Lewes Ladies storm to victory in league place decider
Match report by Jess Sutcliffe
Lewes welcomed Medway this Sunday for their penultimate league game of the season at a windy Stanley Turner Ground. The two teams have faced each other twice already this season; their first, a marginal victory to Lewes, knocked Medway out of the Junior Cup and the second ended in a 7-7 draw. After Medway’s success against top-of-the-league Guernsey Raiders, Lewes knew this would be a fierce battle. This close to the end of the season, every point counts, and either team could have secured second place with a victory.
A nervous Lewes side seemed sombre during the warm up, with every player feeling the importance of the day. Owen Jones’s rousing changing room talk was met with a steely determination from the Ladies, but the conditions, and Medway’s confidence, weighed heavily on the XV who lined up ready for kick-off.
Josie Nelder kicked low into the wind, the ball bouncing deep into Medway’s half. The Lewes line were immediately up and ready to defend: applying their pace to the defensive line that has been so successful in the past few games. Medway’s big pack stormed up, but failed to make ground against the strong defence.
Lewes won possession when hooker Pip Young turned over a Medway ruck, and the Sussex team took their turn at testing the Kent defence. The first twenty minutes was a battle of wills as both sides fought hard for dominance: Lewes struggled in the scrums but made up for it in the line-outs where Medway struggled to retain their possession in the face of a fierce defensive jump by forward of the match AJ Friary. In the last minutes of the first half, a run of penalties in Lewes’ favour allowed the blue and white side to push up in attack. Five metres from the try line, Lewes’ forwards took control of the game, crashing the ball forward inch by inch. Prop Sam Williams found the try line after three phases and the first points of the game were scored. A tough conversion was missed, and the half-time whistle blew: 5-0 to Lewes Ladies.
Lewes set up ready to start the second half with new confidence, and it wasn’t long before it paid off. Back on the attack, Lewes made use of Medway’s exhaustion. A lovely ball from the back of the scrum saw the backs finally exploit their fast pace. The ball ran through the back line and out to the wing where Charli Evans made it over the line for a 10-0 lead.
Realising Medway’s weakness, Lewes had the opportunity to capitalise on their lead. Another scrum deep into Medway’s half saw clean ball out to flyhalf Josie Nelder who, spotting the opportunity, passed on the outside to winger Lauren Arthur. A fantastic line from the winger saw her add another five points to the scoresheet: 15-0.
Any doubts Lewes had bought to the game were now clearly dissipated, as the team took complete control. The Sussex side were enjoying playing together, and their superior fitness meant that any glimpses of opportunities from the Medway team were quickly closed down. A high tackle from Medway’s number 8 saw the away team go down to fourteen, and Lewes knew that now was their opportunity to secure the victory. Some fantastic play from back of the match Rosie Neal kept up the pace of the game, opening it up for Lewes and keeping Medway on the back foot.
A brilliant kick from Josie Nelder was chased into Medway’s five metres by fullback Nicola Minchell, and placed easily behind the line for yet another five points. This one was converted, making the score 22-0.
In the last few minutes of the game, Nelder’s eye for opportunity struck again as she acquired the bonus point for the Lewes Ladies with the fifth try of the game. Jogging over the line and under the posts, Nelder made it easy to convert her own try. 29-0 to the home team.
With their clubhouse ahead of them, Lewes continued to dominate and Medway struggled to make any impact in the last few minutes. With the nod from the ref, the ball was kicked out to touch and the final whistle blew: a five point win for the Lewes Ladies.
Lewes are now nine points clear of Medway, who still have two games to play before their season ends. All but secure in second place, Lewes can relax for their final league game against New Ash Green, at home again, on the 19th March. The Ladies’ can now focus on the Junior Cup, the semi-finals of which will be played at the Stanley Turner Ground on the 12th March against Barnsley. A win will see Lewes through to the finals.
A huge thanks to Owen and Rob who supplied swear words and support from the sidelines as usual, to Danny Simpson for his exceptional photography, and for the host of spectators who joined us pitch-side to support.