On a freezing cold and blustery day at Woollams, the OA Saints welcomed Hammersmith and Fulham for the penultimate league game of the season. With OAs sitting clear on 12 wins from 12 league performances, they were determined to get a win to keep them en route to the perfect season.
The game started with OAs using their forward pack well to make inroads against a strong Hammersmith defence, with prop Debbie McHugh and hooker Abbie Maxwell carrying well to gain good ground. Scrum half Maddie Gunnell fed fly half Nicky Cameron who dummied and broke through the midfield and into the opposition half. With no clear support and the full back to beat, she was hauled down and the ball was recycled quickly. Ill discipline from Hammersmith meant a penalty for Saints and the ball was kicked to touch just outside the 22m by Cameron.
From the resulting line out, Saints got their first score of the afternoon through centre Jodie Rettie. The ball was cleanly taken by 2nd row Holly Watson and the ball was passed out to the backs. Rettie hit a lovely outside line through the Hammersmith centre pairing and broke through, showing excellent pace and footwork to beat the full back and score under the posts. Conversion scored by full back and captain Katie Robertson to make the score 7-0 to the visitors.
OAs had the better of the momentum in the first half with some excellent runs from centre Robyn King and winger Claire McKenna getting the Saints into the opposition half. With a quick tap penalty given to the Saints for ill discipline at the ruck, centre Rettie took it quickly. Beating the first defender, there was a huge clash of heads with the Hammersmith player suffering a suspected broken nose and Rettie with a head wound. Both players were escorted from the field of play to receive treatment. (Both players were checked out by medical staff and no serious injuries were sustained; the Hammersmith player returned to the field in the second half).
The next score came just before half time after a lovely break from hooker Abbie Maxwell. The ball was stolen in the scrum by the Saints and number 8 Ange Wadham picked up and ran hard at the defence. The ball was presented cleanly to allow a quick ruck from which Maxwell hit a strong inside line breaking through the tackle. As she neared the try line she was slowed by 2 tacklers but managed to offload the ball out to Cameron who dummied the winger to crash over the line. Conversion scored by Robertson to leave the half time score 14-0 to the home team.
With the wind in their favour in the second half, Hammersmith decided to play more of a territory game, using their scrum half to clear their lines and get them in the Saints half. However, for the first 20 minutes, neither team could gain much momentum with handling affected by the ice cold conditions.
Hammersmith got their only try of the game midway through the second half. After a solid driving maul, the forwards chose to pick and go around the fringes, with their back row finding a hole in the Saints defence and crashed over the line. Conversion missed by Hammersmith to leave the score 14-5 with 20 minutes to go.
Some outstanding Saints defence showed why they have been top of the league all year, with excellent tackling in the forwards from flankers Kate Barnes and Emma Cramphorn and Cameron and Robertson in the backline.
The Saints refused to let the strong wind affect their game, playing some lovely running rugby and again giving wingers McKenna and Lou Blunt space on the outside. Hammersmith did well to try and shut down the Saints attack with some solid tackling from their full back.
The final whistle blew with both teams knackered from what was a fast and tough game in difficult weather conditions.
Back of the Match – For bossing the forwards about and controlling the game in difficult conditions – scrum half Maddie Gunnell.
Forward of the Match – For stepping in at centre due to Rettie’s injury, and generally superb ball carrying skills – number 8 Ange Wadham.
The win now means OA Saints have been confirmed as Women’s South East 2 Champions for the 2014-2015 season with 13 wins from 13 games. They have scored 440 points (an average of 34 points per game) and only conceded 136 points (an average of 10 points per game).
An outstanding effort by the players, the coaching staff, the medical staff and supporters for the whole season.
The Saints have one final league game to play against New Ash Green where they will be chasing the perfect season, going for 14 wins from 14 with the play off game next month (29th March Venue TBC).
The Saints are also still in the last 8 teams in the Cup – with a game to be played against Henley Hawks on February 22nd and also the annual Georgie’s Day Memorial Match vs the Army on March 14th.
All support welcome – get behind your champions!!!!!!!!