Saturday, November 26, 2022

Rugby: Defeat sends T-Birds to the foot of the table

Thurrock 22 v 24 Darlington

IN this bottom of the table clash, going down 22-24 nailed Thurrock T-Birds to the foot of the Premiership and will send them into a playoff with one last chance to retain their top flight status, but they fought every inch of the way.

In a fascinating and nail biting performance the T-Birds espoused their key mantra of Heart, Passion and Belief to came from behind three times and push Darlington Mowden Park Sharks right to the wire. In a men’s Premiership game the result would have been different, the cameras would have seen the key forward pass in the act of scoring that settled the game, but the T-Birds have to take the responsibility of failing to finish three easy chances that would have made a referee’s mistake irrelevant.

On what seemed like the first day of spring and watched by the largest Women’s’ Premiership rugby crowd anywhere this season, the power and dominance of the T-Bird pack was balanced against the brilliance of England Fly Half, Katie McLean, who’s boot and step undid the T’s defence on too many occasions.

With just 10 minutes gone, after a scrum on the halfway line, she ghosted through a tiny gap and set DMP’s backs into motion. A good tackle on the line set up the ruck and within seconds DMP’s Flanker Nash was over the line for 0-5.

After 10 minutes of McLean using the wind to keep T’s pegged back she was away again. 50 meters of territory from the boot to put DMP in the right part of the field, she was then involved 4 times before cutting back against the grain of the defence to go under the posts and give herself an easy conversion.

At 0-12 down it looked all over for Thurrock but inspired by their dominant pack now they mounted their comeback.

Setting up camp on the DMP line they pressed for a score. Repeatedly taking the scrum option as DMP infringed, they went for the pushover. Third time and as the ball bobbled loose at No8 Austin’s feet a quick scoop from Scrum half Cook put the ball in India Harvey’s hands for a score under the posts. The conversion from Scott put Ts right back in the game at 7-12.

With the half drawing to a close and with their tails up, Ts threw everything at DMP, again down in the same corner, they used the scrum perfectly this time to push DMP back over their own line and Austin making no mistake cleanly touched the ball down. Despite the cheer from the crowd, Scott’s conversion was marginally wide to leave the half time score at 12 -12.

Now with the strong wind in her face, McLean’s kicking options were reduced and DMP initially looked less dangerous with the T’s defence easily marshalling the DMP attack. Thurrock looked to be getting on top, but a penalty reversal for lip deep in their own half set DMP away.

Going wide and left they continually recycled the ball, with Mclean sending runners from every direction and the defence showing a little too much respect, a missed tackle let Nash claim her brace in the corner. 12-17.

Ts immediately responded and started to play 15 “man” rugby. Over the next 5 minutes both wingers were hauled down agonisingly short before left wing and Ugandan 7s Captain , Helen Buteme, was given enough space for a run to the line and her first Premiership try in only her second game.

The unsuccessful conversion from out wide left the game again tied at 17-17.

DMP once again stepped up the pace and pushed deep into Thurrock territory despite stiff defence. DMP messed up their own lineout, but a lucky bounce saw the ball drop into Lock Jones’ hands allowing her to make an easy 20 meters. Starting to go right from the ruck DMP quickly switched left and McLean popped the ball to No5 Scott in a clear forward pass. Despite the protests of Ts and the flag of the Touch Judge, the referee awarded the try under the posts for another easy 2 points for McLean. 17-24 and 15 minutes to play.

With a whiff of desperation in the air and fighting for their Premiership future, Thurrock now played probably their best rugby of the season. Deep in DMP’s 22, they had a series of driving mauls and 5 meter scrums disrupted by committed defence.

Held up over the line and dropping 2 scoring passes denied them vital points until finally Ts again stretched DMP’s defence wide for right wing Bex Francis to also claim her first Premiership try. Another wide conversion was missed to leave Ts agonisingly short at 22-24 down.

For a neutral, the last 10 minutes was top class, both teams going at it with a will and DMP marginally shading the territory but with no further score they took the points that ensured their own Premiership safety.

India Harvey and new signing Clare Phelps were Thurrock’s players of the match.

With the season so badly disrupted by the weather and trying to play catch up with the fixture list, the next few matches are uncertain!

The most likely scenario is that Thurrock will host second in the table Richmond next week 21st April, to allow the League winners to be decided and then go into a play off against the winners of the Championship Cup at a neutral venue which is still to be decided on the 28th April.

The Championship Cup is due to be contested next Sunday 21st at Broadstreet RFC, Coventry between local rivals Aylesford or Liverpool based Waterloo who won Championship South and North respectively.

Watch the website for updates.

The Thurrock T-Birds players and coaches would like to thank our sponsors who have made it possible and supporters who have repeatedly lifted our spirits over the course of a very tough season.

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