Abbey Nuns are currently one of four unbeaten teams from the top three levels of women’s rugby in England after a try either side of half-time kept local rivals Newbury Women nilled on Sunday and extended their lead at the top of Championship South West 2.
Joining Premiership teams Saracens and Harlequins, and Championship South East 2 side Lewes Women, Abbey Nuns made it seven from seven as they closed off the first round of fixtures this season. In what had been billed as ‘The Battle of Berkshire’ the fixture certainly lived up to its name, with both teams scoreless until the 39th minute and the encounter one of the most physical this season.
Although the Nuns made the more promising start to the match, spending much of the first quarter in Newbury’s 22, they struggled to convert pressure into points as Newbury’s excellent contest at the breakdown kept them at bay, with their captain Meg Mason also kicking well for territory at crucial moments. Despite another superb scrummaging platform, the Nuns were thwarted time and time again, with costly errors at crucial moments, preventing them from scoring.
Newbury continued to threaten the Nuns’ line, with darting runs from full-back Lizzie Harris and scrum-half Devon Holt, but all efforts were stopped by crucial tackles by the Nuns’ back line, and posession once again switched to the visitors. Eventually, a kick through from Annette Bevan, well-chased by Alice Denton and Jess Williams, forced a lineout which resulted in a superb team passage of play; Annabel Hawkins cut a deft line and released Denton to cross in the corner on the half-time whistle mark.
The second half saw a much-renewed Nuns’ performance as the intensity increased with the pressure of finding another score, spilling over on occasion when second-row Fi Manning saw yellow for a high-tackle. Far from backing down, the Nuns’ pack continued to rise to the challenge, buoyed by prop Hollie King coming on to the field of play and continued to dominate the set-piece with a player down.
On the hour mark, flanker Sarah Odenbach, who gave an outstanding individual performance, won a penalty deep inside the Nuns’ 22. An excellent kick to touch from Denton was then subsequently marshalled by the half-back pairing of Ellie Rice and Abi Wall, the latter of which kicked intelligently to win a scrum as Newbury fumbled the ball. From the scrum, huge carries from Meaghan and Joey Fowler set a platform for Wall to release Bevan who cut under the posts for the final score of the afternoon, which Denton duly converted.
It was an epic local derby with both teams suffering at times from the pressure of the occasion but it was the Nuns who eventually ground out a good win away from home. The Nuns 1st XV have the first of the second round of fixtures before Christmas, travelling to second-placed Cullompton on 8th December for what promises to be another great display of women’s rugby.
Joey Fowler and Annabel Hawkins prepare to scrum