|Belfast Harlequins u18 Ladies
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||Enniskillen u18 Ladies
On Wednesday last a bus load of Enniskillen Rugby Club’s U18 girls travelled up to Belfast to face the aristocrats of Ulster Rugby in the quarter final of the Girls Youth Cup, Belfast Harlequins. This was a team that Skins narrowly beat in the final of the same Cup competition last season.
Enniskillen travelled with confidence, despite missing the pace of Rebecca Pennell in the backs and the strong running of Alison Glass in the forwards. The young Fermanagh women however, had a point to prove after reports that Quins were seeking revenge for the defeat last season.
If there was a point to prove, Skins didn’t waste any time in proving it! Skins kicked off deep into the Harlequins half, and when the Belfast outfit had taken the ball into contact several times they decided to spread the ball out wide, whilst inside their own 22. Lucy Barr, who has taken like a duck to water with her recent convert to the inside centre position, smelled an opportunity and plucked the Quins pass from the air to run in under the posts to score Skins first of many tries, and set the tone for the whole game. Kathryn Dane added the conversion to put Skins 7-0 up inside the first few minutes.
Quins restart kick landed on Claire Boles who got her first chance in four months to run in anger after a shoulder injury had kept her out. She grabbed this opportunity with both hands, smashing through one would-be defender and fending another before off loading to her sister Katie, who rode one tackle and then went to ground to set the ball up for her team. From here Skins marched up the pitch, using a combination of their strong running forwards and evasive backs. When the ball was shifted down the line after a flurry of offloads from Ellie Ingram, Lucy Barr and Hollie Bruce; Claire Boles found herself a few yards from the line for another opportunity she wasn’t going to squander, and after starting the move from the kick off, she finished it to bring the scores to 12-0. Dane was unlucky with the conversion.
Again Skins took the ball from the kick off and took it to the Quins line, but after some strong carries, the visitors lost the ball forward and allowed Harlequins a chance to attack with ball in hand. Although this need not have worried Skins as their defence was water-tight, and remained so for the duration of the game. Ingram organised the defensive line brilliantly, and Barr set the line speed for Skins in such a way that when Quins tried to pass they were under so much pressure they dropped the ball, and on the odd occasion they managed to get the ball wide, skins were so well organised that there was no space to exploit.
When Skins got the ball back, normal business was resumed. Again after strong carries from the likes of the Boles sisters, Alice Hurst, and Sophie Magwood the away team found themselves in their opponents 22. At this point, the industrious Abbie Parkinson burst onto the ball and crashed through the Quins defence to get a try that her performance and work rate throughout the match thoroughly deserved.
From here Skins kicked on to add two tries before the half, with Hollie Bruce scoring the first of her trademark Hollie Bruce scores, when she rounded the defence showing the winger a clean pair of heels to score in the corner. Dane couldn’t add the extras, but wasn’t long in bagging her first try of the match on the stroke of half time when she won the foot race to her own excellently placed box-kick right into the corner, diving on the ball to seal the five points and bring the half time score to 27-0 to the visitors.
The second half was not as clear cut as the first however. As most sides would, Skins struggled to keep up the huge level of intensity they had produced in the first half and allowed Harlequins a period of time to attack their line. Harlequins took this opportunity and built good phases close to the Skins line for around twenty minutes of the half, but they didn’t account for the incredible mental fortitude shown by Skins. Between Abbie Parkinson covering every blade of grass on the pitch, Alice Hurst making more choke tackles than Sean O’Brian could dream of making and Zoe Donaldson and Niamh Toolan making some last gasp and brave cover tackles, the home side couldn’t find a way over the line. To add insult to injury, when Skins eventually turned the ball over, their break was so quick and ruthless that it ended up with another Skins score. Kathryn Dane, who led from the front all night as a natural leader, put a high ball up which landed on the halfway line. The Harlequins full back covered it well and fielded the ball, only to be smashed by the on rushing Emma Shaw, and drop the ball. From there Skins shifted the ball wide to Zoe Donaldson, who put the foot down and nearly made it into the corner for a score, only to be tackled into touch metres from the line. From the ensuing lineout Quins tried to pass the ball about in their own 22, not learning from the first few minutes of the game, and Claire Boles pounced to punish them with a great intercept under the posts, Making Kathryn Dane’s kick much easier. She converted to bring the score to 34-0.
Skins were now finished absorbing pressure, and seemed to be determined to add to Harlequins’ misery. Whenever the Belfast side tried to kick to relieve pressure, Shaw plucked each high ball from the air and ran them back at Quins with interest. After one such kick return a loose ball fell at the feet of Kathryn Dane who is absolutely lethal in open, disrupted play. When she had finished slicing through the first line of defence like a hot knife through butter, she stepped the winger and the full back to score her second great try of the night. This one was under the posts so she could convert it as well.
Hollie Bruce rounded the night off with her second trademark try, this time managing to finish under the posts and after Dane’s conversion leave the score at 48-0 to the visiting team. A result which had coaches, parents, referees, spectators and Ulster Branch representatives purring.