Kent RFU Ladies v Sussex RFU Ladies
This afternoon we were blessed with a spectacle of first class rugby, both teams had a significant number of new players compared with last season. The weather on the North Kent Riviera was pleasant for the spectator but the wind was blowing up the river towards London at some pace.
Kent elected to play into the wind the first half, the elements certainly made a difference and even though there was an intense start, the Sussex back line struck with their winger dashing down the left-hand side of the 22 and over for a try. 5-0 to the visitors.
At the kickoff, there was some nervous play and a scrum to Kent. The scrum was an area of the game where the Kent ladies dominated, they were the smaller of the packs but their pre-season training paid off. The front row of Vicky Black, Bex Broadhurst and Sarah Moorhouse, were given a huge shove from Ebba Wiberg and Stefanie Purdy in the boiler room and the back row, Zoe Hill blindside, Ellie Drabble openside and Georgia Barrand no. 8 surged forward in the scrum. Georgia picked up at the base, fed the ball to the ever-green Katie Dootson at scrum half, the ball went along the line and a blistering run from Georgia Gray, leaving opponents in her wake to over for the first of her tries. The conversion was slotted over by the cheeky Aussie outside-half Bree Hill, the ball having been blown off the kicking tee, Bree snapped it up and dropped the goal to convert the try, Kent took the lead 7-5.
There was a period of toing and froing, both teams having possession, and suffering from the effects of the gusting wind. Kent utilised their attacking scrum, the ball went right and Lizzy Nicholl scooped a pass from her boots, play switched to Tasha Bradshaw who popped up to burst through the otherwise parsimonious defence of Sussex, to make the score 12-5.
After the restart both sides had possession and turnovers, it is fair to say that Sussex made good use of the choke tackle and won a number of scrums from that facet of the game. Sussex made use of some good running lines and went over for another try, the conversion went over to bring the scores level at 12 all.
A nasty collision meant that Stefanie aka Bruce was taken off for an HIA and Rachel Coates took up the mantel for her first County cap.
Shortly after the kickoff, the ball was stolen again by the Sussex forwards and a swift move gave them the lead, 12-17.
After an entertaining first half for the neutral, Kent turned to run with the wind. The elements assisted to some degree, Georgia Gray was bossing the midfield, Ellie Lawther and Beth Pickernell had not seen too much ball due to the conditions making it perilous to pass to the wingers. That would change.
In the second half Sussex kept up the pressure, they managed to secure possession in the Kent 22 only to have that turned over, the scrum being dominant. Becca “Ginge” Guild came on to relieve Katie ‘Doots’ Dootson, Ginge was like a tormented mosquito in the ear of her opponent, putting doubt into her ability and buzzing around the back of the scrum to great effect. The ball went out to Bree who used her howitzer boot to send play deep into the Sussex half. A lineout between the 22 and 10 metre line, pressure from the home team and another scrum, the ball went out to be intercepted by the stealth tactics of Georgia Gray, in the centre, dancing footwork and great hands, the ball went along to Tasha who blitzed the defence and went over for her second try. Bree nonchalantly potted the conversion to put the hosts back in the lead. 19-17.
Shortly after the kick-off, there was a magnificent counter rick, the backs were on fire and Tasha Bradshaw glided over for a well-deserved hat-trick, duly converted by Bree, 26-17.
Sussex were not going to lie down, they demonstrated great character and determination against the wind, a kick to the Sussex left wing was chased down by Ellie Lawther and Becca Leharne, the diminutive Sussex winger was going down in the tackle and Ellie caught her around the back of the neck, no intention to cause harm but that does not matter these days, the ref showed her yellow, she went up to check on the injured Sussex player who thankfully was ok to continue but Kent were down to 14 ladies.
The visitors turned on the pressure, then made use of the overlap to go over for a 7 point score, 26-24.
Kent had fallen on the wrong side of the referee’s whistle and Sussex marched them into their 22, then the dagger to the heart score a few minutes from time, the conversion going astray meant the score was now 26-29 to the visitors.
With Ellie back on the pitch the Kent ladies never say die attitude was evident, all the finishers Beccy Penfold, Katie Allen, Faye Easton and Victoria Sparrow, were now on the pitch, Lizzy Nicholl joined the ranks of the injured, they had given everything, the expression “leaving it all on the pitch” was evident. Kent applied a stranglehold on the game in the Sussex 22, a succession of quick penalties and Ginge twisted and turned her body like a contortionist to get the final try, to make the score 31-29 to Kent. What had happened to Bree’s boot??
Sussex did not give up, a high ball in the kickoff, spilled and the winger mentioned earlier sped along the touchline, she was bundled unceremoniously into touch, the final whistle blew and a heart-stopping game came to an end.
Every player who graced the pitch this afternoon gave it their all, that is both sides, a thoroughly entertaining match.