On a windy afternoon in London, Leicester Tigers were defeated by a hard working Trailfinders Women, who claimed their first win in Allianz Premiership Women’s Rugby.
Downing Tigers in a performance of staunch defence and physical attack, the away side were severely disappointed; large swathes of quality play, undone at the last second on several occasions.
The game starts as difficultly as is physically possible. Trailfinders touch the turf with two tries in ten minutes as Tigers are slow to get out of the box. The hosts keep possession for basically this entire period. Sending in strong runners on tight lines to score first a driving try and then, for the second, working the ball wide to find space in the corner.
There’s a swift rallying cry amongst the Tigers players and the away side are spurred back into life quickly. They establish a foothold, with a great mixture of running, driving carries from the pack and a lovely, jinking run from Meg Jones to keep building over the gainline.
As they build into Trailfinders half, they win successive penalties, the first kicked to the 22 where the ball is spread wide and carried hard in the centre of the field before the second is kicked to five metres out.
Tigers, the wind in their sail, pull off a picture perfect driving maul, a dart of a throw by Elis Martin, who then collects the ball at the back of the driving maul to dive over and score her first try in a Tigers jersey.
This end-to-end contest looks like Trailfinders will turn right back around and score themselves. They keep the ball tight and send in their abrasive pack but the ball is turned over right on Tigers line to huge cheers from the away bench.
Meg Jones hoofs the ball up to halfway to alleviate pressure and shift momentum massively. The line-out is surgical and Tigers play the ball out, probing the hosts defence with more stepping from Meg and a big straight-line carry from Katie Childs.
The defensive effort here is outstanding from Tigers, who are then camped on their own line for the better part of ten minutes; the pack are putting in relentless graft, holding the ball up, fighting for turnovers and putting in big shots, while the likes of Tess Feury do brilliantly to cover across on the far side when they try to work it wide.
But the pressure finally tells. Prop Liz Crake, who scored the hosts opening try, hits a powerful line and just gets over the line to put Trailfinders two scores ahead once again.
Tigers heads are still up and they look to counter swiftly but fate has other ideas. They win the ball back well and play nice phases but when a kick through is collected and Trailfinders reply, the hosts chip and chase pays off. The rugby ball is a cruel mistress at the best of times and here the bounce sees the egg roll right through and over the line, Trailfinders flanker Megan Barwick quickest to react and dot down for a second score in as many minutes, putting Tigers firmly back on the back foot.
Tigers try to rally in the half’s closing minutes, Meg Jones almost scoring a wonder try after a cunning quick tap & go on her own line, scorching through the opposition defence and reaching halfway before being shut down.
The whistle is blown and a tough first half comes to a close.
Half time score: Trailfinders Women 24 – 07 Leicester Tigers
The second half begins but it's the home side who carry the momentum from where they left off.
Red Rose Abby Dow makes her first contribution of the game with a driving run in midfield but she’s hauled down by three Tigers. A minute later, a booming clearance from Caz Collie sees Dow attempt a trademark sprint down the line but Francesca McGhie does brilliantly to cover across.
Now Tigers look to press home their openings and mount a comeback but they’re stopped agonisingly short in succession, twice by turnovers on the Trailfinders line.
M Jones kicks to touch and the ball is recycled out to Charlotte Fray who spins off and almost powers to the line, hauled down really well by opposing second row Shya Pinnock. But the ball is cruelly turned over just a phase later and the home team clear their lines.
Jones takes a penalty quick and offloads well to Fray who makes great ground. The ball is recycled quickly to substitute Sarah Nicholas who wings the ball wide to McGhie. The Scot does unbelievably well to take the ball overhead and carry back into contact but, again, the ball is turned over inches from the line.
Sandwiched between these crushing moments is a Trailfinders try that rubs that extra salt in the wound. Keia Mae Sagapolu Sanele hits a trademark driving hit on an opposing forward but the offload finds Trailfinders’ Red Rose back five player Rowenna Burnfeld who shoots into open space. From halfway she makes it to Tigers’ 22 before being hauled down. The hosts play the ball quickly and, with Tigers scrambling back in defence, the ball finds flyer Abby Dow who has the pace and guile to scythe through the line and score.
The final few minutes sees Tigers throwing the kitchen sink at their opponents, trying to force a break, find the space. But Trailfinders defence and their ruck disruption has been consistently exceptional throughout the match and they staunchly keep the side out, through a mixture of turnovers, covering of kicks through and forcing a knock on.
As the game ticks into the final seconds, Trailfinders have the ball and the impetus to push for a bow on top of their performance. Tigers scramble well to cover Dow flying down the wing, to cover the bludgeoning carries flying in from all over the field but eventually USA captain Kate Zackary is able to squeeze through and cross the whitewash to huge home cheers. Ellie Green smashes the ball through the posts and the final whistle goes.
‘Gutted’ was Meg Jones’ first reaction when speaking to LTTV following the game. A succinct summary of a tough afternoon.
Full time score: Trailfinders Women 36 – 07 Leicester Tigers