After the high of winning the opening Cotton Cup fixtures two months ago; the Vixens were looking forward to the next instalment of the Cotton Cup games. After weeks of games being cancelled and training interrupted by snow and ice everyone prayed for good weather. This time the opposition was Birkenhead Park, the location – Sefton Park Rugby Club.
Weather fair and a full team turn out meant that the game was ON!
The team for the Vixens was of mixed abililty however due to players having other commitments and a last minute change to the programme. In order to give a better balance two major change were made with Hayley Needes starting at scrum-half and Victoria Calder (Jammy) taking over from Suzy Dougall at 10.
For a few of the Vixens this was their first or second game. Alicia Khune threw herself into the mix and was seen by her fellow Vixens getting a proper introduction to Womens rugby; thanks to Birkenhead Park who upon seeing Alicia get too close to the try line did their best to turn her into a human pancake! Undeterred she picked herself up and carried on. For Ellen Lee, this was also her first full game with the Vixens. Michelle Gavagan also pulled on a Vixen’s shirt for the first time, Michelle is returning to rugby after leaving Kings College London and kept her teammates going during the match by sporting a grin throughout the game.
Most of the match was played across the middle of the park - 15 metres either side of the half way line; the Vixens although gaining ball quite often and doing well at the rucking area were cut down once on the attack. Kat Nockolds and Andrea Wensley both more than making up for the lack of forwards power; they constantly dug in, putting on the pressure causing Birkenhead to make errors and give away quite a few penalties.
Birkenhead Park were quick to cut down space though and they made their tackles quickly. Although the Vixens scrum-half managed to punch through the Birkenhead defences a couple of times, they were quick to bring her down before she could make an offload, making sure she was wrapped up like a parcel - bow included before support could get to her.
The Vixens changed play slightly in the second half, trying to gain ground by way of their Captain’s boot; it was also an attempt to cut down the amount of time spent bogged down in the muddy middle.
Once the ball was cleared by the Vixens, Birkenhead were very quick and clinical in winning back possession. That’s not to say Birkenhead were given an easy ride, the Vixens kept up the pressure as much as possible; made solid tackles causing Birkenhead to fight for possession at rucks and mauls.
Where the Vixens struggled the most after winning possession, was in getting quicker ball, coupled with inexperience; meaning they were unable to gain territory.
No matter how hard the Vixens worked to gain possession and keep it, Birkenhead were quicker at feeding their backs and wingers when they had it.
Birkenhead managed to make six of their tries by way of their winger pegging it and grounding the ball close to the posts. Ed Mahon stated that ‘their winger, was by far the quickest player we have come across’… Allowing them to gain further points through successful conversions
The final score 57-0 and yet it was a competitive match; this was recognised by the opposition who declared the Man of the Match to be Hayley (Vixens scrum half), they also gave special mention to Kat Nockolds for her tireless commitment to fighting for the cause and entered her into the post-match boat race.
Vixens coach, Ed Mahon had this to say about his team’s performance;
‘We shouldn’t worry about the score, instead of the scheduled games we were due to play the team played one game due to the hosts Sefton Park being unable to raise a team, meaning a fitter and more experienced team (Birkenhead Park) were better equipped to play for longer and they took their chances well. Every credit to all of our girls, who weren’t expecting to play for that long and against such tough opposition. We didn’t give up and showed a lot of heart. One on one the girls stood up well to their opposite numbers, but collectively we were outplayed by a well organised unit that train together regularly. This is what we need to aim for in terms of training and with our performance as a team on pitch’
A similar view was expressed by captain Victoria Calder;
‘I feel that the score really doesn’t do the Vixens justice! The team was prodominently made up of inexperienced players and we were clearly up against a well practised team. This game now gives us a standard of rugby to aim for. It’s inevitable that we are going to lose some games but these games are important as it gives us a challenge and allows us to improve. 3 out of 5 ain’t bad though, Onwards and Upwards!!
So the outcome - no excuses for today, the team played a very good game against a better prepared side.
Thanks go to Sefton RUFC for hosting the fixture and making the teams feel very welcome and also to the match officials who did such an excellent job.
Fylde host the next Cotton Cup tournament in 2 weeks time on 21st February 2010; we look forward to seeing supporters there.