Army Women 24pts v 5 Emergency Services
Great game! Someone pressed the Army refresh button on 9 December and the Women clicked into gear. They were ready.
In their way stood a vibrant Combined Emergency Services team that came to Aldershot demanding a share of the action. They fielded two international players who individually had a strong influence on the course of the game.
Skewen must have seemed empty after Wales No8 Shona Powell-Hughes got on the bus for Hampshire. She has, shall we say, presence and had a great game off the back. Simply dousing SP-H’s fire was a major test for the Army back row.
It would not be this column’s style to comment on the judicious use of the whistle but shall we note the Combined XV had a massive number of opportunities to feed the scrum.
That, on its own, allowed SP-H to set the contest’s pattern: whistle–scrum—feed—thunder—ruck. Open side Tara McGlade, playing at the top of her form, sharpened the close defence to stifle SP-H’s plans to slam her way down the park. The contact battle produced great scraps.
Throughout a tough hEad-to head the Army pack was forced to excel. The front row of Sarah Batley, Rae Metters and Bianca Dawson whammed into contact. Heidi Silcox had one of her best games in a Red’s shirt. Winning the up-front battle was much more than just winning the scrums. It ensured SP-H had to pick- up from a retreating scrum—a vital cornerstone to a successful defence.
The Army had opened somewhat on the back foot as the Combined XV’s Nicola Davies, Oli Davies and Welsh international wing Rafiuke Taylor hit the pace button. Last trench tackling held, the Reds broke out and counter-attacked for No9 Gemma Stonebridge-Smith to cross.
Ironically the Army also played a brace of Welsh internationals in fly half Gemma Rowlands and centre / wing Chantelle Miller.
Recently crowned Army Sportswoman of the Year, Rowlands orchestrated the game from behind a pack that increasingly dominated the set pieces. One loop worked a treat and she glided in unopposed, and converted, for a half time lead of 12pts-5.
Wales winger Chantelle Miller opened at centre before moving to the left wing where we saw much of her raw speed. She is difficult to put down and earns precious seconds for the arriving support.
Up to the hour point it was a pretty even battle, both sides seeking that little edge to attack through the teeth of some pretty fierce tackling. The watershed came with a thundering run from centre Sarah Mitchelson that set a different agenda for the last quarter. SP-H still clattered off the back but the Army, in contrast, showed strong hands to feed the speed. Wing Leah Thompson scored a great team try for a 24pts-5 victory.
Bonus for the night was the welcome return of Dani Phan off the bench, once again to produce her trademark silky runs.
The Combined XV had arrived in strength. In turn the Army demonstrated skills and character to meet the challenge with some cracking women’s rugby. It was a smooth operation from a team moving with increasing confidence and ability. They know what they are doing and for this the backroom boys led by Head Coach Capt Glyn Barraclough and Manager Major Don Smith must take huge credit.