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English Premiership: Gap closed at the top

The English Women’s Premiership race was blown wide open at the weekend with leaders Worcester suffering a 30-point defeat.  Second placed Richmond’s win over Saracens means the gap at the top is now just three points with three games left to play.  The top two go head to head next weekend.

Lichfield 37 Worcester 7

Worcester’s title hopes suffered a severe setback as local rivals Lichfield inflicted the hosts’ first defeat of the season to win by 30 points. Both teams started without key players, but Worcester were comprehensively outplayed in every department by a well organised and motivated Lichfield team.

The writing was on the wall for the home side from the kick off with Lichfield providing a taste of Worcester’s normal medicine, pressurising right from the kick off with good interplay from the centre pairing of Sarah Roper and Vicky Jackson. A massive shove from the Lichfield pack saw Sarah Hunter score at the back of the resulting scrum and Emily Scarratt made the conversion. Worcester quickly re-gathered their composure; after a great run from Worcester fly-half Ceri Large who touched down under the posts and kicked the conversion.

Worcester’s pack was under pressure for most of the game and Lichfield were able to capitalise on this weakness by using forwards Roz Crowley, Vicky Fleetwood and Harriet Millar-Mills to constantly run at the home side defence. Millar-Mills scored under the posts for a second try and then the lead was built on with a Scarratt penalty and then a superb try from the same player for a deserved 7-22 lead. 

For the home side, Darryl Poole’s tenacious tackling, especially in the first half, did much to prevent a complete rout and captain Jenny Mills gave her usual robust never say die display.

Lichfield built on the lead in the second half with Roper scoring after 50 minutes, which Scaratt successfully converted and then added a penalty. Following good team play, Millar-Mills then scored again to secure a strong bonus point win.

Bristol 33 DMP sharks 3

Bristol secured a convincing home win against a side who have recorded just one league win all season.  Darlington had started strongly with England captain Katy Mclean and centre Georgina Roberts linking well.  Bristol’s defence, marshalled well by Marlie Packer and Amy Wilson-Hardy, was forced to work hard as DMP attacked well and McLean kicked her side into a 3-0 lead.

After 20 minutes, good continuity play saw Wilson-Hardy pick a great line off Kim Oliver and go through untouched to score under the sticks and then Bristol built on the lead with a great score from Packer, a reward from a hard working first half from the back row.

In the second half, better decision making by Bristol saw continued pressure on the Darlington line but resilient defence by Darlington frustrated the home side for large periods. Katie Mason came off the bench to replace injured El Snowsill and picked some great lines at 15, which were rewarded with fine a try at 60 minutes. Wilson-Hardy then popped up in the forwards to score the fourth try and prop Sasha Acheson clinched the fifth and bonus point try before the final whistle blew.

Bristol Head coach Susie Appleby said: “We had a slow start with too many errors and missed tackles, but I was really pleased with the second half performance, especially picking up a bonus point just before the final whistle. I am really excited about the last three games, pushing for 3rd place in Premiership.”

Wasps 12 Thurrock 5

Wasps battled to a narrow win over the league’s basement side, Thurrock, who did manage to pick up what could be a crucial bonus point with just three games left.

This was an improvement for Thurrock on the 49-5 result to the same opposition earlier in the season, and this time they would rue leaking scores at crucial moments.

Wasps hit the ground running and quickly put Thurrock under pressure in their own 22.  With the Thurrock scrum wilting, the home side were quickly defending their own line just five metres out and with Wasps piling the pressure on, England lock Jo McGilchrist drove over the line for the first try in the opening minutes.

Thurrock rallied very hard and got a good grip on territory and possession but Wasps defended very well, despite conceding a raft of penalties and losing a player to the sinbin. With the player advantage, Thurrock managed to level the game. From a 5 metre lineout they embarked on a pick and drive short game and Emily Scott plucked the ball out of the breakdown and dived over into the corner for a 5-5 score.

With five minutes to go in the first half, Wasps turned up the heat, pushed into Thurrock’s half and set up camp on the try line.  Determined attack met determined defence but with Wasps awarded a 5m penalty in the dying seconds and the game stopped for an injury, Thurrock switched off and were caught napping as Wasps grabbed a well taken score through Laura Quin and an easy five points for a halftime lead of 12-5.  

The game was played out between the two ten metre lines for much of the second half as neither side could manage to berak the deadlock and Wasps hung on for the win.

Next weekend Thurrock face DMP Sharks, who sit just four points ahead of them in the table and the result of this one could well help decide who will go into the playoffs to remain in the Premiership next season.  

 Richmond 32 Saracens 12

Richmond secured a vital win in their bid to chase down Worcester, who have led the league all season with a home win over London rivals Saracens.  Richmond scored early in the game with Becky Essex picking well from the base of a scrum and driving over to score. Jackie Shiels converted for a 7-0 lead.

Fran Matthews then went on a strong run and was heading for the line only to be stopped by Saracens fullback Hannah Casey. Richmond won a penalty but the kick went wide.

The home side were quickly on the attack again when Essex picked from the scrum and ran a switch with centre Annabel Sargeant.  Fi Davison was quickly there in support and she managed to barrel over the line for a 12-0 lead.

Saracens then got themselves back in the game. After a series of well organised pick and goes following a penalty, the visitors got on the score board through Hilary Leith who finished well.

The away team were making decent ground attacking the fringes but Richmond were able to defend well and looked a real threat when the ball went wide.

Richmond's scrum began to show some dominance and when they won this one against the head, the ball was released down the line for Holly Myers to score in the corner.  Richmond dove over again for a fourth try following good forward work with Elisha Dee crashing over.

Richmond were back on the attack straight from the kick off. After numerous phases in which the ball was well recycled, Vicki Cornborough broke through the defence to touch down and secure the try bonus. Conversion missed 27-5.
 
Richmond managed to create a further score with hands down the line and an effective draw and give from Sargeant releasing winger Becky Ball to score in the corner. Davison took over the kicking duties, but unconverted the score stayed at 32-5.
 
Saracens then had their best phase of play triggered by a brave attack from inside their 22. Their creativity was rewarded by a break through the centre by Harriet Hewitt and the away side showed real hunger, working their way through the phases and into Richmond's 22. The move was sadly halted by a knock on, but Rochelle Smith then caught the clearing kick, burst through the would be tacklers before off-loading to  Hannah Gallagher who scored. Lauren Cattel converted and the score was now 32-12.
 
Saracens began to look the better team, using their backs well and looking dangerous but Richmond defended well to take out a good win.