Saturday saw the end of the 2018 Sapphire competition across all divisions. In Oxford, all four teams of Division 2B fought it out for the final time to determine who would be the title champions for this year. The change in format to this year’s tournament meant that any team could take home the prize, making this the most crucial weekend of football so far this season.
Division 2B National Finals Recap
By Grace Hilbourne
Game 1: Kent Exiles v Staffordshire Saxons
Kent came into the game as the top seed, having remained undefeated in the regular conference. The Saxons had struggled at times throughout the season, but had shown moments of brilliance throughout the tournament as their campaign progressed.
They entered the tournament as first and fourth seeds respectively. On kick off, Kent took the early lead with MVP Nominee and Quarterback Victoria Hellard finding wideout Grace Hilbourne for two straight receptions and the touchdown. This was quickly followed up by Kent Defensive Captain Naomi Moore forcing the interception on the opening Staffordshire drive and returning the ball to the End Zone for the score.
Staffordshire, however, did not make it easy for the top seed, coordinating strong and successful drives downfield, only for the Kent defence to dig their heels in and force the stop. Kent Running Back Sarah Miller ended the half strongly for the Exiles, adding two further scores to end the half Kent 25 – 0 Staffordshire.
Still, Staffordshire started well in the second half, forcing the interception on Kent’s first offensive drive and giving themselves great field position in the Kent half. Unfortunately once more for the Saxons, the Kent defence held strong and managed to force the four and out. Kent’s utility player Kirsty McIntyre found the End Zone to finish the game and seal the Exiles’ win.
FT: Kent Exiles 32 – 0 Staffordshire Saxons
Game 2: Oxford Saints v Peterborough Royals
Both Oxford and Peterborough came into this season expected to be strong contenders. The Sapphire veterans had successful seasons last year and have followed up by producing some standout performances in their matches during Sapphire 18.
Entering the tournaments as second and third seeds. Peterborough started well with their well-drilled running game dominating their offence. The Royals have had a fantastic combination on offence all season with Running Back Michelle Bark and Lead Blocker Nina Constantine working brilliantly together. This theme continued in the game but unfortunately, this power duo didn’t seem to be enough to best the Saints’ fantastic defence who had prepped well for the Royals strong ground game.
Oxford Running Backs Josephine White and Heather Brignall ran riot throughout the day, racking up several scores between them. Defensively, wrecking ball Monica Lewinska proved too much for Peterborough, disrupting several key plays.
Peterborough did manage the single score over Oxford which was a highlight for them in an otherwise dominant Saints performance.
The game ended with a convincing Saints win however both team coaches were thrilled with their performances. Oxford Head Coach Adam Baker said
“I am so proud of our team this season. From the first practice, I set one goal for the team and everyone has applied themselves to achieve that goal.”
Similarly, Peterborough Head Coach Benita Booker said
“I am very proud of the ladies and coaches all of whom have dedicated their time in learning this great sport.”
FT: Oxford Saints 41 – 6 Peterborough Royals
Bronze Game: Peterborough Royals v Staffordshire Saxons
The third and fourth seeds met in the bronze game shortly after the opening matches.
Peterborough had come out victorious during their previous meetings this seas
on, however Staffordshire were still looking for that elusive first victory in their rookie year. Both teams had been hampered by injuries and low numbers at previous tournaments, so it was to be a test of endurance and skill to see who would walk away with the final victory of the year.
The Royals and Saxons both started well with defences holding strong and disrupting their opponent’s momentum.
Peterborough were the first to break the deadlock and get the score, and carried this momentum forwards – finding holes in the Staffs defence.
This theme continued throughout the rest of the match with the Royals keeping the scoreboard ticking over. The Saxons did manage to get one touchdown in the game, finishing their Sapphire 18 campaign on a positive note. Overall it was a great performance by both teams, but Peterborough were the worthy Bronze Game winners.
FT: Peterborough Royals 29 – 6 Staffordshire Saxons
Championship Final: Oxford Saints v Kent Exiles
The final game came down to the two favourites of the Division.
Kent and Oxford had put fantastic performances in all season and their last meeting was too close to call. It was a deserving final with the best of 5-a-side football on display.
Oxford started strongly as they did in their previous meeting, implementing a new running game to break through the Exiles’ defence. Monica Lewinska stepped out of her usual defensive role to help as fullback and this change seemed to fluster the Kent defence.
The Oxford run game continued its strong form from the first game, quickly scoring and putting pressure on the Kent offence to keep pace. Taking risks to try to even out the scoreline, the Kent offence fumbled the ball, which the Saints swiftly pounced upon for great field position and the second score.
Still, the Kent offence recovered from their mistake, and managed to fight their way back onto the scoreboard with Grace Hilbourne getting the receiving touchdown. They followed up by evening out the score thanks to a defensive play from Kirsty McIntyre, forcing the interception and running it in for the score.
Both sides added another touchdown each before the half, and this game seemed set to be a shoot-out, the two teams finishing the first twenty minutes more closely matched than ever, locked at 18 points a piece headed into the break!
However, the second half was a different story with Kent Quarterback Victoria Hellard leaving the game and not returning. This change disrupted the Kent offence who were unable to find their usual rhythm.
Across from them, Oxford’s form only got stronger as the game progressed with their offence consistently finding the End Zone. Running Backs Josephine White and Heather Brignall continued their brilliant form from the season and Quarterback Aislinn Bard making some point perfect touchdown passes. The game finished with a convincing Saints win, taking the 2B Silverware as deserving champions!
FT: Kent Exiles 18 – 42 Oxford Saints
FT: Oxford Saints 42 – 18 Kent Exiles
- 1st: Oxford Saints (Champions)
- 2nd: Kent Exiles
- 3rd: Peterborough Royals
- 4th: Staffordshire Saxons
Division 2B MVP – Megan Brown LB #25, Oxford Saints.
The Finals Tournaments wrap up another incredible Sapphire Series, and yet another step forward in the Women’s game, with more teams competing than ever before.
With the growth of the seven-a-side game, what does the future hold for #Sapphire19? Might we see teams competing at different levels? An expansion of the top tier to include impressive Div 2 outfits like Portsmouth and Sandwell? And how far off are we from a 9-a-side Series?
With Diamond Series still ahead in 2018, it’s clear the British Women’s game is still all steam ahead at the conclusion of Sapphire 2018!