Harlequins show title-winning class to make Premier 15s final with defeat of Wasps
Harlequins Women 25 Wasps Ladies 14
Although only two points separated Harlequins and Wasps over the course of the season, the gulf in quality was clear to see at The Stoop. Quins will once again compete for the Premier 15s trophy after a powerful first-half showing.
Leanne Riley, continuing her impressive Six Nations form, was star of the show. The scrum-half, lively from the off, kicked intelligently and made a number of half-breaks, providing the platform for Shaunagh Brown and Sarah Beckett to dominate the gainline.
The opening points came from the boot of Ellie Green after Wasps conceded a penalty. More infrigements followed and a kick to the corner allowed Quins to form a driving maul. It was halted just short but Vickii Cornborough then burrowed over from close range.
Ellie Kildunne valiantly tried to create some magic for the visitors. Her elusive footwork and sharp acceleration stretched the Harlequins defence but it held firm.
The moment of the match came following a lineout on halfway. Lagi Tuima released Jess Breach through a gap with a sumptuous no-look pass and the England winger, no stranger to the try-line, galloped around the final defender with ease.
Breach nearly had a second but a remarkable cover tackle from prop Maud Muir saved her side. The waves of Harlequins attack continued, earning a penalty which extended their lead to 18-0 at the break.
Wasps came back out with ferocity, forcing errors from Harlequins. The hosts survived the initial onslaught but Wasps would not be denied with Abby Dow fighting her way over after sustained pressure.
The hosts responded immediately. Harlequins bullied their way into the 22 before Breach sauntered under the sticks after an inside ball set her free. Breach then made a try-saving tackle at the other end but was forced off on a stretcher after the incident. Harlequins head coach Gerard Mullen was hopeful she would be available for the final.
Wasps scored late on via Andrea Stock but it was too little, too late leaving their director of rugby Giselle Mather to lament the first 35: “The lineout was an issue, we didn’t win clean ball and the penalty count was nine to four against us. That slowed our tempo and meant we were in a first-phase-fest which is a strength of Harlequins.”
Runners-up twice, Harlequins now have the opportunity to end their status as perennial nearly-women at Kingsholm next weekend against old foes Saracens. Judging by Saturday’s performance, it could well be third time lucky.
Scoring sequence: 3-0 Green pen (13 mins); 8-0 Cornborough try (21); 13-0 Breach try (28); 15-0 Green con (29); 18-0 Green pen (36); 18-5 Dow try (48); 18-7 Williams con (49); 23-7 Brech try (51); 25-7 Green con (51); 25-12 Stock try (64); 25-14 Williams con (64).
Harlequins: E Scott; B Wilcock, L Tuima, R Burford, J Breach (H Cowell 61); E Green, L Riley; V Cornborough, A Cokayne, S Brown, A Ward, F Fletcher, L Brooks, K Mew (E Robinson 50), S Beckett.
Not used: R Dobson, T Viksten, C Edwards, A Eddie, E Packer, I Mayhew.
Wasps: E Kildunne; A Dow, A Burton, K Alder, C Quansah; F Williams, S Wong (K Mason 53); H West ((A Stock 63), C Moloney (M Ransley 67), M Muir, R Burnfield, C Cooney (S Mitchelson 59), E Crake (C Molloy 35), S Kabeya (C Balogun 63), H Millar-Mills.
Not used: S Monaghan, H Edwards.
Referee: N Wood
Saracens prevail after hard-fought victory over Loughborough Lightning
By Mary-Kate Wheeldon at the StoneX Stadium
Saracens Women 28 Loughborough Lightning 24
Yet another semi-final success was a family affair for Saracens on Saturday as they continued to dominate the English game and confirmed their place in the Premier 15s Final.
Twin sisters and England team mates Poppy and Bryony Cleall scored two tries apiece as the hosts edged towards what would be their third successive title, when they face Harlequins next weekend.
But it was a hard-fought victory, with Loughborough matching Saracens’ four tries and pulling to within four points with just under three minutes remaining.
“It was a tough and very physical battle and both teams left nothing out there, so we are ecstatic to have won,” said Poppy.
“When we go into the gold zone we want to come away with points and I’m glad we got over and scored the points and got the win”. After conceding early, Saracens sparked into life, levelling the score after 10 minutes when Six Nations player of the tournament Poppy was pushed over the line.
Fellow England international Bryony would not be outshone by her sister, her first try of the game highlighted Saracens’ pack strength as they carried the prop over the line.
Tight head Bryony’s second of the game saw her react quickly to a penalty, breaking through a packed Loughborough defence to put Saracens ahead for the first time after 27 minutes.
Loughborough did well to hold up a 10-metre driving maul but Poppy took the ball off the back of the resulting scrum and went over to extend their lead at the start of the second half.
Lightning had struck first through Lark Davies who scored twice for the visitors taking the hooker’s total to 21 for the season.
And the try of the game came from Loughborough winger Rhona Lloyd after Emily Scarratt popped her the ball on the halfway line leaving her with only Rachel Laqeretabua to beat for pace.
Loughborough pushed Saracens to the end, replacement hooker Bryony Field went over with five minutes to go to bring the game to within a score but Scarratt could not convert.
Saracens, who finished the league season top of the Premier 15s table, will be going for a hat-trick of title wins in front of a capacity crowd of 3,276 at Kingsholm, Gloucester, next weekend, with last season’s cancelled championship the only break in their domination of the league since its inauguration in 2017. “It is an absolute privilege and not many people can say they have achieved that,” said Poppy.
“To be in this position is a fantastic effort from the whole squad and we’ve got to treat it like any game and go out all guns blazing”.
Scoring Sequence: 0-5 Davies try (4 mins); 0-7 Scarrat con (5); 5-7 P Cleall try (9); 7-7 Harrison Con (10); 7-12 Lloyd try (19); 7-14 Scarratt con (20); 12-14 B Cleall try (23); 14-14 Harrison con (24); 19-14 B Cleall Try (27); 21-14 Harrison Con (28); 21-19 Davies Try (31); 26 -19 P Cleall Try (46); 28-19 Harrison Con (47); 28-24 Field Try
Saracens: S McKenna; R Laqeretabua (Corrigan 62), S Gregson, H Casey (Aitchson 42), L Clapp; Z Harrison, E Swords; H Botterman, M Campbell, B Cleall (Rose 62), S De Goede, E Taylor (Evans 51), V Fleetwood, M Packer, P Cleall
Loughborough Lightning: L Goulden; N Visiten, E Scarratt, E Hardy, R Lloyd; H Rowland, M Davey (Weaver 40); D Harper, L Davies (Field 60), D Menin, A Duguid, C O’Donnell (Harper 30), E Wassell, R Malcolm (Noon 51), S Hunter
Referee: Nikki O’Donnell