A dominant Richmond team claimed the bragging rights in the season opener, but Abbey Women produced a valiant display, scoring three well-worked team tries on a day where six players debuted.
After some player movement and retirement over the off-season, a new-look Abbey Women brought a mixture of youth and experience as they played their first Championship match since retaining their spot last season. Abbey were indeed the more dominant team in the first half, containing Richmond to their half and attacking well with a series of dominant plays. Centres Kelsea Montgomery and Alice Denton-Rice contained their opposite numbers well, and despite enjoying a lot of possession, Richmond struggled to gain territory.
The opening try came from a beautifully well-read intercept from Abbey’s winger Jess Williams, who ran seventy metres before getting hauled down. Fly-half Annette Bevan had supported well, picking up the ball and diving for the line herself, before managing to offload out of the tackle to the ever-present Joey Fowler, who scored the first try of Abbey’s season. Alice Denton-Rice added the extras.
Richmond responded well, and grabbed a brace of tries before half-time, with backs Courtney Treco and Kira Marks crossing the whitewash. By half-time, the game had opened up a little, and Abbey were unfortunate to lose the strength of Williams and Number Eight Fern Edgar to injury before the stoppage. Debutant Andrea Barker, who had spent some time receiving treatment on the sideline re-entered the field of play, as did Ellie Newton. The close of the half was not without drama; after Abbey coming within inches of scoring, but Williams losing the ball as she was injured, Richmond’s dynamic centre Gabi Spencer surged down the pitch only to be hauled down by fullback Lou Pullan and debutant winger Clara Reynolds.
In the second half however, it was Richmond who came out of the blocks firing and scored two tries in quick succession; one by Tatum Gabriel after a strong running line and the second five minutes later from Richmond stalwart Laura Kapo. Abbey, having made some changes, knew they had to regroup quickly to stay in the game.
And stay in the game they did. Barker and captain Hawkins led the defensive line well, pinning Richmond in their own half, while good kicking into the right areas by scrum-half Ellie Denton-Rice, followed by an even better chase by Pullan and Reynolds, forced Richmond to make handling errors.
Having worked some good set-piece backs plays in the first half, Abbey’s back line rose to the challenge once more and Kelsea Montgomery ran her trademark hard line to score and bring Abbey back to within ten points. However, Richmond increased their intensity once more and Spencer found the try she had been hunting for all game, along with Zoe Barber in the corner.
There was late drama in the second half too, as Richmond were reduced to thirteen, with replacement Sue Neumann and Katie Wallis both seeing yellow for infringements. Abbey had the try bonus point in mind, so hammered Richmond’s line once more, putting in Montgomery for her second. Unfortunately, time was not on the home team’s side and the final whistle blew, leaving the score 17-34.
Abbey Women can take many positives from the game, which saw many debutants and 2nd XV players step up. Props Rosie Staples and Shiv Kiernan received their first taste of Championship scrums, while the defensive work rate of the team, especially Fowler, Barker and Staples, kept them in a hugely competitive and enjoyable game. Abbey will look to consolidate their learning points in the two weeks before travelling to Henley for the local derby encounter.
All photo credit to @rugbygrandad