LIONS’ IRONS IN THE FIRE HOPING TO DELIVER
It’s a BAFA Sapphire Series Saturday this weekend, so here with a Rnd 3 and Rnd 2 preview of the A Team’s Division One South and the B Team’s Division Two North exploits respectively is Lion’s Press Officer (and DB), Céline Bisson:
LIONS A – HOME @ AVERY FIELDS, BIRMINGHAM
This weekend will see the Lions host the third round of the Division 1 South competition.
Currently standing poised (with two games in hand over Division leaders London) the five-time British champions will have home field advantage for the first time this season giving the team the chance to truly christen their brand-new Avery Field facilities.
The Lions will kick off the tournament by facing well-known adversaries the Hertfordshire Tornadoes, and whilst the teams are historic rivals, the Lions have dominated every clash against their southern counterparts since their dualling began back in 2014. Their last meeting ended in a 48-nil win for the Lions during the inaugural tournament of this year’s Series, however, the Tornadoes onwards contribution shouldn’t be underestimated. Unlike the home side, Herts have benefitted from almost 6 weeks off!! (since their last December 12th outing), giving them plenty of time to rest and prepare ahead of the tournament – will the valued R+R be a telling factor in their performance or will game-rustiness be the order of the day?
Onwards and arguably the game to watch will be the Lions’ third match-up against the London Warriors (…Portsmouth’s forfeit in December altering the division’s schedule to create the unplanned extra meet).
After the Londoners pulled off quite the upset with a win against the Lions in the first tournament (35-31), the Warriors firmly established themselves as contenders to a title that has remained firmly in the grasp of Birmingham’s claws since the Sapphire Series’ began. As such it was probably no surprise that the Lions quickly adjusted following their loss to dominate the second head-to-head, and in conditions that this time favoured a balanced attack the Lions levelled proceedings with a strong 40-19 showing.
…but who will come away with the bragging rights this time? Whoever does will surely take the #1 seeding into the play-offs ensuring, on paper at least, a smoother and more significant opportunity to reach the Finals, but what must come first is the W.
Spectators can expect to witness a hard fought game, which will first and formerly start in the trenches – last time, the Lions’ (not so) secret weapon was incontestably their O-line – Maz Hughes, Michelle Gwynne, Elisha Huxtable and Laura Dye all representing a somewhat insurmountable barrier and with Lions’ pocket rocket, Ruth Matta, a major dual-threat behind them, not many defenses rest easy against the Lions’ O. Another to watch will be WR Hanna Kuisma, the Fin had a break-out performance against Sandwell and London in Round 2, as such, this time, expect her to be on every secondary’s radar. On the other side of the ball too, the Lions’ DL is now packing a punch thanks to the return of Aimee Cottingham, and we hope this weekend too, Lisa Thomas – both dominant GB linemen – they will be a significant threat to any back-field operators this weekend. Pressure up front will be key, expect the standards to be set by these guys.
LIONS B – AWAY @ CHESHIRE COUNTY SPORTS CLUB, CHESTER
Next up, the Lions’ B team, who will be travelling to Chester this weekend for only their second-ever tournament.
After a convincing debut win against the Teesside Steelers and an awarded win against Cheshire (due to unfortunate transportation issues for the Bears) the Lions’ development squad is now sitting atop Division 2 North, with arguably a target on their backs, but what a game they have to kick off their visit to Chester with…and that’s an eagerly anticipated rematch against the home-side!
In Round 1, the Lions game was called shortly after half-time, with the teams neck and neck, but with a full hopefully uninterrupted fixture on offer this time around Cheshire will be looking to some of their walking wounded from late last year to be fighting fit, and as such, the Lions will expect nothing short of an arm wrestle from the off.
The Pride’s second outing will again see the Lions face off against the Steelers. Birmingham last came up with a 32-22 win, thanks in part to QB Natalie Parker’s stalwart leadership and a strong second half showing from the Lions’ defense, against which Teesside’s offense in the end struggled to adjust to. Will Teesside hit the ground running or will the absence of their team captain Leanna Williams prove a fly in the proverbial ointment for them?
With meteorological conditions announced for Saturday said to be slightly better than those the teams faced last year (at Teesside’s Billingham home ground), it will be interesting to finally see all three teams’ passing game on show. The Lions have plenty of talent on this side of the ball, not just with GB Practice Squad Parkers’ arm but in her targets, including second-year receiver Jessica Hastings, as well as dual-threat rookie RB/WR Ellie Marok. Combine this fast-developing prowess with a bustling Lions’ defense – which will be firmly solidified by the return of third-year DL Alex Wadeson, and coupled with rookie DL Marianna Lacinova’s ever-improving destructive ways – and the team will be hoping that both Teesside and Cheshire’s best laid plans are left in tatters come 5pm on Saturday.
Good luck to both teams, we look forward to seeing your results come in across the course of Saturday.
Image © Jody Davies Sports Photography.