The University of Portsmouth Women’s Rugby 1sts recorded their first win of the season as they emerged 22-0 victors over University College London (UCL) at Langstone. Caz Cole’s magnificent 70 metre solo effort provided the only try of a tense first half, giving Portsmouth a 5-0 lead at the interval. A further three tries after the break saw Portsmouth earn a comfortable victory against a spirited UCL side, a result that moves them up to 2nd in the BUCS South Eastern League 1A.
Due to a late withdrawal from the Portsmouth front row, the game was played with uncontested scrums – providing both teams with the perfect platform from which to launch attacks. For the first time in 3 years, Portsmouth were also without influential scrum half Alice Marshall who was sidelined with partially torn ankle and shoulder ligaments. Pippa Blow deputised ably for Marshall, showing excellent tactical awareness and providing quick ball throughout the fixture.
The game started brightly as Portsmouth, playing into a strong headwind, wisely resisted the temptation to engage in a kicking contest with their opposition. An excellent break by prop Gemma Duncan down the left wing gave Portsmouth a useful attacking platform, but they were unable to make their early territory count as the UCL defence scrambled back and turned the ball over after several minutes of Portsmouth pressure.
It was an encouraging start for Portsmouth, but UCL retaliated strongly. It took superb tackles from outside centre Ropa Chenai and number eight Brit Wagstaff to contain a feisty UCL backline as the London side threatened to break out of their shackles.
The first try of the game came on the 20 minute mark. When Portsmouth back Caz Cole collected the ball inside her own 22, it seemed she had nowhere to go but backwards. However, an impressive turn of pace took her past several floundering UCL defenders and the agile Cole raced away to score a remarkable solo effort. Attempting to convert her own try, Cole’s kick fell just short of the posts to leave the score at 5-0.
The remainder of the first half passed largely without incident, the best opportunity falling to the away side in the 38th minute. The UCL full-back, dangerous all afternoon with ball-in-hand, made a scything run down the left wing but, when looking for support, was unable to find her winger with the offload. Afia Law, playing at 15 for Portsmouth, then thwarted her opposite number with an excellent covering tackle on the 40 minute mark to ensure Portsmouth went into half-time with their lead intact.
With the wind at their backs in the second half, Portsmouth started to turn the screw against a fatigued opposition. Captain Sammy Groves set the example at 12 with some direct running and impressive handling, putting Portsmouth firmly on the front foot. The second try came after 48 minutes when full-back Law bundled over from close range after several good phases. The score remained at 10-0 after Caz Cole’s tricky conversion attempt was accurate but short.
Law was called into action almost immediately from the resulting kick-off, forced into making a brilliant tackle after a strong break from UCL’s number 7. Portsmouth nerves were settled on the 58 minute mark, however, as a well-taken try from Katie Martin sealed the victory for the home team. Martin, who was awarded player-of-the-match for her efforts, spotted a gap in the UCL defence and lunged over the line for her first try of the season. Kicking from a difficult angle, Caz Cole’s successful conversion gave Portsmouth a 17 point advantage.
The home lineout was functioning well, and stolen ball from a UCL throw on the halfway line saw Portsmouth’s 14 make a rapid break down the line before eventually being dragged into touch. As the game passed the 70 minute mark, a weary clearance kick from the UCL fly-half fell straight into the grateful hands of Caz Cole. The Portsmouth fly-half waltzed over the line for the simplest of tries, although was unable to convert.
A late UCL attack proved fruitless as Portsmouth’s line remained undisturbed, the home team holding on for a commendable 22-0 victory.
Reflecting on her side’s performance, Portsmouth captain Sammy Groves pinpointed team spirit and on-field communication as key factors in their first victory of the season. “We worked hard on our defence and our scrummaging in training,” said Groves.
“Although it was obviously disappointing to have uncontested scrums, we’re pretty pleased with the result.”
Portsmouth Women are next in action on the 13th of November, when they travel to Imperial College London.