Sapphire Round 2 saw Manchester Titans host an inter-conference round at Armitage Centre. If there were to be a tournament to watch, this would be the one! With the likes of Leeds Chargers facing an all too familiar team in the Hertfordshire Tornadoes and Manchester Titans looking to meet the challenge of the Birmingham Lions, big hits and plays were happening all over the field! On paper the South looks to be the stronger division and with the top two seeds from the North and South taking each other on we were about to find out.
Up first were the Chargers versus the Tornadoes. These two teams are no strangers to each other, having played each other in the off-season as well as taking wins off one another last series. The Chargers came out aggressively taking advantage of a turnover to score the first touchdown of the game. Herts QB Sydney Green marched the Tornadoes back up the field before taking them across the line on a wedge. She followed this up with an excellent screen pass to Oli Davies to put the Tornadoes in front. Leeds bounced back through star running back Gaby Knops breaking three tackles to go the length of the field for another touchdown. The Tornadoes flew downfield until a miscommunication in the backfield put the ball on the ground and a 4th down sack sent them off the field.
Heart-breakingly, Leeds lost Gaby Knops to a broken foot and their offence faltered. With seconds left in the half Sydney Green let fly and the Tornadoes took the lead through a phenomenal TD catch by Oli Davies.
Start of the second half, Davies proved it wasn’t just a fluke and ran almost the entire length of the field for a touchdown. However, as if to only emphasise how hard these two teams were brawling for this one, Davies series was similarly ended a few plays later when she suffered a Knops-esque broken foot while getting tackled.
The Tornadoes pulled away with another passing TD to Jess Anderson, however Leeds staged a comeback and got to within a score before and it went down to the final play: 4th and goal from the 3 yard line.
The Torandoes held strong and came away winners.
Hertfordshire 26- 19 Leeds
On the other side of the field, Manchester Titans were facing the roar of the Birmingham Lions on both sides of the ball. Manchester started the first half on defense and Ruth Matta ran it in to set the tone for the game. Despite efforts by running back Karis Smith and wide receiver Jess Elliott, tag team rookie corner Wiki Jor and veteran Afia Law let no one through their jaws. Corner Sarah Webster and linebacker Eloise Walsh helped lead the Titan’s defense to put in a few good gang tackles.
Lucy Kirk took advantage of a high snap and sacked the rookie quarterback, building the energy of the Lions in what was a slow start for them. The game was a constant flip of offense and defense on and off the field for both teams, leaving it feeling like time flew by, but ultimately the Lions’ talented offence was not to be contained, putting in a comfortable victory.
Birmingham 32-0 Manchester
One of the most anticipated battles was between the Leeds Chargers and Birmingham Lions. Neither outfit knew how they would compare to the other, and Leeds made sure that they came out the box firing!
Despite having a few injured players and the likes of veteran Bo Steward having to play both ways, Leeds’ offense was on first and they marched the Lion’s defense down the field until talented rookie quarterback Ruth Brazier took it in for a touchdown.
The Lion’s offence soon retaliated, in what would become one of their best games to date. The Lion’s saw touchdowns from Steph DeHaven, Ruth Matta and with the o-line protecting Jo Kilby; she hot footed her way into the end zone, scoring three touchdowns!
The Chargers defense made the Lion’s work for it though, with great pressure up front from Lisa Thomas and some immense coverage from defensive backs core Jo Mann, rookie Naomi Harryman and Beverly Marwood. After the second half, the Lion’s defense stepped it up with huge plays upfront from Mena Fombo and rookie Nicole ‘Doughnut” Moore, but could not break up a beautiful pass from Brazier to Olivia Dalby-Naylor, to put them in great field position, which the Chargers capitalized on by scoring another touchdown.
Fourteen seconds were left on the clock when the game came to an unfortunate end when QB Ruth Brazier suffered a serious knee injury after a huge hit by Pheobe Schecter.
Leeds 14 – 49 Birmingham
The final game was between Manchester Titans and Hertfordshire Tornadoes. The Titans had former Hertfordshire RB Sian Kersse back from honoring a suspended game and she was ready to make up for lost time. A few missed tackles from the Tornadoes, allowed her to do just that – the one-time Tornadoe running in all of Manchester’s points.
With the starting backfield trio of Oli Davies, Sarah Glassborow and Jess Anderson all out with injury, Hertfordshire turned to their backups to get the job done. QB Sydney Green, fresh off a three TD performance against Leeds, stepped in at RB on an offence run by former GB QB Jenna Alnajar.
While Sian Kersse was running in Manchester’s points their defence led by Eloise Walsh was struggling to contain the physical Tornadoes offence. Hertfordshire scored on all but one of their drives with seven Tornadoes making it onto the scoresheet!
The Tornadoes defence also got on the board with Amanda Humphrey jumping a screen for a pick six.
Hertfordshire 66-30 Manchester
With southern sides emerging victorious from both the ‘east’ and ‘west’ tourneys, it makes the final tourney of the regular series all the more important for Division One teams from both the North and South conferences, as barely a game separates the teams from swiping one another’s places in the conference rankings ahead of the Series Finale.
Will the top teams be able to overcome the attrition to starters on their rosters and live up to expectations all the way to the final weekend? Certainly this series is showing the great depth the Women’s game has been able to develop in such a short amount of time!