Rugby blossoms at Blackberry Lane with the final game of the season producing a well-earned victory.

Rugby blossoms at Blackberry Lane with the final game of the season producing a well-earned victory.

By Steven McLuckie
4 May
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Stafford Ladies 48 - 10 Barton under Needwood Ladies


Clear skies over the county ground provided the perfect backdrop to a convincing win for the Stafford Ladies last Friday night against the visitors from Barton under Needwood. The 26-strong Stafford team included 3 mother and daughter duos, alongside senior debuts for Stafford Roses U18s players Verity Billingham, Elizabeth Farmery and Tianna Wilkinson-Tizley. Barton travelled slightly light on numbers so the team were supported by Stafford players to offer experience and a competitive game for all players.

The Stafford line up showed their intent from the whistle, with the fast pace of the back line putting pressure on the Barton squad to turn over possession from the kick-off. Successive strong carries from the home side pack secured vital meters before the ball passed swiftly through the back line, out to the wing who was stopped short at 5 meters. A quick pick and go combination from mother daughter duo Elizabeth and Gill Farmery saw the ball crash over the line within 5 minutes, giving the first points on the board to flanker Gill, her first score of the season. The Stafford pressure continued for Barton and despite the solid defensive efforts, the rapid footwork of Verity Billingham in the full back shirt was rewarded with 2 tries carried over the whitewash. Saskia Conaghan’s tidy kick saw the home side chalk up a 17-0 score at the 20-minute mark. An undeterred Barton team regathered at the restart, slotting the kick-off deep into the Stafford half before bearing down on the home side. The enthusiasm of the home side at the breakdown gave away possession, with Barton gaining ground to the home side 22 before a crushing Stafford tackle left the visitors just short of the whitewash. Some quick hands, nimble footwork, and a kick through from Verity saw follow Roses U18s player Saskia dot down, converting her own try and adding another 7 points to the board for the Blackberry Lane XV. Rotation within the Barton side brought a new set of boots for the kick-off, gifting openside flanker Elizabeth space in the field to make headway into the Barton half with only 5 minutes remaining. Some fast hands, excellent link up play from the centres and discipline at the breakdown drew the Barton defences to create a gap for Stafford’s fly half Sophi Kowalewska-Fry to bring the try tally to 5. The final play of the first half brought pressure and strong attacking play from Barton, making their way toward the Stafford try line with purpose and determination. A crunching tackle from fly half Sophi turned over the ball at 5 meters, with the tackle marking the end of Sophi’s game due to injury and the half brought to an early finish. The referee’s whistle signalled the change of ends with the visitors trailing 29-0.

The Stafford squad shuffled, placing Verity at fly half in place of injured Sophi alongside Lou Kowalewska-Fry at inside centre, and Roses U18’s player Tianna Wilkinson-Tizley dropping in at number 8. Barton gained support from 3 different Stafford players to maintain 15 a-side, offering all 26 Stafford players game time in the final outing of the season. The Stafford players continued to apply pressure to Barton in the second half, with a further 7 points on the board after a blistering run through the Barton defences at the 40-minute mark. A sidestep from Verity, before turning on the after burners saw her slide over the try line for the third time, with her Roses teammate slotting it securely over the posts. The restart saw a safe take from Stafford’s hooker, Karima Alghazzi catching the visitors out with a punching run through to see Barton fighting for possession once again in their own half. An unfortunate knock on by the home side gifted Barton vital possession just inside their own half, but a fumble at the back of the scrum saw Stafford on the front foot once again. Fast work off the break down pressed Barton deep into their own 22, before the sharp boot of their flanker gave some much-needed respite. Barton’s quick chase and effective gather rewarded the visitors with their first points on the board, the points tally at 36-5 with 25 minutes left to play. The points on the board for Barton ignited fresh momentum from the visitors, who showed pace in chasing down the kick-off to place pressure on Stafford from the restart. A bruising Stafford forward pack punched through the tight Barton defences, making ground toward the posts in another attacking play. Some quick handling in the backs and pace off the breakdown opened space on the wing with Verity showing her heels once again to secure try number 4 directly under the posts at 47 minutes. Another successful conversion from Saskia brought the home side to a 43-5 lead. Barton’s defensive line continued to work hard to hold the home side off the line, with possession moving back and forth between the sides in a battle for territory. A fumble at the scrum once again saw the ball available, where Stafford’s flanker Caroline Hickman powered into the Barton defences before a quick pop to her supporting pack. With Stafford knocking on the door again for try number 8, a lose ball led to a knock on and the opportunity to reset. The determined run of Tianna Wilkinson-Tizley narrowly missing out on a try after being held off by the tight defences of Barton who pressed the home side back out of their 22. A quick restart and swift ball to the wing resulting in a first try of the season for Winger Fiona Preston at 55 minutes. Stafford continued their attack, with the home side breaking the line in the last minutes of the game to see Scrum Half Cath Anthony denied a try after being held up on the posts. This marked the last play for the Stafford captain, handing over the reins to Lou Kowalewska-Fry to close out the game at the helm. The pace and physicality of the game was starting to show on each side, with a wheeling scrum providing the determined Barton side the opportunity to kick for territory once again. Despite a strong chase, the visitors once again made the break to barrel over the line and score try number 2. The referee signalled the end of the game at the conversion, the final score 48-10 to Stafford, after a fantastic display of women’s rugby.

The phenomenal growth of the women’s game has seen the club attract 52 players to the developing squad, providing a solid foundation for female age grade players to progress into the women’s game. Stafford’s victory on Friday places them at the top of the IWS North Midlands Development League, placing them in good stead for next season where they look to continue to build on this season’s successes.

Stafford’s Friday night forward of the match awarded jointly to Elizabeth Farmery and Tianna Wilkinson-Tizley. Stafford’s back of the match awarded jointly to Verity Billingham and Saskia Conaghan. All for players put on a determined, confident display throughout the game, with fantastic handling and fearless tackling. The coveted Mergoat award from Friday’s match awarded to one of the team’s newest players, Aimee Tyler for a relentless defensive display for Barton within the first half and committed, attacking display for Stafford in the second half of the game.

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