The Sapphire Series Division One, southern conference was kicked off in fine fettle on Saturday as the University of Birmingham and its defending champions played host to Derby, Hertfordshire and new kids on the 7s block, London Warriors.
The first round of games threw up arguably the choice match up of the day with last year’s National Champions, Birmingham taking on last year’s championship runner’s up, Hertfordshire – with only one meet scheduled between the two teams in the three-round regular season it was important for each team to get a good start, but a 7-0 score-line in Birmingham’s favour was the only underlined offensive word in the half, as defenses’ from both sides maintained the bragging rights.
The second half brought more flow to proceedings and with it the Lions started moving the chains, touchdowns out of the back field from Ruth Matta and Antoinette Morgan sealing the deal, whilst the purple army showed what they were capable of when WR Jess Anderson showed a clean pair of heels, on a reverse, to outpace the Birmingham cover. Final score: Birmingham 30-6 Hertfordshire.
London meanwhile started their 7s campaign very much where they left off – from their Division Two 5-a-side unbeaten campaign last season – with a strong assault against Derby’s Braves. Some significant ground and pound from both sides kept the game competitive, but Adanna Onye’s two pick-six’s and quarterback Chloe Baton’s boots and sneaks (for a triple TD haul!) kept the score-line firmly in London’s favour. A strong performance from Derby’s defensive unit made themselves heard with a Verity Ellison Safety, with Rookie RB Blessing Uloyok clocked up the consolation yards to earn herself the Braves’ offensive MVP of the day. Final score: London 33-10 Derby.
In the second set of games Hertfordshire, coming up against a buoyant Warriors, had to weather somewhat of a tide before their experience told, shifting gears in the second half to leave the Warriors competitive but eventually short of answers. Candice Simon and Erin Kowalchuk featured strongly on the Warriors D to help force two fumbles which their offense finished off from close range, but the Tornadoes would not be denied and their defence were similarly and suitably able – Amanda Humphrey and Sophie George proving terrors, both forcing fumble recoveries from sacks, the latter of the two for a touchdown, before another fumble was gratefully finished off from the 2yd line by fullback Alexis Anusi. Final score: Hertfordshire 32-19 London.
The final game of the day pitched Birmingham against Derby. Looking for a clean sweep the Lions set about their task with vim but Derby’s well-organised defense came to the fore with a smart showing, in particular from rookie DE Ashlyn Dell’Osa. Derby’s defense, long their strongest asset, was doing a job that unfortunately their offense couldn’t match and with the Lions’ defense giving up no ground, the Derby run game was halted whist the passing game yielded one of the most bizarre stats possibly ever recorded… five pick sixes from Lions’ Safety Phoebe Schecter, followed by a fumble recovery for six. 36 points from a defensive player in a single game!
It must be noted however that Derby were down to their third string quarterback at this point and as such expect a more galvanised polish from them when the teams meet again in Round Three. Final score: Derby 0-62 Birmingham.
So, the Lions take control of Division One South, but with an intriguing cross-conference round to follow in two weeks’ time, the possibility of some very interesting results and possible upsets still remains entirely plausible. Expect the contenders and pretenders to have been confirmed following these next set of games but for the time being it’s all still very much to play for.
Round 1 – 25/02/17 – National Division One, South Conference
Birmingham 30 – 6 Hertfordshire
London 33 – 10 Derby
Hertfordshire 32 – 19 London
Derby 0 – 62 Birmingham
Round 2 – 11/03/17 – National Division One, Inter-Conference fixtures (West and East):
West @ Manchester:
Manchester v Birmingham
Hertfordshire v Leeds
Leeds v Birmingham
Manchester v Hertfordshire
East @ Derby:
Derby v East Kilbride
Edinburgh v London
East Kilbride v London
Edinburgh v Derby