Lewis Jones 90 Not Out

Those of us fortunate enough to be have born in Carmarthenshire are aware of the mystical powers bestowed on a certain few of our rugby players.

Merlin the wizard of Arthurian legend was alleged to have been born in Carmarthen, and those of us in the know are acutely aware of how his sorcery has been handed down throughout the ages.

One recipient of these supernatural gifts was a certain Lewis Jones who celebrates his 90th birthday today.

Rugby league historian Robert Gate has described Lewis Jones as “arguably the most devastating attacking back Wales has ever produced.” His acceleration over the first few yards allowed him to penetrate almost any defence”.

On the face of it Lewis Jones’ career stats do not reflect a great talent – ten caps for Wales, three Lions appearances – but that hides the fact that for a brief period before he switched to rugby league he was the wonder boy of Welsh rugby.

His debut at Twickenham in 1950, aged 18 he was the youngest ever Welsh ended with him being carried shoulder-high from the pitch. To his bemusement he had been selected at fullback even though he had never played there. Wales won a Grand Slam weeks that season.

Later that year he became the first ever British Lion to arrive on tour by aeroplane when flown out as a replacement. His performances in Australia and New Zealand won him a string of plaudits. His versatility was shown by the fact his ten Wales caps came in three positions, fullback, centre and wing.

In November 1952 he switched codes for a then-record fee of £6000, revealing Leeds had been pursuing him for two years. The money plus the promise of a job proved too tempting. At 21 his rugby union career was over.

In Rugby League he unsurprisingly shone as well, winning 15 Great Britain caps and one for Wales (it was Wales last international match until 1968). He became the first player to kick 1000 goals for Leeds, spent six years as a player-coach in Australia and after retirement became a schoolmaster in Leeds.

During his eleven years at Headingley, Jones accumulated 3,445 points, third on the League’s all-time list.

In 1956-57, Jones broke the world record for the most points in a League season: 496 with 36 tries and 194 goals from 48 matches. He broke fellow Welshman Jim Sullivan’s season points record playing for Great Britain against France on his 25th birthday.

In 2013 Lewis was inducted into the Rugby League Hall of Fame.

I’m sure tonight, somewhere, Merlin will be raising a glass with admiration to a true magician, Penblydd Hapus Lewis.

Trying Time For Wales In Brittany

Vannes is one of those places that contours up the idyllic French holiday, sitting outside a cafe with a crepe and a cold glass of muscadet whilst watching the world go by.

But on Saturday night there was rugby on the menu at Stade de la Rabine on Place Théodore Decker.

Standing on the right bank of the town’s marina, the stadium takes its name from the Promenade de la Rabine, which true to the meaning of the Breton word ‘rabine’ is a tree-lined path between the esplanade and the port.

The ground holds 5,440 spectators and is jointly used by top of the table Pro D2 rugby side Club Vannetais and Vannes OC, who now operate in the fifth tier, after spending the 2008/09 and 2010/11 seasons in Ligue 2.

Wales arrived in the land of their Celtic cousins full of optimism for this opening game of the 2021 Women’s Six Nations.

That optimism was shattered, as gaps as wide as the Gulf of Morbihan appeared in the Welsh defence, to allow Caroline Boujard a hat trick of tries in the opening 15 minutes.

It took 2 mins 22 seconds for the Montpellier wing to open her account, her favourite film is “The Hunger Games” and her hunger for the try line bordered on gluttony in a first half where France ran in 4 converted tries, to lead 31-0 at the break.

In the second half Wales defended heroically, holding up Sansus, Boujard and Tremouliere over the line saving three certain tries.

France did however score 4 tries in the second period, and the gulf between semi professional and amateur rugby, which is a huge factor in the Women’s Six Nations, was there for all to see.

For a new look Welsh side this was a harsh lesson, but they will face an Ireland side that hasn’t played for quite some time next weekend, all the better for their run out in the cool Breton night air.

For France once again it looks like a match against England on April 24 will decide the title, but there are a few hurdles to overcome before we come to Le Crunch.

Red Roses Race Away At Doncaster

The Red Roses started their 2021 Women’s Six Nations campaign with a bonus-point 52-10 win over Scotland in Doncaster.

Simon Middleton’s charges ran in eight tries at Castle Park, home of Championship side Doncaster Knights, to get their Women’s Six Nations title defence off to the perfect start.

It was blistering from the outset as the Red Roses put Scotland under immediate pressure, forcing them into early defence. The visitors were able to absorb the attempts at their try line however.  

Neat offloading from Bryony to Poppy Cleall was the catalyst behind England’s opening try on the 10-minute mark. Their fantastic interlinking saw Zoe Aldcroft brought down just shy of the whitewash, but Marlie Packer was on hand to break through the middle of the resulting ruck and power over. Emily Scarratt added the extras.

Potent attack continued and seven minutes later scrum half Leanne Riley sniped at the base of a five-metre ruck to claim England’s second score, though Scarratt was unsuccessful with the conversion.

Fly half Helen Nelson put Scotland on the scoreboard courtesy of an easy three-pointer, but England’s response was emphatic. Hooker Lark Davies surged over from a trademark rolling maul, before Bryony Cleall – making a second appearance since her debut two years ago – marked her return to international duty with a score, and in doing so secured England’s bonus-point.

As half time approached, Jess Breach collected a Helena Rowland cross-field kick, and showed sublime pace to canter over. Scarratt converted all three tries, making it 33-3 at the break.

The Red Roses started the second half with the same intensity as they had ended the first, and it saw fly half Rowland dart over for her first Test try after three minutes. Breach was unleashed down the left flank, jinking around defenders, before turning to assist the onrushing Rowland. Scarratt’s extras brought up a personal milestone of 600 points.

A Poppy Cleall yellow card handed Scotland a one player advantage, and they were able to immediately capitalise through a Hannah Smith try, converted by Nelson. The Red Roses went down to 13 players on the 57-minute mark, Davies sin binned for a high tackle, and then Scotland replacement Molly Wright was shown a red card for making head contact with her shoulder.

Returning to the field, Poppy Cleall joined her sister on the scoreboard in the 70th minute, the benefactor off the back of a five metre rolling maul. It was Poppy Cleall’s fifteenth Test score. England were awarded a penalty try with two minutes remaining after Louise McMillan brought down a promising rolling maul, rounding out a comprehensive victory. The Red Roses have now won their last 23 meetings against Scotland.  

Reaction 

Head coach Simon Middleton said: “I was really pleased with the first half.

“Our intensity was what we wanted particularly defensively, and our ruck speed gave us the attacking tempo we talked about. I thought we were outstanding for the majority of the first half. We got ourselves into a position where we wanted to be in the game but then didn’t kick on. It got a bit fractious and became stop start in the end and I’m a little disappointed in the second half.

“Poppy Cleall was brilliant. Her all-round impact is sensational.

“I thought Zoe Aldcroft was exceptional, she’s such a consistent player. Bryony Cleall can bring something different and I’m really pleased for her. In the main everyone who came back went well. Cath O’Donnell gave us great go-forward which is what Cath does.

“We know we have plenty to work on. We’ll have a look at the penalty count, what they were for and there’ll definitely be some areas we need to smarten up in terms of our discipline. There are lots of lessons for us, one of them being how to refocus and regain momentum and control when the game starts to break up and drift. We have plenty to work on for sure.

“I was really pleased with our set piece, our lineout defence in particular was hugely effective and our lineout attack grew into the game. Our drive needs to become more ruthless close to the opposition line but that goes for all our attacking game.

“I thought our scrum went well given the amount of live and competitive scrummaging the forwards have been able to get through.

“Scotland were terrific in terms of tenancity and they asked a lot of us in defence and it wasn’t until the end of the first half where we got away from them.

“We’ll start our recovery tonight, and do more tomorrow. We’ll review the game and begin our preparations at Pennyhill Park next week before we head to Italy.”

RED ROSES:15. Sarah McKenna, 14. Lydia Thompson, 13. Emily Scarratt (c), 12. Lagi Tuima, 11. Jess Breach, 10. Helena Rowland, 9. Leanne Riley, 1. Vickii Cornborough, 2. Lark Davies, 3. Bryony Cleall, 4. Abbie Ward, 5. Cath O’Donnell, 6. Zoe Aldcroft, 7. Marlie Packer,

8. Poppy Cleall.

FINISHERS:16. Amy Cokayne, 17. Detysha Harper, 18. Shaunagh Brown, 19. Harriet Millar-Mills, 20. Vicky Fleetwood, 21. Claudia MacDonald, 22. Megan Jones, 23. Ellie Kildunne.

SCOTLAND:15. Chloe Rollie, 14. Rachel Shankland, 13. Hannah Smith (Watsonians), 12. Lisa Thomson, 11. Megan Gaffney, 10. Helen Nelson, 9. Mairi McDonald, 1. Leah Bartlett, 2. Lana Skeldon, 3. Christine Belisle, 4. Emma Wassell, 5. Louise McMillan, 6. Rachel Malcolm (C), 7. Rachel McLachlan, 8. Siobhan Cattigan.

REPLACEMENTS:16. Molly Wright, 17. Panashe Muzambe, 18. Lisa Cockburn, 19. Evie Gallagher, 20. Jodie Rettie, 21. Jenny Maxwell, 22. Sarah Law, 23.

The Last Supper In Saint-Denis

The 2021 Guinness Six Nations finally came to an end last night in Saint-Denis, a commune in the northern suburbs of Paris, located 9.4 km from the city centre.

The area known for its crime, has extremely high rates of robbery, drug offences and murder. The mugging that took place a week ago when France beat Wales inside the Stade de France is still being investigated.

Saint-Denis is twinned with Nazareth in Israel, and even their famous carpenter’s son would have been astounded at the events that have occurred here over the last seven days.

Maybe there was some divine intervention, not quite baguettes and fishes level, but Scotland performed miracles that the main man would have been proud of.

For us Welsh it was a strange experience, with five minutes to go we knew the title was ours, yet such was the bravery and determination of the Tartan terriers, we found ourselves shouting ourselves hoarse as Scotland pounded the French line with the clock in the red, that winning try was something very special to take homeward and think of again and again and again.

What a tournament it has been, from the opening day it has brought us controversy, excitement, upset and some wonderful rugby.

It has distracted us from the horrors of a global pandemic, and the last two Friday nights have pushed my blood pressure up to levels I never thought possible.

I hope and pray that we are all spared to do it again next year in packed stadiums, and for Scots fans travelling to Cardiff in 2022, you are guaranteed the warmest of warm welcomes and thank you again for making an old man very happy.

Do Us A Favour Scotland

France v Scotland might well have been considered something of a Six Nations afterthought had results gone in another direction last Saturday.

But on Friday night at some ungodly hour in Paris, the winners of the 2021 Guinness Six Nations will be decided at Stade de France.

Les Bleus will be playing in white, but they have no intention of surrendering their title hopes after a heart stopping win over Wales last weekend.

I’m still getting flashbacks, especially in the still of a dark night, when in the silence I can hear the collective cries of a Welsh nation, it will take some considerable time, and an awful lot of counselling, to put this behind us.

So the first step on the road to recovery could be provided by our friends in the North, after all we helped them win the 1999 Five Nations, by beating England at Wembley, so we’re calling in a favour.

The Maffia may make you an offer you can’t refuse, but the Taffia will make you an offer you can’t understand.

We are not even asking you to beat the French, just limit them to 3 tries, or don’t lose by more than 20 points, the choice is yours, it’s not too much to ask is it ?.

If Scotland win, draw or just stop France scoring four tries, then Wales are champions.

France are hot favourites, but as Robert Burns once wrote;

There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing”.

I’m not sure I can take another gut wrenching 80+ minutes of white knuckle rugby, but with the Welsh, this sort of stuff comes with the territory.

So please everybody channel your inner Mel Gibson, Lulu, and Sean Connery and if you can help us out, I guarantee when you come to Cardiff for the 2022 Six Nations you will receive a welcome like no other.

Alba an Àigh.

The Longest Day A Six Nations Slam Dunked Super Saturday

I love France and I love the French, but their propensity for 9pm kick off’s is beginning to take the edge off our relationship.

Yesterday seemed never ending, waiting for Godot seemed a successful encounter compared to the wait for Alun Wyn Jones and his boys.

I’m not sure who was under the most pressure on so called Super Saturday, the Wales back row, or my Nespresso machine, fortunately both delivered, although the coffee machine stats were through the roof.

Nutrition is another conundrum on days like this, pizza is first name on the team sheet, scheduled for around 7pm, but the biscuits, chocolate and pastries do not form a rigid pattern, you have to play what’s in front of you, as finishers go I’m one of the best in this area.

Just one other area of concern to negotiate, my large black Labrador, sadly I’m no Andrew Cotter, so canine discipline in my house is on a par with Maro Itoje’s in the match against Wales, early walkies and only a pocket full of charcoal bones provide me with a defence as feeble as the Italians.

Scotland v Italy passed relatively smoothly, a sleepy hound and just coffee and digestives to consume. No crumbs of comfort for the Italians, but plenty of crumbs from me due to poor dunking technique.

Next up Ireland v England in an eerily quiet Aviva Stadium and I’m ashamed to say I dozed off briefly, dreaming of sipping a cold pint of Guinness in Searsons on Baggot Street, regathered myself just before half time with a Labrador face an inch away from mine, charcoal bones were administered at the pace of Keith Earles.

Full time and an Ireland victory that would be celebrated as only the Irish can in normal times, and talking of cans, I reach for the fridge and a Guinness is imbibed with precision, Labrador still on the prowl desperately searching for any form of snack that may be lurking, wearing the kind of pitiful facial expression that only another Labrador owner can appreciate, or indeed an Italian defence coach.

Finally as the spinach and ricotta thin crust disappeared from view it was time for the big one France v Wales

The scoreboard started ticking over quicker than my heart rate, 4 tries in the opening 14 minutes, at least I know my blood pressure tablets really do work.

My Magnificent Wales, so glorious so relentless, so heartbreaking and in a so typically Welsh kind of way, would we want it any different?, on the longest day, and for one night only, yes we bloody well would.

Farewell To The Kalmar Quin

Saying Goodbye is never easy, and perhaps it is even more difficult in light of what the world has gone through over the last 14 months, if the pandemic has taught us anything it is the importance of friends and family in our daily lives.

Any city that has a beach called the cat’s bottom (Kattrumpan), must be pretty special, the city in question is Kalmar the home of Victoria Petersson, situated alongside the Baltic Sea, it is one of Sweden’s most beautiful.

Her rugby journey started due to a chance meeting at a party, and following game time at university, and local club Kalmar Sodra, she found herself jetting south to leafy Surrey, at the tender age of 22, to join Harlequins.

When I first met Vic it was very evident that she displayed a maturity beyond her tender years.

She spoke in perfect English about life and rugby, with her wonderful modesty and a smile as wide as the Oversund, she has not surprisingly been one of the most popular members of the Harlequins Women’s squad.

Settling into English life like a duck to water, she had the difficult task of learning to cope without her mum’s potato and leek soup, but with a little cajoling from a certain Welsh journalist,she discovered the delight of Welsh cakes, an able replacement to Mum’s speciality, and on the plus side my home country’s economy has taken a dramatic upward turn thanks to her consumption.

Matchdays became a double bill, Saturday night Scandi dramas on the BBC were preceded by Swedish afternoon thrillers courtesy of the Kalmar Killer, who never took any prisoners on the pitch…absolut!

Sunny summers of Sevens with the Swedish national team kept her looking very sharp when returning to pre season training, having a smorgasbord of talent and the ability to play fly half, centre and wing meant she was an integral and versatile part of Harlequins Women’s drive for success.

At the top of her game in early 2020, the cruelty that is so often administered by the sporting gods struck.

The Swedes are no strangers to the power and unpredictability of Norse gods, certainly the thunderbolt that hit the Quins number ten early in the second half of the match against Bristol Bears, could have come from Thor himself.

Whilst attempting a “jackal” at a breakdown, Vic suffered a hamstring injury that ripped two tendons off the bone, left one hanging off, and the remainder descending five centimetres.

I have seen players with a similar injury carried off the field being given oxygen, Vic stood up and was helped off, they breed them tough in Kalmar, the agony etched on her face was almost too painful to watch.

Former England World Cup winning coach, Gary Street, talked just before the injury about how superbly Vic was playing, she was in the form of her life, bossing the game, organising those around her, the silken running and perfect timing of the pass were getting better and better game by game, the worse possible time for the sporting gods to strike.

I have watched some pretty special players over the last fifty years and all the very good ones appear to have more time on the ball than those around them, it is as if they operate in another dimension of time and space, Vic is a member of that exclusive club.

Following surgery Vic endured a long and demanding rehab, never one to feel sorry for herself, she poured her heart and soul into it, and that sunny smile never diminished. I have met few people better at turning a negative into a positive than the speedy Swede.

“Av skadan blir man vis” is a Swedish saying that roughly translates to, Adversity is the mother of wisdom, and Vic finally emerged from darkness into the light last Saturday, to wear the Quins shirt for one last time, against Gloucester-Hartbury, in the Allianz Premiership, 406 days after that horrific injury.

Swedes often say “Borta bra men hemma bäst” which literally translates as “Away is good, but home is best”, and it has now come to pass that Vic, after the briefest of comebacks, is heading back to her home.

Thank you Vic for coming into our home, for decorating the place, and leaving it a million times brighter than when you arrived.

As you leave these shores with all our fondest wishes, you have provided us all with a box full of wonderful memories that we will treasure forever.

2005 France Last 6 Nations Win At Twickenham

England suffered an eighth defeat in 11 Tests as scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili booted France to victory at Twickenham.

Two converted tries from Olly Barkley and Josh Lewsey helped the world champions to a 17-6 half-time lead.

But Charlie Hodgson and Barkley missed six penalties between them, while Yachvili landed six for France to put the visitors in front.

England could have won the game with three minutes left, but Hodgson pushed an easy drop goal opportunity wide.

It was a dismal defeat for England, coming hard on the heels of an opening Six Nations loss in Wales.

They should have put the game well beyond France’s reach, but remarkably remained scoreless for the entire second half.

A scrappy opening quarter saw both sides betray the lack of confidence engendered by poor opening displays against Wales and Scotland respectively.

Hodgson had an early opportunity to settle English nerves but pushed a straightforward penalty attempt wide.

But a probing kick from France centre Damien Traille saw Mark Cueto penalised for holding on to the ball in the tackle, Yachvili giving France the lead with a kick from wide out.

France twice turned over England ball at the breakdown early on as the home side struggled to generate forward momentum, one Ben Kay charge apart.

A spell of tit-for-tat kicking emphasised the caution on both sides, until England refused a possible three points to kick a penalty to the corner, only to botch the subsequent line-out.

But England made the breakthrough after 19 minutes, when a faltering move off the back of a scrum led to the opening try.

Jamie Noon took a short pass from Barkley and ran a good angle to plough through Yann Delaigue’s flimsy tackle before sending his centre partner through to score at the posts.

Hodgson converted and added a penalty after one of several French infringements on the floor for a 10-3 lead.

The fly-half failed to dispense punishment though with a scuffed attempt after France full-back Pepito Elhorga, scragged by Lewsey, threw the ball into touch.

Barkley also missed two longer-range efforts as the first half drew to a close, but by then England had scored a second converted try.

After a series of phases lock Danny Grewcock ran hard at the French defence and off-loaded out of Sylvain Marconnet’s tackle to Lewsey.

The industrious wing cut back in on an angle and handed off hooker Sebastien Bruno to sprint over.

After a dire opening to the second half, France threw on three forward replacements in an attempt to rectify the situation, wing Jimmy Marlu having already departed injured.

Yachvili nibbled away at the lead with a third penalty after 51 minutes.

And when Lewis Moody was twice penalised – for handling in a ruck and then straying offside – the scrum-half’s unerring left boot cut the deficit to two points.

Barkley then missed his third long-range effort to increase the tension.

And after seeing another attempt drop just short, Yachvili put France ahead with his sixth penalty with 11 minutes left.

England sent on Ben Cohen and Matt Dawson, and after Barkley’s kick saw Christophe Dominici take the ball over his own line, the stage was set for a victory platform.

But even after a poor scrummage, Hodgson had the chance to seal victory but pushed his drop-goal attempt wide.

England threw everything at the French in the final frantic moments, but the visitors held on for their first win at Twickenham since 1997.

England: J Robinson (capt); M Cueto, J Noon, O Barkley, J Lewsey; C Hodgson, H Ellis; G Rowntree, S Thompson, P Vickery; D Grewcock, B Kay; J Worsley, L Moody, M Corry.

Replacements: A Titterrell, A Sheridan, S Borthwick, A Hazell, M Dawson, H Paul, B Cohen.

France: P Elhorga; C Dominici, B Liebenberg, D Traille, J Marlu; Y Delaigue, D Yachvili; S Marconnet, S Bruno, N Mas; F Pelous (capt), J Thion, S Betsen, J Bonnaire, S Chabal.

Replacements: W Servat, J Milloud, G Lamboley, Y Nyanga, P Mignoni, F Michalak, J-P Grandclaude.

Referee: Paddy O’Brien (New Zealand)

2007 The Last Time Italy Beat Wales

ITALY 23

Tries: Robertson, Mau Bergamasco

Con: Pez (2)

Pens: Pez (3)

WALES 20

Tries: S Williams, Rees

Cons: S Jones, Hook

Pens: Hook (2)

Italy claimed an historic second Six Nations win of the season after coming from behind to edge a thriller in Rome.

Shane Williams scored the opening try for Wales, but Kaine Robertson’s score and two earlier Ramiro Pez penalties put Italy 13-7 up at half-time.

Matthew Rees’ try and two James Hook penalties early in the second-half opened up a seven-point Wales lead.

Pez cut the deficit to four points with a penalty and then Mauro Bergamasco’s 77th-minute try snatched victory.

The game ended in controversial circumstances as Wales were awarded a penalty in Italian territory and Hook kicked for a line-out instead of going for the kick at goal which would have secured a draw.

Referee Chris White seemed to tell the Wales players they had time for one more play, but he then blew up for full-time as the visitors prepared to re-start the game.

The final whistle sparked wild celebrations at the Stadio Flaminio as Italy secured two wins in a Six Nations campaign for the first time.

But a bemused Wales trudged off the field with the Wooden Spoon staring them directly in the face.

Italy, high on confidence after claiming their first Six Nations away win, almost reproduced their stunning start in Scotland two weeks ago by scoring a try in the opening minutes.

Centre Gonzalo Canale burst through Martyn Williams’ clutches, but his long pass to unmarked left wing Matteo Pratichetti was ruled forward.

Pez, benefiting from a stiff breeze behind his back, converted early Italian pressure into points with two penalties in the first quarter as Wales struggled to get out of their own half.

The visitors then started to play to their strength by spinning the ball wide, and the backs combined well to score the opening try.

James Hook’s chip over the top found acres of space, Tom Shanklin benefited from a favourable bounce to gather the ball and his inside pass to Williams gave the winger a clear run home.

Jones added the simple conversion, but then left the field for treatment after Mauro Bergamasco’s punch – which went unpunished – caused a nasty cut above his eye.

A chip over the top almost brought a try for Italy before the break, but a huge punt downfield worked perfectly minutes later for Robertson to score.

Wales lost the ball in a good attacking position and, with full-back Morgan up with play, wing Robertson only had lock Ian Gough to beat to the ball and score under the posts.

Pez converted to give Italy a 13-7 half-time lead, but Wales were ahead again five minutes after the break.

Hook – taking the kicking duties despite Jones’ reappearance – closed the gap with a 44th-minute penalty.

And a minute later hooker Rees scored under the posts after bursting clear after an attacking line-out and fooling the home defence with a great dummy.

Hook’s conversion was a formality and a second penalty ten minutes later gave Wales a seven-point cushion.

Wales then withstood a sustained period of pressure, showing great defensive discipline by not conceding a single penalty.

The game opened up as the unrelenting pace caught up with the players in the final 10 minutes, and a lazy offside infringement allowed Pez to cut the gap to four points.

Fierce Italian forward play brought Italy within inches of the Wales line, and then Mauro Bergamasco won the race to Pez’s chip over the top to score.

Pez added the extra points in front of the posts to create history at an ecstatic Stadio Flaminio.

Italy: De Marigny; Robertson, Canale, Mi Bergamasco, Pratichetti; Pez, Troncon; Lo Cicero, Festuccia, Nieto, Dellape, Bortolami, Zanni, Ma. Bergamasco, Parisse.

Replacements: Zaffiri for Canale (22), Staibano for Lo Cicero (59), Perugini for Nieto (59).

Not Used: Ghiraldini, Bernabo, Griffen, Scanavacca.

Wales: Morgan; M Jones, Shanklin, Hook, S Williams; S Jones, Peel; Jenkins, Rees, Horsman, Gough, A W Jones, Popham, M Williams, R Jones.

Replacements: G Thomas for S Jones (29-40), D Jones for Jenkins (62), R Thomas for Rees (79), A Jones for Horsman (57), J Thomas for R Jones (72).

Not Used: Cockbain, Phillips.

Att: 24,973.

Ref: Chris White (RFU).

Back To The Future with Harlequins Women

14 months ago I walked away from Surrey Sports Park in Guildford, having been match announcer at the Premier 15s match between Harlequins Women and the team formerly known as DMP Sharks.

Little did we know at the time what the world had in-store for everyone, so to be back there this afternoon after such a long gap, felt quite an emotional occasion.

So much has happened in the Quins camp since that sunny January Saturday in 2021.

Many members of Quins team that day have said goodbye to Surrey and headed off to various corners of the UK and Europe.

My dear friend Debs McCormack has retired, the delightful force of nature, Giada Franco has returned home to Italy, whilst the lovely down to earth Jade Konkel is about to start training with the London Fire Brigade

Another sad departure has been that of “The French Exocet” Khadi Camara who has gone back home across the channel.

Of course there were lots of comforting familiar sights today, particularly my “Fika” buddy Vic Petersson making a comeback.

After tearing her hamstring off the bone she had been out of action for 406 days, today she made her final appearance in a Quins shirt before she too heads back home, to Sweden.

Today’s opponents Gloucester-Hartbury arrived full of confidence with the number 6 prominent in their psyche. They were 6th in the table with 6 wins and 6 losses. 6×6=36, the number of points they scored against Bristol Bears the previous weekend in a 36-6 win.

It took them 17 seconds to get on the scoresheet with a try by Hunt, and a second try by Lund soon followed to give the visitors a 10-0 lead.

A Jess Breach try following a break by Abbie Ward, and Ellie Green’s touch line conversion, narrowed the gap to three points (7-10)

Amy Cockayne’s brilliant individual effort followed by another superb conversion from Green gave Quins a 14-10 lead at half time.

Early in the second half a quick tapped penalty saw Chloe Edwards charge over the line with Green’s deadly boot again adding the extras.

Gloucester-Hartbury responded with an Emma Sing try that meant only six points separated the two teams.

An outstanding defensive display in the final quarter as Gloucester-Hartbury pounded their 22, allowed Quins to apply the sucker punch when, in the 70th minute, a blistering run from Jess Breach left two defenders prostrate on the turf, before she touched down for the home side’s 4th and bonus point winning try.

There was a real winter chill at Surrey Sports Park this afternoon, as Spring decided to have a duvet day, but for Quins a tough heart warming victory hit the spot perfectly.