Both the men’s and ladies’ senior teams have become fairly accustomed to long distance travelling over the last couple of seasons, but the 152 mile, 3.25 hour journey to Buckingham felt considerably longer than the others, not helped by the heating being stuck on on the coach!
Putting those distractions aside Eccles started the game brightly. Some fierce defence, led by Barbara Daher, repelled the strong running Buckinghamians (?) and allowed Eccles to clear their lines. Then when finally claiming some possession, for the first time in the last few weeks, Katie Houghton set the platform that allowed Alex Stokes and Shelley Powe to combine brilliantly and send Igemi Ekoku sprinting in under the posts. It would be harsh to mention who missed the following conversion, so I won’t say it was Claire Knapp.
But this try fired up the home side and they came back even stronger. After piling on more pressure their winger was able to break a couple of tackles and cross the line, although her celebration was a little over the top. The conversion made it 7-5. Shortly after their lead was extended following an interception and breakaway, with another conversion making it 14-5.
The half time talk was focused on staying patient and trusting that the chances would come. Seven minutes into the second half this is exactly what happened as Shelley Powe cut through the defence from close range and touched down. Sadie Light added the extras and the score was 14-12. A few minutes later Rebecca Owen swooped on a loose ball and couldn’t be stopped on her way to the line to put Eccles back in front, 17-14.
Eccles pressed forward, with some great runs from Stacey Bruce, looking for a try that would surely kill off the home side. But following some indiscipline and lapses in concentration Buckingham were able to not only clear their lines but mount their own attack. Despite some excellent defence from Abi Thompson the powerful home forwards could not be held out and they scored a push over try for the lead to change hands again, another successful conversion making it 21-17.
With time running out Eccles threw everything forward looking for a try. A couple of opportunities were wasted and it looked like it may not be their day. But Alex Stokes’ constant rampaging up the middle sucked the defence in, for the ball to be moved out wide and Selena Lockyer to get over in the corner and a final decisive lead change. Final score 22-21. Try scorer Shelley Powe was named Back of the Match while the industrious Abi Thompson was named Forward of the Match for her hard work in both attack and defence (despite getting a little lost on one of the plays).
The result sees the ladies finish their first season in the second tier of women’s rugby in fifth position, safely clear of the relegation zone, thus meeting their objectives from the start of the season. They can be proud of their efforts, and having learned much throughout the league campaign they will be looking to build for next season as they continue to develop and improve as a team. The season isn’t over yet with a Lancashire Cup semi-final against Leigh to be played at Gorton Street on Saturday 20th April, before hopefully progressing to the final on bank holiday Monday 6th May.