Another bruising encounter between these two rivals saw the Ladies narrowly and frustratingly miss out.
It was a disastrous start to the game for Eccles as the opening kick off was dropped presenting their opponents with a scrum inside their own 22. From there the back row was slow to react to the Birkenhead #8 peeling away meaning she was held up just inches from the line, and that gave the opportunity for their prop to crash over with just 90 seconds on the clock. The conversion from under the posts made it 7-0.
This sparked Eccles into life and following some good defence from Barbara Daher and Jenny Whittle they turned the ball over in the Birkenhead half. After some strong runs from Natasha Hopkins and Katie Houghton the ball was spun out wide and Igemi Ekoku raced in to bring it back to 7-5 on the 10 minute mark.
The rest of the half became a much closer affair with fierce competition at the breakdown and both sides conceding penalties. Eccles gave one of these away too close to their line which the home side elected to kick, which extended their lead to 10-5 at the break.
Eccles started the second half brightly with Alex Stokes, Sadie Light and Natalie Gill making inroads into opposition territory. Again pressure was mounted on their opponents try line with the ball retained through multiple phases. When it moved out wide this time it was Shelley Powe who shrugged off the would be tackles and crossed in the corner. The difficult conversion couldn’t be added so the scores were level at 10-10.
What happened next was another bizarre passage of play; something that seems to happen regularly between these two sides. Eccles failed to field another kick off inviting massive pressure on their line again; Birkenhead were in the Eccles 22 for an uninterrupted 10 minute spell. They were held up over the line on at least three occasions due to some great last ditch defence from Stokes, Ekoku and others. When Birkenhead conceded a penalty for going off their feet, followed by an excellent down-field clearance from Sadie Light, it appeared that Eccles had weathered the storm. But after a blown line-out they conceded a penalty in a desperate attempt to get the ball back, which was punted back to where they’d just come from. This time the defence couldn’t hold them out and the home team’s fly half sneaked through to score an unconverted try. A few minutes later it seemed like Eccles’ heads had dropped as she did a similar thing again, despite claims that she was held up over the line. Again the conversion was missed but the lead was a massive 20-10 with just 10 minutes left.
Eccles showed they weren’t finished and came forward with new purpose. Indiscipline from Birkenhead allowed Eccles to close in on the line. After more good runs from Katie Houghton and Alex Stokes the ball was moved wide to Kelly John who finished in the corner and bring it back to 20-15 with seven minutes to go.
In the closing minutes Eccles had the possession and position to win the game. But despite having scored three tries out wide the ball was kept tight for one phase too many which was allowing the game to be slowed down. When the ball was moved the pass went agonizingly to ground. After three blown attempts time expired and the final whistle was blown.
A tough loss to take for the Ladies knowing that they’d played so well but let the opposition feast on their few mistakes. They will look to take the positives and learn from it as they prepare for the visit of West Park Leeds to Gorton Street on 24/11/13, kick off at 14:00.