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All good things must come to an end, including the fantastic run of victories for Lancaster University Women’s Rugby Union team, who have enjoyed their most successful season of recent years. Last week’s match against Chester concluded the season.
It was to be the deciding match of the league, and neither side held back. With the Roses tournament set to take place in York this year, this was the last match on their home pitches for many of the Lancaster team, so it was all to play for. The result; a victory for Chester. This was perhaps not the end to the season that the Lancaster side were hoping for. The women suffered a 15-0 loss to Chester, although the match was a lot closer than the scoreline would suggest.
If the Lancaster side were at all apprehensive about their chances in the game, they hid it well. Before the game commenced, shouts of “Who wants this ball?” echoed across the pitch, met by a resounding “I want that ball!” from the entirety of the Lancaster starters. This confident display received a somewhat uncertain silence from the opposing team. Despite this unquestionable determination to dominate, it was Chester who were to control the first half of the match, as Lancaster struggled to settle into the rhythm of the game.
Chester surged towards the Lancaster try line within the first few minutes, but were pushed back by dogged defensive play. Despite this, Lancaster conceded tries early on, with Chester scoring their first within the opening 11 minutes, but failing to make the conversion. They kept the pressure on after this first try, making it difficult for Lancaster to reach the Chester twenty-two. After being held off by the determined Lancaster defence, Chester scored their second try in the 27th minute, but once again failed to convert.
Lancaster seemed to find their feet in the closing stages of the first half, with some fantastic runs, in particular from their rapid number 13, Alex Simpson. Unfortunately, it was not enough to break through the Chester defence. Chester saw their final try in the closing minutes of the first half, followed by yet another failed conversion, this one being as wide of the uprights as the previous two.
Lancaster were not to be disheartened. They came fighting into the second half of the game, shaking off the disappointment of the first, with it all still to play for. This renewed spirit saw them become the dominant side, making a massive improvement on the first half.
They were on the ball much more, and had some great attacking runs. Chester brought a lot of physicality to the game, which had previously been the downfall of the Lancaster side. However, at this point in the game, Lancaster countered this advantage of their opponents well, showing a strong defence, which prevented Chester from reaching the Lancaster line.
Although Lancaster utilised their strong defence during the second half, they were somewhat lacking when it came to attacking play. Seemingly effortless runs saw Lancaster come within yards of scoring a try, only to be pushed back by the equally strong Chester defence. A fantastic display of skill from Catriona Hay led to what was perhaps Lancaster’s closest attempt at a try. After kicking it clean over the Chester defence, Hay chased and reached the ball before the opposition, only to knock on.
In the late stages of the game, Chester’s number nine was sent to the sin bin, to the delight of Lancaster’s large fanbase. Having already conceded penalties for not realising the ball in rucks, it was the players’ verbal aggression towards the Lancaster Captain that seemingly pushed the referee over the edge, showing a rare yellow card for women’s rugby.
The second half of the game did not see any alteration in the score. The final whistle blew, calling an end to the somewhat scrappy match, and confirming a Chester victory and league title. Lancaster can be proud not only of the skilful and determined play that they brought to the field, but also of their graceful behaviour in the face of defeat, willingly congratulating their opponents.
Lancaster can look back proudly on what can only be called a phenomenal season, and now look forwards to their up and coming Roses match in May. Captain Robyn Smyth commented: “Myself and the team were obviously disappointed to miss out on the league title. However, the accomplishments over the whole season are plenty to be proud of. The loss will only provide more fuel for the Roses fire”.
With the Lancaster/York rivalry as fierce as ever, and the Women’s Rugby squad being one of the strongest the university has seen, it is a game not to be missed.