On Sunday 26 November, Kent Under 18 Girls squad turned out for the first County game of the season against Essex, who are always a strong opponent. November had put on one of its greyest days, with that fine drizzle that makes handling such a challenge, but Dartford Valley had countered with a lively Christmas market and an eager crowd of spectators.
With the faint sound of Michael Bublé in the background, Essex got the game underway. Our visitors from north of the river had the edge in terms of size, and Kent’s relatively young team, with all but four of the players making their first foray into U18 county rugby, were soon under pressure. Essex powered over early for their first score of the match, with the extras added.
This set the tone for the first half, with Kent This set the tone for the first half, with Kent making a valiant effort to put together some of their training ground moves, and front up to a powerful opponent. The challenge of bringing together players from 11 different clubs (as was the case with this game’s line up) showed, and a couple of early injuries to the home side saw Kent end the first half having conceded three tries, with a score of 0-19.
There had been some real positive moments in the first half, however, and the squad were full of belief that there were tries to be had. A few substitutions made to ensure playing opportunities for all, and when the whistle blew for the second half Kent were ready to make amends.
This time, it was the home side taking the first points of the half, as fly half Charlotte Bunk, newly on the field, arced her way through a large number of Essex bodies to score under the posts. Fullback Mia Evans stepped up to add the extras, and Kent were relieved to have points on the board: 7-19.
Essex had a powerful scrum and a very able hooker, and the Kent pack found themselves under pressure there throughout the half, but despite sometimes going backwards managed to retain the ball on their feed admirably. In the loose, the forwards were putting in the tackles thick and fast, and as the game lost structure Kent brought out their offloading game, with some wonderful continuity which saw prop Ruby Copeland power over out to the right of the posts, the conversion falling short but bringing the score to 12-19.
As the clock ticked away, Kent felt the momentum was with them, and you can imagine the cheers from the spectators when winger Erin Murray snatched the interception that she’d been looking for all game and blazed a trail from the halfway line to dot down between the sticks, chased valiantly by two Essex players. A nervy conversion was lined up again by Evans, with Essex knowing that this would bring the scores level, but Evans held her nerve and slotted the two points to bring the sides to 19-all.
Just a few minutes left to play, and Essex did not want to settle for a draw. Under sustained pressure, Kent established a defensive wall inside their own 22 and refused to let up. Coaches’ fingernails bitten down to the quick, the players made tackle after tackle, keeping their discipline until the last Essex ball carrier was bundled into touch and the final whistle blew, securing the draw.
A brilliant game to watch, made possible by a virtuoso performance by Kent Society referee Kate Gent and her ARs Lee and Connor. Our thanks to Essex for a fantastic game. The next Under 18 Girls fixture will see the squad travel to Eastbourne to face Sussex on Sunday 17 December.