In the first game up in Newcastle, away at Novocastrians, the Tyneside team played a very physical game, exploiting their smaller pitch and allowing for abrasive, direct running and middle-of-the-park play. Here today at Mattioli Woods Welford Road, a Tigers side gave a focused, cerebral performance to neutralise their opponent’s strengths and maximise their brand of flowing, full-width rugby.
From minute one, the supporters inside Mattioli Woods Welford Road can see that all-court game in action. Inside-centre Abi Gordon is acting as almost a second 10, firing miss-passes and great looping balls around the field, whilst half-back pairing Amy Relf and Lucy Nye keep the pace up, sending in carriers from all across the pitch, Nye keeping that tempo in defence as she flies out at her opposite number and Tigers win the turnover on Novocastrians 22. They’re battered back by that physical Novocastrians defence, a big time dump tackle on Katie Childs eliciting an ‘oooo’ from the bench. The home side are blistering in attack but struggling to convert initially, lacking that clinical edge. Nye, coming out firing in her first appearance at Mattioli Woods Welford Road, shows great reactions to steal an overthrown line out and Amy Relf fires a huge miss-pass to a crashing Childs, undeterred in the carry. Molly Draycott chips and chases but the ever unpredictable rugby ball shows its elusive nature and just bounces away as the home side come close again. The next phase, however, the gameplan pays dividends and their patience pays off. Tigers build phases again from the scrum, Draycott’s initial carry into the wide-right channel shut down but, with the away side perhaps anticipating the wide pass to a lurking Zoe Evans, Nye smartly goes inside to Becky Noon who carries straight, powerfully and bulldozes through three defenders to open the scoring.
Novocastrians stick to their strengths, taking a tap & go penalty and aiming to break down the defence with pure force. The home side have shown, however, they can rumble with the best of them and match physicality up-front. Debutant Georgia Bradley goes close to a dream score from a good 60 metres out, the versatile lock/back-row popping up on the wing here, and the fans are off their feet, but she’s dragged into touch well. As Tigers send bodies in on the right, they exploit the space on the left, wing Lucrezia Iavarone wrestled to the ground but finding the offload to send Sam Williams through. She liquifies some ankles to step one and then put Lucy Nye into space. The scrum-half is desperately tackled just centre-metres before the line but the Tigers keep their heads, send in forward runners and it’s Ella-Mae Fereday who isolates a defender and barges over for the game’s second score.
Suddenly the game has opened right up, Tigers hitting a napping Novocastrians with a one-two-three knockout punch, following up first with a great score by Iavarone. They take the kick-off and the forwards set a nice central platform for the backs to play, working it wide for the first of the winger’s hat-trick.
That second try comes just minutes later. The gap emerges from the unlikeliest of sources, with the telepathic front-row connection causing havoc; first a miss-pass from Rebecca Church into Ofure Ugiagbe who sends it wide to hooker Williams. Amy Relf, a versatile back who’s occupied both half-back slots for Tigers this season, going back to her scrum-half roots and showcasing quick thinking for a lovely pick and go through a gap. Incredible defence stops her just short but she produces a lovely offload and Iavarone has her second.
In full-flow now, the Tigers are hungry for one more just before the whistle. First, a wonderfully floated miss-pass from Gordon brings Evans close to the line, before Fereday, hunting a second try herself, is driven back with a big double tackle. ‘Process, PROCESS’ comes the cry from Vicky Macqueen as Tigers set for a tap penalty just five metres out, the pressure relentless on the away defence. Finally, after a succession of penalties, carries and brutality, having spent five minutes camped on the five-metre line, Lucy Nye smartly picks and goes to extend their lead going into half-time.
Leicester Tigers 27 - 0 Novocastrians Ladies
As they enter the field for the second half, the intensity has only heightened for the hosts. Tigers kick-off deep into Novocastrians territory and within seconds, Ofure Ugiagbe wins an astute turnover. Spotting space out wide, the backs ship it right, Evans twice going close in the corner but is marshalled well. Back to the centre, however, and Draycott pulls a rabbit out the hat with a beautiful offload to Childs, who’s free to dot down.
In conversation with coach Steve Hanna, prior to the game, he spoke about today’s bench deliberately containing direct runners, to come on and carry hard at high speeds against a physically spent defence. Just a few minutes into the second half we see successive double substitutions as first Jade Jones and Tanya Bird, then Kat Turner and Natasha Jones, come on as a quartet of powerful runners and these talents comes into play almost immediately. Yet despite the oncoming steel, it’s first silky play as Amy Relf floats over another looping, almost clairvoyant miss-pass to Georgia Bradley who then releases Iavarone. She’s stopped well as Novocastrians scramble to cover, but her comes the steel, first Jones barrels over the gain line, before quick ball allows Bird to do the same and quickly from the base, Nye finds Molly Draycott steaming through for her 15th try of the season.
Novocastrians look to seek a way back in and build phases well, but substitute Leilah Mills does brilliantly to strip the ball back, break down the right and put through a delightful grubber up to half-way to relieve pressure as Tigers bundle the covering winger into touch. Tigers again keep it patient, forcing errors and following a deep line-out in Novocastrians territory, they strike, the front row finally getting their reward with a classic abrasive drive over from close range by Tanya Bird, another substitute score.
Credit must be given to the coaches here as we enter the last 10 minutes and it’s the substitutes showing what they can do. Again, Tigers run it hard before seeing space and releasing it wide right, one substitute to another as Leilah Mills executes the 2 on 1 to perfection with a lovely draw and give and Holly Williams has space to dot down.
As the final minutes ticked away, Tigers brought out a beauty of a move, reminiscent of Hugo Keenan’s try vs. France in this year’s 6 Nations, a lovely fake offload leading to a swivel and pop for Holly Williams to go agonisingly close. But there’s Jade Jones, able to pick up from a couple of metres out and dot down clinically, a true prop’s try. A final flourish to complete the match sees Jones repeat the trick, a symmetrical score seeing her drive over just to the left of the posts this time.
The final challenge set by Hanna, on the morning of the game, was to retain defensive solidity, retaining their crown of the least points conceded across all divisions, regardless of gender. In truth, their beautiful cocktail of guile and relentlessness in attack meant that Novocastrians were simply barely given time on the ball to execute any of their own moves. Tigers came home and showed no sign of losing their grip on either their defensive or unbeaten records.
Leicester Tigers 66 - 0 Novocastrians Ladies
LEICESTER TIGERS TEAM
15 Molly Draycott, 14 Zoe Evans, 13 Katie Childs (VC) 12 Abi Gordon, 11 Lucrezia Iavarone, 10 Amy Relf, 9 Lucy Nye; 1 Rebecca Church, 2 Sam Williams, 3 Ofure Ugiagbe, 4 Georgia Bradley, 5 Ella-Mae Fereday, 6 Roisin McBrien (VC), 7 Morgan Richardson, 8 Becky Noon ©
16 Tanya Bird, 18 Jade Jones, 18 Kat Turner, 19 Leilah Mills, 20 Natasha Jones, 21 Holly Williams, 22 Bryany Chalk
NOVOCASTRIANS LADIES TEAM
15 Louise MacLaine, 14 Harriet Fluck, 13 Olivia Rowe, 12 Tasha Robson , 11 Rachel Torrance , 10 Charlotte Spark, 9 Grace Trimble ; 1 Sophie Mawer , 2 Camille Hilditch, 3 Leonie Denley, 4 Jess Richards, 5 Louise Becker, 6 Hermione Farmer, 7 Nico Banados, 8 Amie Walker
16 Lucy Morris, 17 Ellie Pigford, 18 Suzanne Falconer, 19 Lauren Coulsen