Sapphire Series Week Three Recap

The third weekend of the 2018/19 Sapphire Series saw teams return fresh from the Christmas break, as the Pirates and Valkyries returned to the fray having missed some of their final fixtures of 2018.

However, the Derby Braves still found themselves shorthanded and were unable to take the field this weekend, and we were saddened by the news that the Portsmouth Dreadnoughts felt they had no choice but to withdraw from the 2018/19 series due to a number of concerns, including low player numbers.

Once again, baller Robyn Steward has worked with teams across the Britball Nation to put together this recap of the action across the Women’s game this past Saturday!

Sapphire Week Three Recap

Division One North

We once again saw a reduced field of teams in the Northern half of the top tier, as the Derby Braves were unable to make the trip to Manchester. Thus a rejigged schedule saw a number of repeated matchups, as the dominant looking Leeds Chargers squared off against two teams they’ve faced already this season, while hosts, Manchester, also faced similarly winless East Kilbride Pirates for the first time this year in a crucial matchup for these two programmes trying to keep pace in a hotly contested conference.

Manchester Titans vs Leeds Chargers

By Christian Thompson (Leeds Chargers)

With the shortest of the journeys for this season’s Sapphire, Leeds Carnegie Charger’s travelled well to a cold damp day of football.

We started the day playing Manchester Titan’s who sadly appeared with only 14 players when we last met. However, today we saw a full roster of players ready to make a statement including their Canadian QB who recently participated in the Opal flag series.

Manchester started with the ball and also a bad snap. On their second snap they managed to get their star receiver, #16 Keely, open on a seam route thanks to some miscommunication in the secondary. Gaining a bunch of YAC on top of the 20 yd catch, Manchester came up just short of a score, the receiver pulled down two yards short of paydirt thanks to the relentless pursuit of Robyn Steward.

With the Titans threatening to post up the first score of the season against the Chargers, mistakes from their offence gave Leeds breathing room – a penalty from the offense now brought them 2nd and 7 to start the fourth snap of the day.

Another connection in the air between the Titans QB and #16 proved the Blue crew were here to battle. Things were incredibly tense, deep in the redzone as penalties and racked up to create an entertaining series of 13 Titans plays in a row, knocking on the door of the endzone.  However, the Chargers defence was up to the task, frustrated by their own mistakes that continued to give the Titans opportunities to score, the swarming defence shut down play after play, finally turning the ball over on downs.

The offence now took to the field running a flourish of short runs and pass attempts, until a long bomb to the corner, a product of excellent blocking by the Offensive line, saw the first points go up for the Chargers.

The defence continued to take some time to find it’s groove, but remained ever vigilant and relentless to keep the clean sheet for the season.

Big hits from Defensive Captain ‘Bo’ aka Robyn Steward and tight coverage from Bethany Pilkington saw the defence gaining momentum. With DBs, Jo Mann and Marion Fernande intercepting passes, the Titans had to turn to their run game.

Megan Robinson, Rebecca Foster and Caroline Spencer stepped up, all contributing in tackles, sacks, safeties and all-round pressure saw the defence comfortably seal any hope of a score from the Titans much-improved offence.

The offence found time to put in work too, as Lucy Peaty, Ruth Braizer, Lil Bush, and Emma Taylor all find targets in the air, and yards themselves. With rookie WR Mollie Vickers and fingertip catch extraordinaire Lydia Lobano all having stand out performances with short and long passes and evasive rushes.

It wasn’t long until the Titans were showing signs of fatigue on both sides of the football, and the Chargers began racking up regular scores against a weary, but ever-resilient, Titans.

Final score: Manchester Titans 0-61 Leeds Chargers

Manchester Titans vs East Kilbride Pirates

Insight provided by Claire Cochrane

The Titans returned to the field for a second fixture, eager to continue improving against an East Kilbride Pirates outfit that were also yet to earn their first win of the year.

The game got off to a tough start – Titans took the football, but the Pirates defence stayed strong throughout the first half forcing a fumble on the first drive being recovered by Linebacker Danielle Russell.

Manchester started finding their rhythm and moved the ball well, moving deep into Pirate territory with a big second down play. However, this galvanised the Pirates into second gear, forcing turnovers on back to back drives with a fumble recovery by Gill McNicoll giving the Pirates offence an opportunity to go to work.

Taking advantage of the deep defensive coverage, the Scottish side attacked the Titans with short passes and runs in the hope of breaking a tackle for a big gain. They didn’t have to wait long until the first score of the game, as QB Claire Cochrane scoring and Laura Hunter with the XP.

On the Pirates next possession, poor snaps caused problems in the backfield and a wayward snap went over the head of the QB  – a scramble ensued, and though the ball was recovered, the Titans downed the QB in her own endzone, resulting in a safety.

However, the Pirates D stepped up with a pick from Amy Oliver giving EKP the football deep in Titan territory. Quick to capitalise on this, Pirate rookie Sharon Ross caught a long pass over the top and ran the last couple of yards into the endzone… and then a further 15 yards out the back of it, in her words, ‘to make sure’!

Manchester closed the gap on the following possession in an effort to swing momentum in their favour, but the Pirates followed up with a long, clock-draining drive, Laura Hunter re-opening the gap by running the ball in for the score.

On the final possession of the game, the Pirates were able to kneel out the game to secure their first contact win since the move to sevens!

Final Score: Manchester Titans 9-20 East Kilbride Pirates

Leeds Chargers vs East Kilbride Pirates

By Christian Thompson (Leeds Chargers)

Gearing up for slightly improved weather, was our second game of the day, against the greatly improved East Kilbride Pirates.

Fresh off a solid victory over Manchester Titans, we had a positive outlook ahead against a team who show plenty of different looks, fronts and formations. Have we studied enough film, and made the necessary adjustments to prevent being caught out? Now was the time to face the challenge.

The Chargers offence were the first to take to the field and wasted no time getting started as a run around the side from QB Lucy Peaty, using her newfound rugby skills from Weatherby RUFC, turned into a powering, one play – one score display!

With a well-executed extra point, only seconds into the fixture and it was 7-0 Chargers.

Eager to match the offence’s production, the Defense came out to make a statement. Having opened the day by allowing the Titans a 13-play drive, the D came out with a goal to continue their impressive clean sheet for a fourth straight fixture – a big ask against the Pirates’much-improved and multi-faceted offence.

The Chargers line attacked ferociously, and the Pirates suffered a misnap on the first play – though they quickly recovered. Eager to go one step further, the second snap saw the Leeds D Charge across the line of scrimmage, smashing into the EKP backfield and allowing Robyn Steward to land a defensive score on the second play of the day for her unit!

Eager to rack up the points, the offence swiftly capping off an incredible first five plays for the Leeds outfit; a TD, an XP, a Fumble, a defensive touchdown and finally another Extra Point to bring up a 14-0 scoreline in a matter of seconds!

The Pirates did their best to appear unshaken by the rapid start, and Rookie Pirate FB/WR/DE, Katie Elizabeth McLachlan, made her presence known on the first play of the second drive for EKP’s offence, with a frightening block for HC and RB/QB Claire Cochrane to bulldozing the Chargers edge defence! Breaking to the outside, the Pirates earned a prize no other team has achieved so far this season, busting through for the first score of the year against the Leeds D!

Not only that, but they were able to ground and pound the extra point behind another Katie block; to make it 14-7. Would this be the challenge the Northern Champions had been searching for?

What was to follow was a huge testimony to the East Kilbrides Pirates programme.

Though the Chargers own offence was on utterly unstoppable form, it should take nothing away from the Pirates’ play – easily the most dynamic offence we’d faced so far this season.

The score may have been very one sided, but both teams left that field knowing they had done battle, and neither side showing signs of relinquishing their pride and drive to play tough football. A huge amount of praise is to given to these long-traveling Pirates. They may not have taken home the win, but they took away our blank sheet.

Final score: Leeds Chargers 88-07 East Kilbride Pirates

Division One South

By Editor

Afraid we didn’t hear anything from the Southern half of the top tier following this weekend’s games, so we’ll do our best to share a summary with what info we’ve been able to dig up!

Similarly to the North, we saw a reduced field of contenders in the southern tourney as the withdrawal of the Dreadnoughts from the series lead to a slightly rejigged schedule – hosts Sandwell now facing the gruelling task of taking on the top two teams in the south as the Birmingham Lions and London Warriors paid them a visit.

The Steelers kicked off their day taking on the reigning national champs for the first time this season, and with the Lions’ roster returned to pretty much full fighting strength it was apparent the Steelers would struggle to keep pace.

Though the scoreline ended up a rather lopsided 42-0 shutout in favour of the Lions, the Steelers felt they had a lot of positives to take away from the game – apparent in their similarly improved performance later in the day.

However, one big win in the bank meant the Lions went into their second fixture of the day with great momentum – crucial as they took on the only team to best them in recent seasons – the London Warriors!

The Lions had come out with a nervy start the last time they faced London, coughing up the football on the first play of the game. However, with the return of a couple of key veterans to the roster, there were no such nerves this time around as the Lions opened up an early two-score lead – evading the aggressive Warriors defence to go 13-0 up.

London weren’t about to let the game get away from them, however, and clawed back a score of their own on the ensuing drive… but that appeared to be the theme of the day. With the Lions roster travelling at full strength, for each pair of scores the Lions mustered, the Warriors were only able to manage one. A gruelling, brutal game of big hits, but ultimately Birmingham returned to their spot atop the Sapphire Series rankings courtesy of a 40-19 victory over the Warriors.

The final fixture of the day saw a frustrated Warriors take on hosts, Sandwell.

With Sandwell having been utterly shutout by the Warriors back in Week One, expectations were this could well be another one-sided affair – however the Steelers moved the football fairly well in their second outing of the day, finding paydirt twice against an ever-aggressive London D.

However, the Warriors were not to be undone, as their offence really got into its groove – putting in its best performance of the series so far with a 46 point outing, outscoring their hosts three to one!

Final Scores:

Sandwell Steelers 0-42 Birmingham Lions

Birmingham Lions 40-19 London Warriors

Sandwell Steelers 15-46 London Warriors

 

Division Two South

And finally, we take a trip down to Kent, as the Exiles played host to the Wembley Stallions and Cardiff Valkyries – a third meeting on the year between the Kent and Cardiff outfits, but a first clash between the hosts and the visiting, undefeated, Stallions.

Kent Exiles v Wembley Stallions

By the Wembley Stallions, with further insights from Carl Alexis (Kent Exiles)

The Stallions faced the hosts, Kent Exiles in their first game of the day. The Exiles started with the ball, but quickly found out why the Stallions’ defence have managed to shutout every team so far this series – the Exiles drive stalling right out of the gates.

In contrast, the Stallions’ offence moved the ball down the field with running back Angie Sowerby and but for a holding call, would have had a touchdown on only their third play of the day. Unfazed, the Stallions’ made back the penalty yardage, and some, driving down the field before Sowerby ran in for a touchdown four plays later. A fumble on the two-point conversion attempt kept the score at 6-0.

Neither side scored on their next drives. The Exiles gained a first down before being stopped and the Stallions were stopped just a few yards from the end zone.

The Exiles were boosted by their goaline stand and looked to build on offence. However, the Stallions defence had other plans. Jovi Uysin recovered a forced fumble on second down to put the Stallions’ offence at the three-yard line. Another touchdown run from Sowerby and the two-point conversion pass completed to Samantha Read put the Stallions up 14-0.

Tackles from Stallions’ Anna Young and Martika Taylor and pressure on the Exiles’ quarterback from Demi Adesanya kept the Exiles’ offence at no gain, as time expired on the first half.

The Stallions’ offence misfired on the first drive of the second half, but the Stallions’ defence did not. A tackle from Grace Hilbourne in the end zone awarded the Stallions a safety, increasing their lead to 16-0.

The Stallions’ offence quickly got back on track with runs from Sowerby and Chloe Flowers punched in a further score, Dawn Hextall catching the two-point conversion to make the score 22-0.

More quarterback pressure from Adesanya and tackles from Harraghy and Eva Perez prevented the Exiles from gaining a first down.

Whilst the Stallions’ offence continued to move the ball well,  mistakes began to slip in – penalties and a fumble should have halted the drive but strong running from Flowers got the 1st down, before Sowerby ran in her third touchdown of the game! With Vanessa Virgitti in at quarterback, she completed the pass to Read for a successful two-point conversion putting the score at 30-0 with very little time on the clock.

A final drive from the Exiles offence continued to bounce off a resilient Wembley D, the win meaning the Stallions have now convincingly defeated each of their three conference rivals!

Final score: Kent Exiles 0-30 Wembley Stallions

 

Wembley Stallions v Cardiff Valkyries

By the Wembley Stallions

No time to rest as the Stallions now faced Cardiff Valkyries in their second game of the tournament.

The Stallions started with the ball and quickly made things more difficult for themselves with another holding penalty. But runs from Sowerby and Read was finished off with a touchdown run from Flowers. Hextall completed the drive with a run on the two-point conversion to put the Stallions in the lead at 8-0.

The Valkyries’ offence also quickly discovered the power of the Stallions’ defence, with pressure on the quarterback coming from Taylor and tackles from Young and Perez, preventing any real gain.

In contrast, the Stallions’ offence only needed two plays to score their next touchdown. The first, a run from Sowerby put the Stallions on the five-yard line. The second, quarterback Tamarra Croucher completed a pass to Read in the end zone. Read was then handed the ball on the two-point conversion and successfully ran in, putting the score at 16-0.

Neither side made a mark on their next drives. Stallions’ defence continued to dominate whilst the Stallions’ offence again causing their own problem with fumbling the ball causing a loss on the play.

Stallions’ defence captain Young scored a pick-six in the last game against Cardiff and was successful again in this game, jumping on a pass out wide before running it in for a touchdown. The two-point conversion was unsuccessful, putting the score at 22-0.

As time expired on the first half, the Valkyries’ offence had a little success passing the ball before line pressure disrupted their timing. The first half ended with the score at 22-0.

The Valkyries’ offence started the second half with a change at quarterback and more quarterback runs. Tackles from Harraghy and Uysin kept the gains short and stopped them before first down.

The Stallions’ offence came out of the break with a strong drive, a touchdown run from Sowerby on third down extending the lead, though Read was stopped short on the two-point conversion attempt putting the score at 28-0.

Both teams created turnovers in the next drives. The Stallions were first after pressure from Hilbourne, Young intercepted a pass. On the next play Cardiff forced Flowers to fumble. Neither teams gained much yardage on the following drives.

As time expired in the second half, the Stallions put one last scoring drive together against a tiring, but ever-resilient Valkyries team. Flowers ran in for a touchdown, followed up with Hextall running in for a successful two-point conversion.

Full time: Wembley Stallions 36-0 Cardiff Valkyries.

 

Kent Exiles v Cardiff Valkyries

With insights from Coach Carl Alexis (Kent Exiles)

The final fixture of the day saw hosts, the Exiles, return from a game off to take on the visiting Valkyries.

The clash was the third time the two teams had met so far this series, with the fixtures providing some of the most hotly-contested games in the conference – including the Exiles only edging a one-score win over the Valkyries back in Week One.

With both teams coming into the matchup off bruising losses to the Stallions, fans hoping for a more closely contested game would not be disappointed!

A back and forth game saw the Exiles draw first blood, but the Valkyries bit back time and again – answering every Kent score with one of their own.

The Exiles ground game was moving well, courtesy of Sarah ‘Millsy’ Miller, and a huge breakaway run by Lauren ‘Bovril’ Drewett gave the Exiles an edge. Quarterback Vicki Hellard found success through the air as well, and defensively experienced baller Kirsty McIntyre put in a stout performance in the centre of the field.

However, with the clock running down, the Exiles found themselves with only a 6-point lead, giving Cardiff an opportunity to earn their first victory of the Series. Despite tired limbs with most of their ballers playing both ways in two consecutive games, the Valkyries drive started well – moving down the field with conviction… before a timely interception from Kirsty McIntyre sealed the deal, earning Kent a third victory on the year, and a .500 record on the series so far!

Final Score: Kent Exiles 27-21 Cardiff Valkyries.

 

Our thanks to Robyn for assembling all the info for this recap of the second Saturday of Sapphire – if you’re interested in helping spread the word about the great things going on in the women’s game you can either get in touch with Robyn Steward on Facebook, or contact DC directly at editor@dblcoverage.com!

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Nick

Nick 'Willy Tee' Wilson-Town hails from the South West where he's spent the last decade bouncing around various teams at the university and senior level. He came to fame on the now departed unofficial forum thanks to his regularly irreverent Uniball predictions and general 'BUAFL wafflage'. Follow him on twitter @WillyTee1