The first day of September may be the start of autumn, but Horsham Ladies Rugby showed that the heat of summer had not disappeared as they put up a spirited display in their first ever home fixture against Hove II Ladies.
With well over 100 supportive and encouraging spectators from Horsham and Hove turning out on a bright afternoon, there was positivity in the air as coaches Tye and Steve led a vibrant, coordinated warm up, following an inspirational team talk by U18 player Imogen Dold. With Hove having been together for several seasons, and fielding several experienced players who’d played at a higher level, it was always going to be a challenging start for Horsham, but the 25 ladies were determined to enjoy their debuts, give it their all and learn from the competitive debuts.
With the 80 minute game played in quarters and regular changes in personnel to develop experience and skills, Horsham kicked off and attacked early, showing some good skills across the forwards and backs. However when Hove turned the ball over, they spread the ball rapidly through their backs and scored a breakaway try from distance. The try was then converted for an early 7-0 lead.
From the restart Horsham showed the impact of an aggressive approach and tough tackling in the forwards and quickly forced the knock on. They then drove powerfully towards the Hove line, only for Hove to again turn the ball over and then kick long to clear their lines and relieve the Horsham pressure.
Following some powerful drives from Hove, Horsham robbed them of possession, before launching their own counter attack with pace from the backs. The Horsham ladies showed impressive straight running down the right wing, followed by a second surge down the left in their third phase of possession. The know-how of Hove at the breakdown told a few minutes later however, as following a knock on just inside the 22, the Hove three quarters scythed through the Horsham defence and despite some fantastic individual tackles to temporarily stop the attack, the Hove players quickly recycled possession to take the score to 12-0.
From the kick off, Hove dominated possession, but despite wave after wave of attacks, the Horsham defensive line repeatedly held firm, stood up to the challenge and often drove the Hove backs with their sheer physicality. As the quarter drew to a close the Horsham team, stood strong and the score remained at 12-0.
After a first quarter of immense energy, there were several changes and some tactical refinements at the break and Horsham came back refreshed and with new impetus. But despite the effort, Hove started to use their experience to great effect. They spread the ball more rapidly from their forwards to their backs, to cross the try line on 4 occasions. This was despite several Horsham players in the backs and forwards putting in some immense hits. The robust tacking from the Horsham defence frequently put the Hove ladies under pressure and many attacks were repelled. However when in possession, Horsham struggled to get their offensive game going, being drawn into lateral movement and being pinned back by the experienced Hove defence when trying to counterattack from inside the Horsham 22. The score at half time was still a very respectable 34-0 in Horsham’s debut match and the smiles on faces told the story of the ladies enjoying the game, learning by the minute and developing the team spirit and camaraderie.
As the ladies returned after half time, a combination of inspiring team talks from the coaches and experience from playing their first half of competitive rugby led to a major improvement in the way that Horsham performed. Despite conceding an early converted try, Horsham started to retain possession more and supported the ball carriers, which led to better counter attacking. Great attacking lines started to become a feature of Horsham’s play with direct running and passing down the line. There was also further demonstration of our ladies’ powerful defence, with frequent turnovers achieved as a result. In the final 18 minutes of the third quarter the score remained 41-0.
Having been rebuffed in the third quarter, the ebb and flow of the game changed again in the fourth quarter. Horsham’s defensive resolve stood up to the pressure of further Hove attempts at outmuscling them in the forwards. However, the experience of Hove began to pay dividends. This involved varying their play, attempting more kicks and moving the ball to a greater extent and more rapidly. As a result Hove produced more running rugby and succeeded in scoring a further four tries, one of which was converted. This was in spite of some amazing tackling by individual backs who tried to repel the Hove backs, despite the creation of some huge overlaps out wide.
At the end of their debut 15 a side game, the Horsham Ladies lost the match 65-0, but gained enormously in terms of development and enjoyment. The progress of skills and gaining of experience and know how over the 80 minutes was immeasurable. In truth though, the ladies winning smiles was the most pleasing element.
It was also great for Horsham RUFC to see such a large and positive crowd, who gave a rousing reception for both sides as they came off having played the game in a fantastic spirit throughout. Coaches Tye and Steve also beamed proudly, before beginning their extensive post-match analyses. With a squad of players ranging from swifter to more powerful, experienced to novice, this is the beginning of a rugby journey. A fantastic debut for the ladies and the first of many great games to come.