Jubilant giantkillers Ashfield Ladies claimed the scalp of a team from a league higher to march into the Fourth Round of the Women’s Junior Cup.
In a close-fought tie on Sunday, Ashfield defeated Scarborough Valkyries Ledies 10-7 to book a place in the last 16 of the prestigious competition on Sunday, February 7.
The home side started strongly, pinning Scarborough deep in their own half for the opening 15 minutes. Only handling errors and poor discipline let the visitors, who put up a good defence, off the hook.
Eventually the pressure was too much for the Yorkshire outfit as the Ashfield forwards, marshalled expertly by scrum-half and the coaches’ player-of-the-match, Bek Daft, sucked in the backline with a persistent attack down the left-hand side. This created space on the opposite flank where the hosts were able to pass the ball down the line and allow Chip Harrison, swapping her normal position of outside-centre for flanker, to score the tie’s crucial first try.
The score acted as a wake-up call for Scarborough, who tried to come straight back at Ashfield. But terrific rucking by Danii Booth, Shannon Poxon and Leanne Reeves, as well as Daft, made it hard for them to keep possession.
Vicky Fegan also made a nuisance of herself, imposing pressure on the opposition fly-half from the scrum, while strong tackling in the backs meant there was no space for the visiting side, who had only one real attack throughout the entire first half, which ended with Ashfield leading 5-0.
It was a different story at the start of the second period, however, because Scarborough not only hit back but also edged in front, 7-5. Ashfield had a lineout deep in their 22 and were not able to clear the ball. The visitors were made to work hard to capitalise as the hosts grafted feverishly to disrupt them, but they eventually went over the line for a try that was converted.
By now, the game was in the balance, with the two teams looking very evenly matched and both stringing together good, effective phases of play. It was a pity that strict refereeing also caused both to give away penalties at important times.
Ashfield had the wind against them in this half and so chose to run a series of penalties that resulted in them creeping closer to the Scarborough line. Booth took one quickly and passed the ball out to Jess Cranmer at outside-centre. Cranmer’s speed and rapid change of direction beat the defence and took her over for what proved to be the matchwinning try.
Ashfield were left with 12 agonising minutes in which to hold on to their lead. But they did not lose their heads and were able to celebrate a famous victory that followed up tremendous wins in previous rounds against Coalville Ladies (22-10) and Amber Valley Ladies (63-0).
The draw has yet to be made for Round Four, but by the time of the tie, the club will have completed their sponsored ‘Dry January’ initiative, which is raising money for Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.