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Report | Tigers Women's win Championship semi-final

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Summary

Knockout rugby’s inherently simple nature makes it sports most inherently dramatic spectacle as both teams are able to go hell for leather and leave it all on the field. Leicester Tigers won through a tighter set-piece game, a team stacked with brilliant jackal threats and just having that bit more grunt, in an attritional game of hard-working rugby.

As we have come to expect from this group, from a coaches and players perspective, the focus will promptly shift to finishing the job in the play-offs. For today, however, the team can celebrate a clinical semi-final win and the achievement of reaching a first-ever final at the home of English rugby, Twickenham, later this month.

Report

The game starts off quite nip and tuck, both sides keeping things tight. There's a couple of strong carries in midfield to warm up the shoulders before a gainline shot from Katie Childs allows Charlotte Fray to come straight over the ball and win an early turnover to huge cheers. But Old Albanian’s are more than happy to throw their weight around with big shots, subsequent carries from Tigers being met with double tackles, lead by captain Kirsty Exley. But its Leicester’s captain who strikes the first crucial blow, as a penalty is called and Natasha Jones sends an inch perfect kick to touch. Samantha Williams’ throw is perfect to Roisin McBrien at the front of the line and Tigers get the shove on, with second-row Georgia Westwood barrelling over for a vital opening score. The rolling maul, so intrinsic to the Tigers DNA, coming to the forefront just as the side needed an edge.

With momentum seized, the Tigers Women’s side look to turn the screw early. There’s almost a case of deja vu just seconds later as Tash sends another lovely nudge right into the same corner. Although the referee judges the subsequent throw to be not straight, the cries of 'next job' from the scrum are promptly adhered to as they turn the ball over with a roaring shove. Albanians are defending for their lives already but hold strong, their goal line defence repelling big carries from Ofure Ugiagbe and Westwood before the attempt to go wide sees Louisa Burgham blasted into touch from prop Mica Gooding.

But the away side just cannot build on this when Tigers are so threatening at the breakdown and Tanya Bird jackals strongly to retake possession just a couple of phases later. There’s scrappy play but, shortly afterwards, McBrien repeats the turnover trick and then reacts quickest to take the tap and run through the hole. Fray is on her shoulder, able to drive that last few metres, powerful carrying sucking in defenders directly in front of the posts. Tigers execute to perfection, using the space to go wide and allow Louisa Burgham to dot down for the game’s second try.  

The home side are suffocating their opposition, denying them any possession, neutralising threats before they can build momentum. This match report may read like Frederick Forsyth’s most acclaimed novel because this truly was ‘The Day of the Jackal’; not just because of the eponymous turnovers but the military like precision with which their set-pieces are executed.

The visitors look to gain a foothold by forcing a knock on right from the kick-off, flying up with intent to turn this contest around. Top scorer Caz Collie comes crashing into midfield looking to get involved for the first time but runs into a brick wall in captain Jones who forces the knock on with a bone-rattling hit.

Scrum dominance continues to paying off here as Tigers win a third scrum penalty of the game and again Jones kicks to touch. Seconds late the centre is battering through two, three players before the ball is ripped agonisingly close to the ljne. Tigers attack thus far has been deliberately very tight, hitting hard lines from both half-backs and keeping things simple. 

In conversation with Steve Hanna prior to the game, he talked about the strength of Old Albanian's attack, their combination of strong runners in the back three and an intelligent kicking game that allows them to stretch the pitch and look to tire the Tigers defence. This can be seen here as Albanian's longest spell of possession sees them utilise Katie Johnson's clever kicks in behind from open play and the booming boot of full-back Collie to great effect, disorganising the Tigers defence. Collie has been looking for an opportunity to run all game and suddenly there's holes all over the pitch and she starts to motor. She smartly uses hands to execute a two-on-one on the right but Burgham has tracked the play and shows great endeavour to get across and force the knock on 15 metres out, relieving the side of the most pressure they have been under thus far. 

With just ten minutes left of this first half, the home side win a vital, fifth (!), scrum penalty to stem that tide and flip momentum. They build back confidently and, once again, it’s the set-piece that grants them the breakthrough. Tigers run a brilliant move, dodging both the scrum half and the set maul to instead send an unmarked Tanya Bird straight through. She spins off one and goes down a couple of metres out but the home side react quickest and Westwood picks, drives and gets her second of the afternoon with great placement from the extended arm.

Half time: Leicester Tigers 19 – 0 Old Albanian Ladies

Going in three tries to the good, the second 40 minutes is based on that will to win, the grit to stay composed and stick to the plan. Tigers knock-on early but they keep their cool and walk Albanian's right back in the scrum and turn it over, a statement of dominance from the pack. That is reinforced just moments later as, with a penalty right on the line, the forwards fly in. First its a typically abrasive Fray on a big line, one that is followed up quickly by Ugiagbe who finishes the job and crashes down for a vital early score, the opposition unable to deal with her power. The prop, alongside hooker Samantha Williams, is making her 15th start of the season, the first two to reach this milestone and indicative of their importance to the way Tigers want to play up front.

Old Albanians are leaving it all on the field but in their desire to introduce those pacey threats, their play is reckless and they are struggling to build phases. In the chaos, Jones wins yet another Tigers turnover, reminiscent of the great ‘Tasha Turnover’ performance at this very ground, vs. West Park Leeds. 

Although this has been a game lacking in running rugby, it's starting to open up here. McBrien is the one to instigate this, another quick tap penalty from her, this time from 60 odd metres, and she shoots through a gap. She steps one but is met well by Collie. Tigers look to go wide quickly through Draycott but Albanians are strong out wide and they win their first turnover of the game with a jackal of their own to banging boards and shouting substitutes on the away bench. However, the tides turn quickly on these shores and substitute Rebecca Church makes an impression early by winning a turnover of her own, to an even louder response from the home team.

The tides are indeed turbulent and they continue to shift, as do the away side in the best spell of the game. Whether due to coaching instruction or game management, they have readjusted their game plan and are now coming in on hard and tight lines, adapting to Tigers' wide defence. Old Albanian’s get their first points on the board with carry after carry after carry before lock Georgina Kreysa can go over.

Now we've a game on our hands, with just 20 minutes left. The wind in their sales, Albanian’s roar back and Collie finds space for the second time this game and makes it count, causing chaos. She offloads to fellow flyer Siobhan Drummond and, as Tigers scramble to cover, an unfortunate high tackle sees Charlotte Daley sin-binned shortly after entering the field (on her birthday of all days). 

You know the creep of nervousness of a comeback brewing? It’s part of the beauty of sport but also the horror of it, the crushing inevitability overwhelming the senses of spectators and players alike and is the most volatile element of competition.

The Tigers must have that feeling now, camped on their own line, with 14 women on the field and facing a penalty. However, they will not lie down and let pressure consume them. From the tackles, McBrien pulls off yet another jackal (which means we must surely be into double figures for those now) to ease the burden enormously. They have the impetus now, each carry a statement that this game will not slip from their fingers, only a tight forward pass to a rampaging Fray (who was looking to storm through for a full pitch wonder try) stopping proceedings. But again, as Albanians look to build, the jackal comes, just a handful of phases later and finally Tigers can gain back some ground. Georgia Bradley combines well with Burgham out wide and the wing coolly steps inside her opposite number as we progress to half-way.

However, there’s that cold spectre of a comeback once again. The away side defend well in midfield, build phases of their own and earn a penalty which they kick to just a couple of metres out. As things look bleak at the back, McBrien again offers the ray of relief, a line-out claim from the skies allowing Tigers to clear their lines. But typically, this game turns on a dime and a chip over the top later sees Lucy Biggs dive from range to just touch down with her fingertips and, with 10 minutes to go and just 12 points the difference, the worry sets in for the spectators.

The comeback scare can paralyse a team or it can be the making of you. The worry can be sickening. But that cannot compare to the relief and the joy of seeing Charlotte Fray seize the game by the scruff of the neck and ensure there are no miracles today. Firstly, from kick-off, McBrien forces a knock on with a monstrous hit. Again, rather than rush anything, the home side stay composed and keep things simple. Waves of runners come in but this it's Fray who breaks down the door, her overs line sending defenders skittling and allowing her to drive over right in front of the posts for an alleviating seven points that allows the game to be put to bed.

There are a medley of carries following this but a scrappy final five minutes, punctuated by an Albanian’s last-breath try out wide against a defence that had put everything on the line before that. The whistle blows and pure happiness and the wider squad engulf the field with cheers. The Leicester Tigers women’s team are off to London!

Full-time: Leicester Tigers 31 – 19 Old Albanian Ladies

Match Details

HT ScoreHalf Time Score

LEI 19-0 OAL

FT ScoreFull Time Score

LEI 31-19 OAL

Attendance

Not available

Referee

Not available

Leicester Tigers
Leicester Tigers
31

Full Time

Old Albanian Ladies
Old Albanian Ladies
19
Leicester Tigers
KOHTFT
Old Albanian Ladies

Commentary

Full-time

A gritty second-half sees Tigers hold on, a try each from Ofure Ugiagbe and Charlotte Fray allowing for a 31-19 win. Tigers are through to the Championship play-off final.

Half-time

A pair of tries from Georgia Westwood and one from Louisa Burgham sees Tigers lead 19-0 at half-time.

Kick-off

Today's semi-final is underway here at Leicester Forest!


Match Preview | Old Albanian Ladies

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With the Championship North 1 season firmly wrapped up, attention now turns to the play-offs. In the semi-finals, Tigers Women’s will face the team that finished in second place in Championship South 1, Old Albanian Ladies.  

Tigers go into this game after nearly a month off from competitive fixtures, their last league game coming on March 19, a home win against Bishop Auckland. 

The home side have only played a friendly match against the Army Rugby Union in that time, a physical encounter they won 24-20. 

There are no injury concerns for a side which sees captain Natasha Jones return to the fold, after missing the aforementioned friendly. This semi-final will see the team hope to continue their winning run that has been going since their formation at the beginning of this season, ahead of next year’s maiden season in the Premier 15s.  

In conversion with coach Steve Hanna, he noted how the team has been looking to build back up to being match ready. Hanna said: 'Having had a de-load week we have ramped up training this week. We were fortunate to be able to go live against the RAF on Tuesday, allowing us to look at contested scrums and line outs and then run 15 on 15 which was a good opportunity for us to fine tune a few things. Thursday was very much our usual team run with a real good energy and vibe ahead of the semi final.'

Old Albanian Ladies have earned their spot in the semi-final through finishing second place in Championship South 1 and their run of form is impressive, despite losing their final game of the regular season two weeks ago, away to third placed Thurrock Ladies. 

The Hertfordshire side have won nine of their last 10 games, a run which includes a 26-15 victory over eventual division winners Bath Rugby Ladies. 

It’s in attack in which they shine brightest, scoring 624 points across their 18 games which is the highest within their division. That electric attack is spearheaded by Siobhan Drummond, who, prior to last weekend, had scored 12 tries in the previous five matches. 

The away side are also accustomed to a Premier 15s standard, playing their home games at Saracens Women’s training ground whilst are they are also often used as part of the club’s pathway for younger players and the wider squad, in a similar relationship to the one Tigers have with Lichfield.

When asked about the prospect of facing the side, Hanna added 'we are absolutely aware of the threats Old Albanian's will bring but the focus has very much been on ourselves and our strengths rather than focus on OA’s. We are excited to be back in action after our week off and are looking forward to the challenge'.

MATCH DETAILS
Date:
 Sunday, April 16
Kick Off: 3.00pm
Venue: Leicester Forest RFC

STARTING XV:
15 Molly Draycott
14 Louisa Burgham
13 Katie Childs
12 Natasha Jones (c)
11 Harriet Roberts
10 Amy Relf
9 Morgan Richardson
1 Jade Jones
2 Samantha Williams
3 Ofure Ugiagbe
4 Charlotte Fray
5 Georgia Westwood
6 Tanya Bird
7 Roisin McBrien (vc)
8 Becky Noon

Replacements: Rebecca Church, Georgia BradleyZoe WarringtonLeilah MillsEllie TurnerAbi Gordon, Charlotte Daley

Team News | Tigers side for play-off semi-final

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Leicester Tigers have named the matchday squad that will play Old Albanian Ladies on Sunday, April 16 at Leicester Forest RFC, in the semi-final of the Women’s Championship play-offs.

Natasha Jones captains the side with Roisin McBrien and Katie Childs named as vice-captains.

The starting front-row sees a switch to the props from the side’s last league outing, with Jade Jones moving back to a more familiar loosehead role and Ofure Ugiagbe returning at tighthead whilst Samantha Williams retains her spot at hooker for the fifth competitive fixture in a row.

The second row is retained from the home game to Bishop Auckland, a game in which both locks scored, with Charlotte Fray packing down alongside Georgia Westwood.

The back-row has undergone a significant shift since the last league game, vice-captain McBrien the only one to keep her place, now lining up at openside flanker. Tanya Bird starts at blindside flanker, having just been named MVP for Tropics 7s in a recent tournament in Hong Kong. Completing the pack is Becky Noon at No.8, set to make her first start in eight weeks.   

The half-back pairing sees Morgan Richardson return to the No. 9 jersey, having after featuring exclusively in the back-row since the opening game of 2023 at home to Worcester. At fly-half, Amy Relf starts for the ninth game in a row in all competitions, having divided time between the two half-back slots. 

The two centres are captain Natasha Jones and vice-captain Katie Childs who are set to start together for the tenth time in a competitive fixture. 

Finally, the back-three are retained from the announced line-up for the walkover win over Barnsley, with Harriet Roberts and Louisa Burgham the two wings and Molly Draycott at full-back.

MATCH DETAILS
Date: Sunday, April 16
Kick Off: 3.00pm
Venue: Leicester Forest RFC

STARTING XV:
15 Molly Draycott
14 Louisa Burgham
13 Katie Childs
12 Natasha Jones (c)
11 Harriet Roberts
10 Amy Relf
9 Morgan Richardson
1 Jade Jones
2 Samantha Williams
3 Ofure Ugiagbe
4 Charlotte Fray
5 Georgia Westwood
6 Tanya Bird
7 Roisin McBrien (vc)
8 Becky Noon

Replacements: Rebecca Church, Georgia Bradley, Zoe Warrington, Leilah Mills, Ellie Turner, Abi Gordon, Charlotte Daley

Form Guide
Form
LLWLW
Last Match
Beat Loughborough Lightning 22-17
Past Meeting
Won 31-19
Form
Last Match
Past Meeting
Form
L----
Last Match
Lost to Leicester Tigers 19-31
Past Meeting
Lost 19-31

Matchday Live

Leicester Tigers31
Leicester Tigers
Old Albanian Ladies19
Old Albanian Ladies
Full Time