Inaugural Ladies Day sees 100 spectators watch a thrilling match but Norfolk prove too strong for Bluebirds
By Annie Coulson
Chelmsford 21 39 Norfolk
Saturday saw Chelmsford RFC host their inaugural Ladies Day at the club, with 65 lunch guests and guest speaker Dawn Wood, the 7th woman to ever row the Atlantic solo and unsupported, the 2nd fastest to do so, and a former Chelmsford player herself. Between the Ladies Day lunch and other supporters, over 100 people turned out to watch Chelmsford and West Norfolk Ladies’ last league game of the season – by far the best turn out either team has seen to date and a wonderful boost for the women’s grassroots game.
West Norfolk ladies are 2nd in the league whilst the Bluebirds are facing relegation at the end of the season but this was in no way evident in this game. These two teams faced each other in September for the first league game of the season and West Norfolk won with a 60-point margin but for large portions of this game, Chelmsford looked like they could secure the win.
Chelmsford came out strong with number 8, Annie Coulson, making a 20 metre run from the back of a scrum within the first 2 minutes, only being taken out by a quality tackle by the Norfolk fullback. This positive start was boosted further when Lucy Freeman, the Chelmsford fullback, made a blistering run through the centre of the pitch to score under the posts inside the first 10 minutes. Despite 50mph winds, fly half and Vice-Captain Karly Harrington beautifully converted the try to give the home team a 7-0 lead.
Norfolk came back strong in attack and Chelmsford worked incredibly hard to keep them at bay. Eventually, Norfolk’s number 8 Mary Hegarty, fought her way over the line but was held up and from the resulting scrum on the 5 metre line, Chelmsford managed to get out of their 22 and get back on the offensive. Keeping their cool as they crashed down the pitch, Chelmsford managed to further their lead after drawing the opposition in before Coulson and newcomer Abigail Harman crashed the ball up the pitch before Coulson offloaded to Freeman, who cleared more than half the pitch to score in the left corner. Harrington had been taken off with injury and winger Amy Ironmonger stepped up to take the conversion, converting brilliantly despite the high winds and less than ideal placement.
With moments to go until half time, everything changed for Chelmsford. Within 2 minutes of each other, Chelmsford lost Shannon Mason and Laurie Sweeney to the sin bin after both players made tackles to a Norfolk player taking a penalty, before the player had gone 10 metres. Mason and Sweeney are both relatively new players but they are big hitters and were a huge loss, particularly as Norfolk suddenly found themselves with an overlap and Chelmsford felt hard done by. Score at half time was 14-0
In the second half, Chelmsford were playing up the slope and had to start the half with only 13 players. Norfolk found themselves with space and they simply got the ball to their openside flanker – who will be moving to Saracens next season, and deservedly so – who crashed through time and time again to put Norfolk on top. Norfolk utilised the offload and their 4 key players became unbeatable. They did incredibly well to come back so strong in the second half and their ability to regroup showed exactly why they are so high up in the league.
For a moment in the second half, as Mason and Sweeney came back on and Chelmsford were back to full strength, it looked as though Chelmsford might make a comeback and Freeman intercepted the ball before sprinting 60 metres to score under the posts. With Harrington back on the pitch she managed to secure another conversion and Chelmsford’s morale was boosted again. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to thwart Norfolk and the final score was 39-21 to Norfolk but both teams worked incredibly hard and came away delighted with the whole 80 minutes. Chelmsford are proud of their performance and pleased that they gave such an exhilarating spectacle for the many supporters who turned out for the game.