When these teams met earlier in the season it was the Yorkshire outfit that ran out comfortable victors, and with players missing due to injury, illness and trials Eccles knew they were in for a stern test. But thanks to a fantastic performance it was much closer than many probably expected, with only a heartbreaking penalty on last play denying the Ladies a share of the spoils.
The game started at an absolutely frantic pace with both sides running hard, tackling hard and competing at the breakdown. In fact there were probably more turnovers in the opening exchanges than you’d see in an average game. It was also unrelenting as nearly eight minutes had passed before the ref had to blow his whistle and award a scrum. The heavy breathing from both sides was unsurprising.
Eccles seemed to deal with the pace the better and made inroads into opposition territory through Mikayla Hale and Alex Stokes. Then following some quick thinking from Natalie Gill the ball was hacked ahead and she used her old soccer skills to dribble the ball over the line and touch it down for the opening score. West Park Leeds responded strongly and despite the defensive efforts of Barbara Daher and Fawn Lucas they struck back via their speedy inside centre, who also added the extras to take a 7-5 lead.
This try, and no doubt the speed and physicality of the game, seemed to take its toll on Eccles and they had the worse spell of the game. The line speed dropped and too many penalties were conceded that invited more pressure, which the impressive WPL full back was happy to finish off and extend their lead. Some ‘words of encouragement’ behind the posts seemed to wake up the home side as they sprang back into life towards half time. Igemi Ekoku and Katie went close to scoring but alas no more points were scored meaning it was 12-5 to the visitors at the break.
The second half started much the same as the first with more massive collisions. Sadie Light was a monster at the breakdown and Karen Radband was getting around the corner to take the ball forward. Eccles piled pressure on their opponents’ line forcing them to concede penalties. From one of these the ball was spun out wide for Natalie Gill to touch down her second try. She also added an excellent conversion to level the scores, 12-12.
With plenty of time left both sides had chances to win it. Igemi Ekoku and Alex Stokes made breaks but couldn’t finish them due to some excellent cover tackling, which was matched by Jemima Killick and Shelley Powe as Eccles held their line close to the end. Just when it seemed like the danger had passed and the match would end in a draw a break from the visitors drew a penalty from the scrambling defence which was slotted over by the WPL centre. It also brought about the final whistle, 15-12 to the visitors.
An awful way to lose, but with so many positives to be taken from the game it was hard to feel too down. Ekoku and Stokes were named as Back and Forward of the Match respectively because of their work in both attack and defence, but there were lots of other contenders too.
There’s no game for the Ladies this week so they’ll be hosting another development day for new and inexperienced players. They return to action the following week when they visit Waterloo. Their next home game is Sunday 15th December when they welcome Camp Hill to Gorton Street for a 14:00 kick off.