Leicester Tigers Women's scored nine tries in a 57-5 win over West Park Leeds Ladies at Leicester Forest RFC in Round 12 of the Women's Championship North 1.
As the game kicks off with the home side facing the high midday sun, Leicester Tigers looked here to play. From minute one the intensity was palpable, with successful hard hits in defence before captain Natasha Jones lead the charge with a Tommy Reffell-esque turnover to big cheers from the home bench. Fly-half Ellie Turner set a physical early tempo, dictating play with successive, abrasive carries from the centres and back-rows, with the aim to wear down the West Park defence and keep the pace high.
Tigers showed great patience to keep pounding away at a staunch defence and this paid dividends when Morgan Richardson (playing at flanker today rather than her usual berth at scrum-half) sprinted in from twenty metres, her no.9 instincts kicking in to nip through the gap on a pick and go. A fantastic boot from out wide by Katie Childs and Tigers had started as they meant to go on.
The heavy carrying continued as Ofure Ugiagbe ran successive hard lines, with a lovely spinning offload mixed in. This seemed to galvanise the side into adding a fluid offload dimension to the hard-running. This riskier strategy allowed lots of room for Tigers to play but meant try-scorer Richardson had to be sharp, sprinting back to cover tackle when an opposition intercept looked to have them through to the line. When the risk pays off, though, it's magic. A backs move straight from the Training Ground allowed Turner to play it down to Louisa Burgham in acres of space. She couldn't quite make it to the line but offloaded well to Kat Turner who carries well before we go full basketball and a series of offloads ends as Molly Draycott finds space and touches down.
However, the visitors were not about to roll over and a clinical series of carries saw them drive over just minutes after Tigers had given themselves a two-try cushion. This comeback didn’t last long as, clearly inspired by what they had just seen, no.8 Kat Turner touched down in replica fashion barrelling over with a typically abrasive carry.
The offloads just kept coming, this time a well-taken ball by Zoe Evans sees her find space and release Draycott before a nice one-two sees Evans carry in. As the field became increasingly broken, a tactical shift to the boot (aided by Louisa Burgham’s terrific kick-chase defence) allowed the home side to keep the pressure on and Richardson to pick a gap and a mighty fend-off later sees her drive to the line for her second score of the afternoon.
West Park try to build the phases to steadily break their way back into the match but Louisa Burgham was utterly relentless in defence, not only hitting three successive tackles as waves of West Park crash onto shore, but then shooting up to drive them off the ruck, setting a platform for another Natasha Jones steal ('Tasha Turnover' anyone?) to alleviate pressure. A frantic half comes to a close in typically exciting fashion as West Park's put it all on the line with the clock in the red only to be dashed by Katie Childs' superb hold-up.
Half-Time score: Leicester Tigers 26 - 5 West Park Leeds
We began the second as we ended the first, a succession of carries but this time it’s Tigers with the impetus. The scrum and subsequent carries are tremendous and give Burgham a platform to skip inside her opposite number and finish. Just two minutes later she was making a brilliant cover tackle as West Park threaten to break.
There was so much fight and aggression all over the field, Tanya Bird leading with a big charge down as the Yorkshire sides efforts are rebuffed again. They regather but Tigers’ subs have come on with intent as Roisin McBrien drives them back five metres and two phases later wins a big turnover. From here, another clinical score as another sub, Holly Williams, cuts through on a support line after Molly Draycott had found space and stepped an onrushing full-back.
The home crowd are really raucous now as, first, Louisa Burgham hits another huge tackle, snapping a corner flag as she drags her opposite number to touch before fellow wing Zoe Evans gets in on the action with a lovely chip, chase and tackle, to the applause of the fans who have had their fill of physicality. Physicality is the word of the day for this game, with substitute Jade Jones (now sporting both a new position with a move to prop and a new last name) brutally turn over a scrum on West Park’s five-metre and captain fantastic Tasha Turnover hits a great line to touch down.
With just 10 minutes left, the home side are still bursting with energy as Tanya Bird jackalled expertly to win bac possession for a Tigers side hungry for more tries. They come as close as possible as Zoe Evans chips over the top and, a couple of offloads later, Ella-Mae Fereday flies through on a storming line. She looks certain to touch down but exceptional cover defence from West Park manages to knock it out of her hands at the last moment. It’s all for naught, however, as Tigers stay patient, build phases and eventually Ofure Ugiagbe can touch down clinically. Indeed, their patience is rewarded shortly afterwards as a succession of carries seal the game, Roisin McBrien putting a brutal flourish on a hard-hitting match up.
This match can be summed up with the huge roar that went up from the bench following a lung-busting run from Rebecca Church to pull off a simply brilliant tap tackle in the dying seconds to stop a West Park counter, a game bursting with aggression and quality. As coach Steve Hanna said in the post-game team talk, that is exactly what it means to play for Tigers.
Final score: Leicester Tigers 57 - 5 West Park Leeds