The second weekend of the 2018/19 Sapphire Series was a mixed affair - as Santa’s sack was filled with both some awesome presents in the form of amazing football, but frustratingly also a few lumps of coal as we saw a number of teams struggle for numbers in just the second weekend of the series.
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 Two Recap
Division One North
We saw a reduced field of teams in the Northern half of the top tier, as the East Kilbride Pirates were forced to withdraw due to injuries sustained in the opening weekend. This led to a reduced slate of just three fixtures, as each of the three teams attending went head-to-head, the Titans and Wolves meeting for a second time in the series.
Manchester Titans vs Edinburgh Wolves
First up was Manchester who’s squad was bolstered compared to their trip up to Scotland for Tournament 1. The Wolves knew they’d put up a fight and were prepared for a harder game second time round.
Due to the wet conditions it looked to be a day of run game football and the Wolves did exactly that as runs by Lynch and McDougall took them up the field in their first drive. A QB keep resulted in McDougall’s first of many Touchdowns for the day.
The Manchester QB then made a great pass to link up with one of her receivers, which was enough for a first down in Manchester’s first offensive drive. Penalties against the Wolves D meant that Manchester had worked their way down the field deep into the Wolves half, a position they would not be in again for the rest of the match. A seemingly perfect pass to #16 looked like it’d get Manchester on the scoreboard but the ball was dropped in the end zone.
The next play Duché recovered the ball on a bad snap and the ball was handed over to the Wolves O. Effective runs by MacDonald and Elder were able to gain Wolves field advantage but unfortunately the Wolves couldn’t convert.
Wolves D were back on the field, a pick by Moody on Manchester’s 10-yard line however got the Wolves offence back on the field and McDougall scored from another QB keep.
Another pick for Moody resulted in a Touchdown as she followed the blocks made by her defence to take it 20 yards into the end zone. PAT was good and the Wolves were up 19-0 at the half.
In the second half the Wolves Defence proved too dominant and the Manchester Offence were unable to get out of their own half. With safeties by Bell and Connell and repeated tackles for loss by the Defensive Line (Bell and Allan) the Wolves Offence got plenty of time with the ball. A catch behind the back for MacDonald was enough for a first down and McDougall again ran it in for a Touchdown.
Strong runs by Lynch also helped the offence which set up a pass for McDougall in which Mullen scored with a spectacular sliding catch. QB keeps were the play of the game with McDougall scoring no less than five touchdowns capitalising on key blocks from her Offensive Line (Gow, Sherratt, Grant and Allan).
Final score 0-53.
Derby Braves vs Edinburgh Wolves
Hosts, Derby, came into this tournament something of an unknown, having been on a bye through the first week of Sapphire.
They’d bested the Titans in a narrow duel in their first outing of the day (afraid we don’t have a match report for that game yet) and so the Wolves knew Derby could make plays, but were still coming in fairly confident and hungry to finish the day 4-0.
Derby came out hard and shocked the Wolves defence with a blazing run up the middle from Odam who ran the length of the pitch to put Derby on the scoreboard first.
The Wolves looked to bite back, but despite commanding runs from Lynch and McDougall the Derby defence held out and didn’t let Wolves out of their own half on the Wolves first few drives.
This game looked set to be a grind out battle as both teams battled the elements as well as strong defences. Cold hands and a wet ball meant snaps and hand-offs were proving difficult for the Wolves as on one play no less than four Wolves players failed to gain control of a fumble before Mullen eventually managed to wrangle the pigskin on what was a massive loss of yards for the Wolves.
Still, making adjustments from the first drive the Wolves’ defence proved a force to be reckoned with for the Derby offence as the Defensive Line (Bell and Allan) killed any attempts for Derby to gain yards. Even a fumble recovery by the Derby defence deep in Wolves territory did not hamper the Wolves spirit as they pushed Derby back on each of their four downs, the Braves finding themselves back to the halfway line with tackles for loss by Bell and Duché.
Each of the three Wolves Touchdowns were from deep in their own half with McDougall and Duché proving unstoppable in parts. Just before the halftime whistle Duché recovered a fumble on Defence which put the Wolves Offence 5 yards out from the endzone. Time was running out and the Wolves only had time for one play to try and punch it in but the Derby blitzes from Linebacker proved too much and they failed to score. Halftime score 6-22.
Derby returned after the half, but the Wolves defence, and in particular Defensive Line, put up a metaphorical wall and the Derby O struggled to move the ball. Further exacerbating Derby’s woes, injuries took their toll and unfortunately the Braves felt they had no choice by to call the game shortly into the second half due to injuries on their Offensive Line.
Full-time Derby Braves 6-22 Edinburgh Wolves.
Division One South
Similarly to the north, we saw a reduced schedule of fixtures in the south as the Portsmouth Dreadnoughts were forced to withdraw from their second set of fixtures. Excitingly however, this pushed a much-anticipated showdown up the slate, as the London Warriors, who’d looked utterly dominant through the opening weekend of Sapphire, would take on reigning champions, the Birmingham Lions, a tournament early, in a clash that would turn heads all across the Britball Nation!
The weather was far from favourable, with bitter cold and heavy rain but all teams played with great physicality.
The opening fixture of the day saw the Lions take on hosts, Hertfordshire. The Tornadoes were coming in off a mixed bag of results in Tournament One, having taken a big win over the Dreadnoughts, only to be taken apart by a dominant-looking London Warriors.
Frustrating for the Tornadoes, they struggled from the out, and the Lions looked be in impressive form as Jo Kilby and Ruth Matta moved the ball well and the Afia Law-led defence shutdown the Hertfordshire offence entirely, the Lions looking every bit like reigning champions as they took away a 0-48 victory.
This meant the Lions were coming into game two with a head of steam, taking on a London Warriors side that had proven themselves the team to beat through Tournament One.
Both teams knew this fixture alone could have huge ramifications on the series has a whole, and it was the Lions that blinked first as a ravenous Warriors defence came up big on the very first play of the game, Jayne Meadows slicing through thanks to by pressure on the line from Molly Odusola, Heidi Nesbit and Charlotte Simpson. Meadows crashed into the backfield and forced a fumble on the very first play, setting up the Warriors offence just outside the endzone. The offence didn’t miss on the opportunity, a quick touchdown seeing the Warriors draw first blood and take a lead they’d refuse to relinquish!
New to the roster this season, Quarterback Erin Kowalchuk lead the Warriors offence on consistent, sustained and successful drives, Vanessa Mansaray heading up a powerful offensive line alongside Yasmin Cazeau and Delta Npuna, the trio particularly dominant in crucial short yardage situations - the Warriors converting each and every Point After Attempt - the eventual difference maker in an absolute shootout!
Safety Hattie Amis gave the Lions particular difficulties, as the Warriors’ unquenchable pressure took its toll on the Lions line, consistently rushing four and allowing Amis to cause disruption in the Lions backfield with multiple sacks and tackles for a loss. Meanwhile, Siobhan Walker used her speed and agility to impress on both sides of the ball, both as a shutdown corner and yards-grinding running back.
The two teams traded blows throughout both halves, but the Lions were never quite able to close the gap as the Warriors’ hunger and resilience shone through, particularly in short yardage situations. Taking over posession in the closing seconds, the Warriors were able to kneel out victors, 35-31, inflicting the first defeat on the Lions since 2014!
Wrapping up the day, and in torrid conditions, a battleworn Warriors took on the Tornadoes - in a much more closely-contested clash than when the two teams met in Tournament One. Hertfordshire had rallied after their heavy opening loss to the Lions, and made a good game of it as the weather meant the Warriors relied more and more heavily on their impressive ground game, grinding out a 14-18 victory that saw the London outfit move to 4-0, and send shockwaves through the British women’s game!
Division Two North
The Division Two North got underway on Saturday, as the Birmingham Lions B and Cheshire Bears made their respective Sapphire debuts against hosts, the Teesside Steelers. Following the withdrawal of the Peterborough Royals in the preseason, these three teams will become very familiar with one another this year as they each clash tournament in, tournament out.
As such, it was crucial for each of the outfits to set a tone, and in what was most likely the most competitive clashes across the four conferences, all three teams have something to build on moving forwards!
Cheshire Bears vs Teesside Steelers
Though the Bears are new in name, there’ll have been a number of faces on their roster more than familiar with their first opponents of the day, the Steelers - the Chester Romans having been rivals with the Steelers back in Sapphire 2017.
Teesside started with the ball, but the Bears defence came up big with a fumble recovery by Megan Delaney and Alison Lawrence. The new outfit capitalised quickly with a rush into the end zone by the Bears RB Hannah Roberts.
With both sides offence struggling in the conditions, Teeside were next to strike with a full-length rush TD by Steelers’ Siobhan Henry.
The Bears O looked to bite right back, RB Jo Craze making good yardage, however the Steelers stopped them on fourth and inches to keep things closely contested. At the half it was 12-14 to Teesside.
Just out of the half Teesside opened up with an interception, unfortunately their offence were unable to capitalise on this opportunity.
Bears RB Helena continued to move the ball well, but was unable to convert the hard work into points.
Due to a very unfortunate injury the Bears QB all games came to a halt and teams sent to the changing rooms whilst an ambulance arrived.
Once play resumed, Teeside came off the marks quickly and took the opportunity to capitalise on the running clock, the Steelers QB taking apart the Bears defence both on the ground and in the air to open up a healthy lead in the second half.
Full time Cheshire Bears 12-34 Teesside Steelers
Birmingham Lions B vs Cheshire Bears.
The second fixture of the day saw the Lions B debut against the Bears.
Given the pedigree of the programme, the Lions came out much as expected, not looking at all like a team playing their first ever fixture! They attack the Bears on both sides of the ball, the Lions putting the first points on the board, Natalie Parker leading her offence into the end zone early.
Cheshire had no intention of letting this one get away from them however, as despite their QB1 having left the field in the first fixture, they answered back with a long rushing TD from RB Hannah Roberts.
The following drive and the Lions offence continued to make plays, and though the Bears defence stepped up to the plate, Birmingham finally broke through on fourth down for a second score and conversation.
But yet again, the Bears offence again answered back, with RB Helena running the length of the pitch, and crucially Cheshire converted the XP for 2pts on a pass to WR Natalie Kelly, giving the Bears a narrow halftime lead of 13-14!
Coming into the second half and the Bears defence seemed to have found its groove, keeping the Lions out of the endzone.
However, following the lengthy injury delay from earlier in the day, external factors would be the determining factor in this one as despite holding a narrow lead, the Bears found themselves forced to call the game short - else miss their coach home!
With the league determining the game as a 1-0 walkover to the Lions, both teams will be hungry to square off once again in the new year and let on-the-field actions decide the next meeting!
Teesside Steelers vs Birmingham Lions B
Unfortunately, we don’t have much info on this one, but the Birmingham offence looked to have found its groove as the Lions outpaced the Steelers 22-32!
With all three fixtures being closely contested the D2 North is shaping up into a conference to keep a close eye on this season!
Division Two South
And finally, history was made in Wales at the weekend as the Cardiff Valkyries played hosts to Wales’ first-ever women’s’ American Football fixtures.
With a repeat of the pairings from the first weekend of games, it was going to be an intriguing test of how quickly teams might be able to turn things around when the four sides went toe-to-toe for a second time in a fortnight!
Cardiff Valkyries vs Kent Exiles
In what is believed to be the first game of women’s tackle football played on Welsh soil, the Valkyries squared off against the Exiles in the second meeting between the two teams so far this Sapphire. As Coach Simon Browning shared, the last meeting between the team teams was a tough back and forth contest:
“Last time out the game was a case of punch and counter punch. So we knew this game was going to be similar.”
The game started in the Exiles’ favour, with both sides of their ball firing on all cylinders and a standout performances from Lauren ‘Bovril’ Drewett busting out some explosive runs whilst Sarah ‘Millsy’ Miller made tackles all over the field.
The Valkyries, whose numbers were low to start with coming into the day with just eight players kitted, impressed with their resilience - refusing to quit.
Up against it right from the start, the game was always going to be hard for the shorted Welsh side, but the team never backed down and kept going. The hard work on Defence resulted in a fumble recovery in the endzone by Mandy Gould who thus became part of Valkyrie folk law by scoring the first ever Cardiff TD in Wales!
Ultimately though, with six of the Valkyries players staying on the field for drive after drive on both sides of the football, fatigue began to take its toll and Exiles #17 was able to dominate the game, weaving around a weary Cardiff defence with her elusive running - an absolutely outstanding performance in awful conditions and which really proved to be the difference in the game.
Despite a steadily increasing scoreline in the Exiles’ favour, the Valkyries kept going and this never say die attitude was duly rewarded when QB Kira Walker found Elleanor O’Connell deep in the end zone for the team’s first offensive touchdown of the day.
Exiles Head Coach Carl Alexis noted,
‘We may have beaten the Valkyries in points but not in spirit’.
Full-time Score Cardiff Valkyries 14-43 Kent Exiles.
Kent Exiles vs Oxford Saints
Second game of the day was two old adversaries who’d joined Sapphire in its 2018 Series, and were developing a tough back and forth rivalry.
With the Saints having beaten Exiles convincingly in the last tournament, the Exiles set out with the intention to balance their record against them.
Both teams entered the game low on numbers and having to battle the worsening weather conditions.
Exiles were to strike first with a hard-fought touchdown from their multi-purpose star ‘Millsy’ and went into halftime ahead 6-0.
Coming out for the second half Exiles were hoping to grind out the game and keep their lead, but with both teams initially struggling, slowly the momentum started to swing toward the Saints, who took an edge in a battle of territory and attrition.
Eventually, the Saints wore down the Kent side and were able to drive downfield against the Exiles defence not once, but twice, to finish the game victors, 6-14!
Wembley Stallions vs Oxford Saints
Sadly we didn’t get hold of much info for this one, but the scoreline says a lot as the Stallions continued their run of impressive form, outmuscling a shorthanded Oxford Saints side.
With an impressive roster size and quality play so far this Series, the Stallions have clearly emerged as the team to beat in the south so far!
Cardiff Valkyries vs Wembley Stallions
And sadly the final fixture of the day went unplayed, as an injury meant the Valkyries found themselves down to just seven kitted ballers and Coach Browning made the tough choice to forfeit the fixture - though notably all the standing Valkyries left the day with smiles on their faces knowing they’d done themselves and their team proud with the resilience they displayed!
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 [email protected]!