This weekend saw Chelmsford’s Bluebirds travel to Harlow RFC for their first away game of the season. The Chelmsford coaching team has worked hard to analyse weaknesses that the Bluebirds struggled with in their first two games and to work on those weaknesses, so the coaches were confident that this was a game the team could win.
The night before the game saw 2 players withdraw due to illness and injury but they were still able to take a full squad of 22, which is an improvement on this time last season in and of itself. Game day arrived and the torrential rain and flash flooding had players and supporters struggling with travel and concerned that there would be issues of safety around the scrums. Fortunately, everyone arrived, the Harlow RFC pitches are incredibly well maintained and were impeccable.
Initially, given the strong winds and wet conditions, the Bluebirds had intended to keep the ball in hand and use sympathetic passes to move the ball up the pitch. However, it soon became clear that, whilst the Harlow forwards were defensively strong in the centre of the pitch, they often lacked the organisation to drift their defence out to the wings and all of Chelmsford’s tries were scored out wide by the backs after drawing the Harlow defence in with strong forward play.
Chelmsford started the game kicking to Harlow but good pressure straight off the bat saw hooker Annie Coulson turnover the ball in one of the first rucks of the game. The Chelmsford pack has some very strong ball carriers and every single forward made huge gains at some point in the game. Particularly good carries were made time and again by Victoria Boyd and Ella Aldterton, this week’s “Forward of the Match”; they were devastating in their runs, often with multiple Harlow players hanging from them as they forged on! Phase after phase of forward ball created the first good overlap and the first opportunity to see Chelmsford really control the game. The ball was passed along the back line to be scored out wide by winger, Anna Gray.
Harlow came back strong and their number 11 executed a beautiful kick and chase, chipping the ball over the defensive line before catching her own ball and sprinting 50 metres, narrowly avoiding the Chelmsford fullback, to score to the left of the posts. The scores were now level, an unconverted try apiece, and the game became scrappy and hard fought for a while. Local rivals, both teams were determined and fired up and this was evident throughout.
Chelmsford put themselves back on top very quickly from the kick off. They ran up hard, putting pressure on the Harlow fullback, who fumbled the ball several times before throwing the ball out of the pitch to prevent Chelmsford from turning over the ball scant metres from the try line. A strong scrum on the 5 metre line saw Chelmsford’s Captain and scrum half, Mini Nowlan, pass the ball out to fly half, Karly Harrington, who crashed through the unprepared Harlow back line to score left of the posts.
Gaining in confidence now, Chelmsford kept the pressure up and it was another scrum that set them up for their third try. The Chelmsford forwards used several phases, picking and going and slowly gaining ground, but unfortunately their try was held up. But another solid scrum 5 metres from the Harlow try line, saw inside centre, Zabrina Shields, crash the ball up and draw in the Harlow defence before popping the ball to fullback and “Back of the Match”, Lucy Freeman, to score under the posts. The try was converted by Harrington, bringing the score to 5-17.
Unfortunately, a series of penalties against Chelmsford, that were taken quickly, allowed Harlow to break through the line and score their second try of the game. Half time 10-17
Now playing against the wind, the Bluebirds nevertheless played with the passion and enjoyment of a team that hasn’t always believed in themselves but has found that their work on skills and fitness has made all the difference. They came back strong, treating the game as though it were still 0-0. Still scrappy, there were a lot of penalties given against Chelmsford and, although this gave Harlow the opportunity to make a comeback, Chelmsford never let this get to them. They held Harlow at bay, conceding one more unconverted try but not before scoring two of their own and making Harlow work incredibly hard to cross the line.
Amy Ironmonger and Marcys Jackowska both came off the bench and scored a try a piece. Ironmonger, always with an eye for space and good attacking lines, scored out wide to the right after a series of forward phases saw several rucks a matter of inches from the try line. Jackowska, who returned from maternity to play a friendly tournament at Harlow at the end of August, fractured her ribs and then came back for her first game this weekend. Impossibly quick, Jackowska received the ball from Clare Bond and ran essentially unopposed from 50 metres out, to score under the posts, giving a nice conversion for Harrington.
Harlow’s number 5 put a consolatory try down to bring the score to 15-29. They went through several phases as Chelmsford defended the line but eventually, they burst through and scored to end their game on a positive note.
Chelmsford are delighted to see that their hard work has paid off, after a disappointing start to their season. Their next game will be at home on 20 October 2019, kick off 2pm, as they host New Ash Green Ladies.