Bletchley 33, Barnsley 41
Barnsley Ladies showed their mettle in a terrific play-off match against Midlands champions Bletchley to book their place in women’s rugby’s second tier.
With both teams vying to reach Championship North for the first time you would have forgiven them for being a little apprehensive in a dour match – but it was quite the opposite.
Barnsley started the brighter, but Bletchley hit them on the counter after a handling error to open the scoring with a converted try.
Barnsley continued to push forward but couldn’t make the breakthrough and once again Bletchley countered in the 23rd minute, with the help of a couple of mistimed tackles, to double their lead, but a try from scrum half Jessica Roberts, with a typical sniping run through the Bletchley defence brought the Shaw Lane-based side back into contention after they overturned the ball at the resulting restart.
Alix Taylor’s conversion attempt was wide, but Barnsley reduced the deficit further when Leonora Salvucci scored after some great work from the forwards had created an opening, and this time Taylor’s Kick was good.
However, with just over a minute of the first half left Barnsley’s concentration lapsed and Bletchley scored two tries in quick succession, converting one of them, to lead 26-12 at half time.
Barnsley came out of the blocks quickly in the second half to close the gap with try from Sally Wenham, but Taylor’s conversion attempt was again wide.
It seemed that Barnsley’s Achilles heel in this game was to lose concentration and a further lapse in this respect allowed Bletchley to score their fifth try, and, with the help of the conversion. extend their lead to 16 points.
It was then that Barnsley made a couple of substitutions, replacing Simone Saunders and Rosie Whittaker with Lauren McKenzie and Georgia Staples, while at the same time switching Hailey Swann to full back and Leonora Salvucci out to the wing.
Within five minutes Salvucci had reduced the deficit – Taylor missing the conversion – and Barnsley carried on pressurising the Bletchley defence. Roberts was making quite a nuisance of herself with quick tap penalties, and from these Bletchley were fortunate not to have a couple of penalty tries awarded against them for deliberate fouling.
Undaunted, the Barnsley pack kept driving forward, finally opening up the Bletchley defence for Salvucci to score her third try in the corner. Again the conversion was wide of the mark.
After 74 minutes the referee had no option but to produce a yellow card for a Bletchley player after another Roberts’ tap penalty, leaving them with 14 players for the rest of the match.
Immediately on the restart Taylor jinked through the Bletchley defence to score, this time adding the conversion,putting Barnsley in front – by just one point – for the first time in the match.
From the restart Barnsley powered their way towards the Bletchley line again and the forwards opened up the defence for Wenham to force her way over the line, Taylor converted the kick to extend Barnsley’s lead to 41-33 with only a minute to go.
The match ended after Roberts kicked the ball into touch from a scrum, sparking jubilant scenes, both on the pitch and amongst the supporters in the stands.
The forward of the match award went to Chanel Rushforth for her hard work, especially in the rucks and round the breakdown, and the back of the match award went to substitute Georgia Staples, who made such a difference with some fantastic runs.
- Photo by Richard Saunders