Birmingham Women’s Rugby 1stXV kickstarted their season facing off against Loughborough, in their first game in the Premier North. Despite encouraging character and impressive play, Birmingham fell to Loughborough 41-22.
The first half started in a tense exchange of defensive play with much of the action taking place just within the Loughborough half. Finally, the stalemate was broken with dominating set piece work from Loughborough, who spread the ball wide to the elusive number 11 who with an inspired piece of skill to shake her defender, touched down on the wing. Scrum dominance continued to vex the Birmingham defence, and subsequently Loughborough added another score in the corner.
Birmingham’s defence continued to hold, and they began to make inroads into the Loughborough 22. Pressure led to penalties against Loughborough, and in a spark of individual creativity number 9 Rebecca Herring took the penalty quickly, darting through the Loughborough line and finding Zoe Bennon crashing over the line under the posts. Birmingham were on the board 7-10.
Just before the half time whistle, a slew of mental lapses from the Lions led to Loughborough snatching a chance try, against the flow of play. The teams went into half time with Loughborough leading 17-7.
From the off in the second half, a new energy was visible in Birmingham’s play. Zoe Bennon played with ferocity and the team fed off her aggression. A bruising run up the middle from Bennon left defender’s in her wake, and an impressive offload to Katie Purcell ended with a try for the Lionesses.
With a batch of fresh legs off the bench Birmingham played with an increased bluntness, hitting lines from depth, shocking the formerly staunch Loughborough defence. Close play around the try line led to a try earned by the pack, and the score was level. Loughborough capitalised on Birmingham’s vulnerability following the restart, and found number 11 on the wing to make the score 22-17.
Despite commendable defence, and impressive team communication, Loughborough exploited the high ball and in a chaotic period of play Loughborough put the game out of sight with three tries in quick succession. Number 11 continued to torment the Lionesses’ defence bagging two further tries. Birmingham refused to give up, playing to the final whistle. Zoe Bennon secured a losing bonus point try, making the final score 41-22.
Birmingham can be heartened in the evident grit of the team, and the impressive depth on the bench, but they will learn a lot from the first game in the Premier North. Both teams played with good spirit in hostile conditions to create an exciting and engaging game.