beautiful sweep-counter to set the precedent.
Lions’ defence then took up the mantle and with something to prove simply dominated. Herts’ running game was nulled at source – Schecter in outstanding form and easily topping the team’s tackle stats closed down anything short – but when the Tornadoes took to the air, the Lions’ simply shifted gears: cornerback Jemma Nixon keeping pace with her wing to close down options whilst Katrina Coleman’s introduction for the diligent Nancy Stone (also at corner), was to no detriment – the UoB student effectively containing her opposite number (W, 20-0).
And to the last game. Portsmouth Destroyers. An established team, Portsmouth went in to the final round in a similar position to Birmingham: W2, L1 – but the Lions’ had saved their best till last. Moore got the offence off to the best possible start, centre Polly Danks and Williams creating the critical blocks to allow this steely runner to hit the hole, she then cut back, barged through the remaining Portsmouth defence before gliding in for the touch down of the day. With the wind dropping QB Jo Kilby started picking up the passing game and aerial scores from Williams and a diving 2pt conversion catch from Moore put the Lions firmly in control.
Defence mopped up anything the Destroyers could throw at them, and with defensive captain Nena Killick directing from Safety nothing passed by our last-man…the Destroyers only converting two first downs all game. A change in personnel saw UoB wing Charlotte Jeff take to the field, a strong run from half-back Ezme Moyse moved the chains and with the defence hooking on the sweep, Moyse this time sold the fake to release Jeff on the counter – the track sprinter effortlessly easing in to the end zone for her maiden score. On their next possession a similar series of plays set up the same movement and again Jeff delivered, special mention however must go to replacement End Kiara Vincent, who’s visibly improved and effective blocks sealed inside to help Jeff’s scores.
Nose tackle Rin Voigt-Hill helped close out the game, harassing and haranguing until the Destroyers could go no further (W, 25-0).
So all told a great day for the Lions’ first outing. 3 good wins from the off. Valuable lessons learnt in defeat. All brand new players blooded and finally, all players (relatively) unscathed from the experience. The team atmosphere after the game was one of real excitement and enthusiasm which bodes well for the Lions’ development and indeed, we hope, for their contribution to future Sapphire Series!
The Lions Women’s team’s next game is against Derby Braves (away – location TBC’d) Saturday 22nd February – we’d love to welcome your support on the sidelines; see our Facebook page for more details.
Image with thanks to Garry Charles Photography and © MyLonelyTreeMedia.