With the rain coming down sideways at Gorton Street people were starting to wonder whether these two teams would ever meet in good weather. And with no more than 14 points separating them in their last five matches another close game was anticipated.
With the wind at their backs the visitors started the stronger and spent much of the first half in Eccles territory. Only aggressive defence from Vickie Merrick and Karen Radband, and an amazing try saving tackle from Fawn Lucas kept them out. Birkenhead were pressuring the scrums while Eccles had the advantage in the line-out resulting in the game being very evenly matched. As the half progressed the Cheshire-side conceded a couple of penalties which allowed Eccles to clear their lines, either from the boot of Sadie Light or the quick thinking of Claire Knapp. It was one of those quick taps which opened the scoring for the day as the ball was fed to Alex Stokes and she crashed over from close range. Vickie Merrick added the extras. No more points were added in the first half making the half-time score 7-0.
In the second half Eccles looked to use the wind to their advantage and used the boot to clear their lines. From there the Eccles defence, with Katie Houghton and Siobhan Mullen working over time, pressured the Birkenhead back line and forced them into errors. There were 52 minutes on the clock when Igemi Ekoku got free on the outside and raced away to score. No conversion but still a 12-0 lead. Eccles continued to pile forward with Rebecca Owen and Kelly John making good yards but a third try proved elusive.
In the face of all this pressure and awful conditions you could have forgiven the visitors for giving up but that was never the case and they fought back strongly. With 15 minutes remaining they mounted pressure on the Eccles line and despite the best defensive efforts of Shelley Powe and Nat Gill were able to force their way over and bring the game back to within one score.
But Eccles were in no mood for letting the lead slip. With renewed vigour they marched back down to the other end of the pitch and pinned the visitors down. Multiple phases were thrown at the line, with the ball being retained through much improved ruck play. With the last play of the game the ball was shipped wide to Igemi Ekoku again and she just managed to get the ball down and wrap the game up. Final score 17-5.
Karen Radband was named Forward of the Match for her hard work in the scrum and defence. Shelley Powe was named Back of the Match for her marshalling of both attack and defence. After a much improved performance confidence in the Ladies camp will be high, but they won’t have it easy on Sunday as they cross the Pennines to face West Park Leeds.