Reds’ Siam wonder women

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THE historical significance of the Women’s Siam Cup may not hold the same weight as the men’s equivalent, at a sprightly 11 years of age, but the significance of Jersey’s first victory must not be undervalued.

The Reds’ class of 2021/22, and their predecessors, had swallowed nine consecutive inter-island defeats following a 20-20 draw on the first official encounter in 2011, including a heavy loss in the 2020 edition (played in November 2021) and three defeats-to-nil.

It was ‘business as usual’ for Guernsey when the sides met at Footes Lane just six months ago – another one-sided affair featuring eight home tries in a 46-7 triumph – but recent improvements, both on and off the field, have all but quashed any fear of another ‘no score’ in the near future.

Jersey are a different side now. And the current crop will have this slice of history to their name forever.

The addition of players of Jade Knight’s calibre would boost most sides in professional rugby – let alone those ‘only’ competing for Channel Islands bragging rights – but in those six short months the Caesareans have also improved their technical abilities and self-belief.

It did not take long to prove it.

Jersey spent almost the entirety of the first ten minutes of Saturday’s clash in enemy territory and quick movement, both with ball in hand and at the breakdown, eventually carved Guernsey open. Laura Turpin was a boot’s width away from opening the scoring after being released down the right – denied by the assistant’s flag for a foot in touch.

A knock-on from the subsequent lineout sent the pack into scrum mode and Jersey were then eager to spread the play left. Flanker Katie de la Cloche – a strong contender for player of the match – was best placed to finish and dragged a Sarnian over the line for a 5-0 lead.

Guernsey escaped their own half for the first time from the restart and spent the next ten minutes pinning Jersey back. They set up camp between the 40- and five-metre lines, with numerous stops and starts for handling errors, before Chelsie Blondel almost handed her side parity with a self-made opportunity.

The centre’s chip-and-chase had Jersey’s backs turned and she almost made it to the loose ball in the try-zone. It was close, but home fullback Ashling Magner was adjudged to have got there first, earning herself a drop-out.

One area of the game where Guernsey continued to dominate was the scrum, but their decision to opt for that route instead of penalty lineouts bore no fruit.

Magner’s pass for Gemma Dufty on the left wing – following a 90-second, 80-metre, multi-phase charge up the field – would have set up a brilliant team try had it been on target, although she made amends from the tee soon after, for 8-0.

The theme of ‘pace and agility’ versus ‘measured set-piece play’ continued in the second half and any chance of a Guernsey revival was not long-lived.

Replacement back Lucy Pratt was a standout for the Raiders – breaking up play as best she could with a couple of strong tackles – but it remained one-way traffic.

Former Wales and Saracens scrum-half Knight made it 13-0 with a solo try from 35 metres out, before she struck again, from twice the distance, following a loose Guernsey pass.

Turpin followed suit with a 40-metre dash, again on the right-hand side, and Georgina Ruellan then made her impact felt off the bench with a good run and release for captain Lauren Lowe, who made it 33-0.

Rapid recycling and impressive handling crushed Guernsey’s resistance further in the closing stages of a 70-minute encounter – reduced in length to aid preparations for the men’s Siam – and Turpin dealt the final blow from close range thanks to Georgie Keens’ smart offload.

They go again this coming Saturday, in St Peter Port, for the chance to have their island’s name engraved alongside ‘2022’.

For the first time, Jersey will be favourites.

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