Bristol Bears 26 Loughborough Lightning 26
Loughborough cemented their reputation as the comeback kids of the Allianz Premier 15s after Rhys Edwards’ side launched another fight-back to share the points with Bristol in a frantic draw.
Bristol would have secured their place in the play-offs with the five-point victory that the home side appeared destined for after a brilliant, Jasmine Joyce-inspired first half, but two late tries pegged back Dave Ward’s Bears.
“We set ourselves a big challenge after that first 20 minutes,” said Loughborough coach Rhys Edwards. “It’s a reputation we don’t particularly want, but you can’t knock the character of this group – every time we are under pressure, we seem to come out on top. I’m pretty proud of how we recovered that.”
Simon Middleton names his England squad on Monday afternoon and there were a few raised eyebrows at Loughborough’s starting XV. Fortunately for the England head coach, Emily Scarratt’s absence was Covid-related rather than another injury having only just returned from serious injury, while Sarah Hunter’s coaching brief was precautionary after taking a “bump” in training this week.
It looked like it might be a long afternoon for the visitors after Bristol began at furious pace. Three times in the opening five minutes Joyce scorched the left touchline: her first charge was just about ended, but Hannah West bashed through, and then Joyce scored herself, turning full-back Georgina Tasker to stone with snaking hips.
Only some excellent scramble defense from Tasker two minutes later prevented Joyce gathering her own chip ahead and adding a third before Loughborough had even really had the ball. When, finally, the visitors were afforded the chance to play it was Helena Rowland at the heart of their brightest moments, getting Loughborough on the board with a typically brilliant finish.
Aside from Rowland’s conjurings and a powerful maul from which Rachel Malcolm scored, Bristol were well on top, and a threat every time they had the ball in open expand. Rownita Marston bashed her way over for their third of her and the bonus point was secured before half-time when Courtney Keight put her foot down to race in.
But Loughborough, as they showed against Exeter two weeks ago at Franklin’s Gardens, seem to almost grow the greater the task in front of them becomes. For most of the second period defenses dominated, but the visitors got better and better. The prolific Lark Davies poached a try from the back of another rumbling mass, before Charli Jacoby crashed over, Rowland converting to secure the draw.
The Premier 15s now takes an extended break during the Women’s Six Nations, with the two remaining rounds to be played in May. Harlequins, well beaten by Wasps at the CBS Arena on Saturday, finished their season against Bristol and Loughborough and may just be nervously looking over their shoulders.
Scoring Sequence: 5-0 West try, 7-0 Reed conversion, 12-0 Joyce try, 14-0 Reed conversion, 14-5 Rowland try, 14-7 Rowland conversion, 19-7 Marston try, 21-7 Reed conversion, 21- 12 Malcolm try, 26-12 Powell try, 26-17 Davies try, 26-19 Rowland conversion, 26-24 Jacoby try, 26-26 Rowland conversion
Bristol Bears: K Powell; C Keight (J Hesketh 66), P Murray, A Reed, J Joyce; L Skuse (E Lovibond 73), L Infante (K Bevan 60); S Pam (C Kill 57), H West (H Phillips 66), S Bern (E Mulhearn 61); D Burns (H Cunningham 60), T John; A Butchers, M Johnes (S Lillicrap 60), R Marston
Loughrough Lightning: G Tasker; C Williams (A Brown 47), B Mataitoga, E Hardy (H Nelson 47), G Lingham; H Rowland, J Weaver (J Maxwell 66); K Trevarthen (L Bartlett 47), L Davies, C Belisle (C Jacoby 60); C Holtkamp, E Wassell; H Taufoou (A Duguid 41), M Meueller (S Svoboda 57), R Malcolm UnusedSubstitute: B Field
Referee: adam wookey
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.