Division One South Sapphire 2018 kicked off last Saturday with two Division One tournaments in Hertfordshire for the South and Edinburgh for the North.
Division One South, Round One:
by Céline Bisson
The very competitive Division One South did not disappoint, as the Birmingham Lions, Hertfordshire Tornadoes, Derby Braves and London Warriors put on quite a show.
The day started with two fixtures, the Birmingham Lions vs the London Warriors and Derby Braves vs the Hertfordshire Tornadoes, and the former was a much-awaited game for both teams.
A small Warriors squad put the Lions to the test and gave the reigning champions quite challenge right from the outset. Warriors quarterback Chloé Bâton led her the offence well and connected with her receivers to gain some precious yards, whilst on the other side of the ball the London side immediately put pressure on the Lions’ offence with a very aggressive defence.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to stop the Lions’ clinical offence, and solid performances from Jo Kilby and Ruth Matta sealed the deal (and the game). Final score: 28-6.
Meanwhile, the Hertfordshire Tornadoes took on the Derby Braves. The Braves’ offence looked effective early on, putting points on the board, but the defence struggled to stop Tornadoes playmakers such as Angelie Dela Cruz, Oli Davies and Jess Anderson, despite some good individual performances – particularly from defensive end Ashlyn Dell’Osa.
After a slow start, the Herts’ offensive trio picked up the pace and delivered an impressive performance, with the game ending 26-13 in favour of the Tornadoes.
The second set of games saw another highly anticipated get game underway, as the London Warriors faced the Hertfordshire Tornadoes. The teams had split their games against one another last year, and both were hoping to secure an early advantage for the season ahead.
Expecting a fairly even match up, instead, the game turned out to be a really tough one for the Tornadoes, who lost some of their key offensive players from injuries early on in the game – their notably their first AND second string QBs knocked out of the game.
A strong Warriors defence managed to stop Herts’ injury-riddled offence in its tracks, holding them to a single score, whilst the Warriors’ own O racked up the points and eventually took a comfy win away from the fixture.
Warriors Head Coach Tony Allen insisted on the importance of keeping perspective:
“Everything went well for us but fair play to Herts […]; when you start losing your quarterback your whole offensive package goes out the window.”
On the other side of the pitch, the Derby Braves faced the Birmingham Lions. Whilst the Lions were largely tipped to win, the first half turned out to be an intense battle between both offences, with the Braves answering almost every Lions touchdown with one of their own. Braves Quarterback Collette Wong, as expected, turned out to be a very mobile quarterback with a solid arm and connected with Laura Thompson-Stevens several times (including for a touchdown) to keep the Braves offence moving.
However, the Lions’ defence made adjustments ready for the second half, and were effective in slowing down the Braves, with major contributions from Great Britain players Afia Law and Lucy Kirk. Suddenly the Braves were being forced into four and out situations, whilst the Lions’ offence kept up their pace from the first half and took a lead that was never surrendered (42-22).
As expected, the opening tournament taught us a lot about the season to come.
First of all, despite not making the trip to the Sapphire Finals at the end of the 2017 series, the London Warriors aren’t just here to make up the numbers. Their tough performances against the reigning champions, and particularly their dominant showing against the Tornadoes, were a statement to the rest of the league, and they will be looking to confirm their contender status next week with a rematch against Hertfordshire.
The Tornadoes are still in the race, and despite having a rough day, proved that they had talent on both sides of the ball.
Meanwhile, although they lost their first two games, Derby showed they’re a much-improved side compared to that which was disappointed to rank sixth nationally last year, and especially showed real promise on the offensive side of the ball; they are not to be underestimated.
Finally, the Birmingham Lions confirmed that they were once again the team to beat in order to claim the crown, and took the lead in the south.
Division One North, Round One
Afraid we don’t currently have a devoted Sapphire Division One North contributor in the DC Women’s Britball Office, so we’ll work with what information we have available.
If you, or someone you know, are interested in helping DblCoverage.com promote the incredible action taking place in the British Women’s game, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re still looking for Conference Correspondents, editorial writers, photographers, etc, especially focused on the women’s game.
That said, given what info we’ve been able to gather, it was certainly a feisty tourney taking place in Edinburgh this weekend!
Round One saw the fixtures drawn along national lines, as Scots faced English in each game.
Despite having ‘homefield’ advantage, the much greater roster depth and experience of the two sides from south of the wall clearly paid off throughout the day’s balling.
In a long, tough day of balling for the East Kilbride Pirates, they showed heart and resilience in weathering a storm right from the outset. Taking on the Manchester Titans in their opener, they struggled to click on offence and couldn’t seem to plug the necessary holes on D as the Titans racked up an impressive 63 points on the Pirates.
Meanwhile, on the other pitch there was a similarly one-sided affair taking place and the Leeds Carnegie Chargers, who claimed the inaugural Division One North crown last season, also made a statement in their opening bout.
Setting a tone for the day, the Chargers’ defence displayed incredible form right from the outset. Though they did concede a single score, they allowed only 8 yards of total O in the entire fixture, with the majority of Edinburgh’s drives going backwards. GB Fullback Gaby Knops picked up two of a combined FOUR safeties scores by a rampaging Chargers D.
Knowing their own end zone was secure, the offence racked up points of its own with five scores on the ground and one through the air, Quarterback Lucy Peaty picking up her first passing touchdown of the season, before rushing for another three scores.
Edinburgh weren’t without their own successes, including a breakaway 35yd rush for their score, and one significant loss for the Chargers was diminutive running back Sunshine Santos Haw getting knocked out of the game with a significant shoulder injury.
Frustratingly for the Scots sides, it was only more of the same in Round Two, as teams switched opponents – Titans taking on Wolves, and the Pirates facing the daunting prospect of a Chargers side with great momentum.
The Wolves-Titans game was a much closer-fought affair, with Edinburgh once again able to find some success on offence as they put up a score against a swarming Titans D. However, the game still swung the Titans way, Manchester able to rotate in players and put in a confident 29-6 victory.
On the other field however, it was very much a one-sided affair. Lacking the depth of experience of the Chargers’ roster, the Pirates’ boat was rocked right from the outset – nothing seemed to be going right for them as their offence was relentlessly driven backwards by the Carnegie D, and their own defence seemed unable to contain the powerful Chargers ground game.
Playing catch up from the outset, gambles from the Pirates offence cost them dearly as they gave up a whopping 30 points to the Chargers D – Bo Steward returning two errant passes for scores (out of three pick sixes from the Chargers) alongside a whopping SIX safeties, including two by Charlotte Conway, who’d already picked up the game ball in Game One!
The second game of today’s Sapphire Series against @east_kilbride_pirates finished with a 95-0 win to the Chargers. In true EKP style, they played with the passion and dedication we know and love from them. Bo Steward was awarded the game ball for our second game. Leading as one of our 2018 captains, Bo was an asset on both O and D today. As always she truly came into her own in the 4th quarter scoring a TD as QB and securing not one, but two pick 6s.
Certainly a lively, high-scoring day, with some statement performances from the Titans and Chargers, who’ll, in turn, go head-to-head this weekend in the first of two showdowns between the sides. Some one-sided fixtures, but also great attitudes displayed by all the teams involved in the North.