The first match of a new era for Ashfield Ladies began with a blank as they slid to a disappointing 18-0 defeat at the hands of Old Leamingtonians.
As newcomers to the Midlands 1 division of the Women’s National Challenge league, Ashfield were hoping to make a better start.
But at least they frustrated the Leamington Spa home side, who had enjoyed a much more convincing victory, by 43 points to five, in their opening fixture the previous week.
And at least there were positives to take from the game in the performances of Vicky Fegan, filling in at full-back because of injuries, and Sarah Thellman, who took the respective players’ and coaches’ player-of-the-match awards for their defensive efforts, without which the margin of defeat would have been higher.
In a fast-paced encounter that led to mistakes, Old Leams launched some constant attacks in the first ten minutes, meaning that fly-half Danii Booth had to use her kicking game to get Ashfield out of trouble.
A penalty did give the Warwickshire side a 3-0 lead, but the visitors responded with their best spell of the match leading up to half-time. Fegan used her pace to take the ball up the field, supported by Becky Searson, so it was a shame they didn’t have the support to make it count.
Old Leams came out strongly for the second half, forcing Ashfield to lose the ball in a ruck on their own ten-metre line. Scrum-half Bek Daft held up the try and Booth’s kicking enabled them to clear their lines, but they failed to heed the warning.
Although the defence continued to work hard, with wingers Thellman and Amanda Bingley, as well as Fegan, making important tackles, Ashfield were hit by Old Leams’ first try after a move down the blindside.
A second soon followed as a penalty in their own half was worked to the right-hand side by the hosts, who scored down the wing, despite the best efforts of Thellman and flanker Elena Martin-Lopez.
Ashfield continued to attack, but struggled to find space, and with only two players on the bench, tiredness set in, leading to handling errors. Ashfield were clearly the stronger pack, but they could not win the ball in the scrum. A free-kick from a scrum close to the Ashfield try-line led to Old Leams’ third try as their eager scrum-half grabbed the ball to beat a scrambling defence.
Ashfield now have a week off until their second league game, which is at home to Lutterworth Ladies at Larwood Park, Kirkby on Sunday, September 25 (2 pm).