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Gloucester-Hartpury fight back to defend PWR title

By Matt Merritt
EXETER, ENGLAND - JUNE 22: Co-Captains Natasha 'Mo' Hunt and Zoe Aldcroft of Gloucester-Hartpury lift the PWR Allianz Premiership Women's Rugby Final Trophy after her team's victory in the Allianz Premiership Women's Rugby Final match between Bristol Bears and Gloucester-Hartpury at Sandy Park on June 22, 2024 in Exeter, England. (Photo by Ryan Hiscott/Getty Images)

A west country derby, sun shining down from a bright blue sky, the Sandy Park stands packed with just under 7,000 noisy fans… Premiership Women’s Rugby (PWR) couldn’t have asked for much more from this year’s final, but Gloucester-Hartpury and Bristol Bears combined for an 80-minute, end-to-end battle that ended 36-24 and ensured the cherry and whites remain as champions.

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Both teams exchanged attacking opportunities in the opening minutes. Bristol Bears through an arcing run from Reneeqa Bonner and Gloucester-Hartpury through some lovely passing, but neither squad were going to fall prey to a defensive lapse so early in proceedings.

Bonner broke through again in the eighth minute and Bristol looked sure to score but Gloucester were equal to the task and stopped them millimetres short of the line.

With the cherry and whites short a player – Sam Monaghan, down and receiving treatment after hitting the ground hard from a failed tackle attempt that would see her depart a few minutes later on a stretcher – Courtney Keight broke down the left wing and danced past opposing players to score the opening try, a great way to celebrate her 50th appearance in a Bears shirt.

After a brief pause play resumed and Gloucester-Hartpury quickly found their way into Bristol territory, but a skewed throw at the line-out gave away possession and Bears successfully mauled their way to the 22.

As the game settled, Gloucester probed time and again before a break from Sarah Beckett created space that led to Bethan Lewis handing off to a perfectly timed run from Natasha Hunt who equalised. Emma Sing’s first conversion of the afternoon edged the champions in front.

A line-out five yards from the Gloucester try-line allowed Bears to deploy their maul as an offensive weapon. Gloucester held firm, but at the second time of trying Bristol added to the scoreline, with Lark Atkin-Davies dotting down.

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It was Atkin-Davies, along with her Red Roses front row team-mates Hannah Botterman and Sarah Bern who opened up play and gave the Bears their third try. Botterman powering across the line.

Gloucester had one more chance to attack before half-time, but knocked on, giving Bristol possession and allowing them to clear the ball and head into the dressing room leaving with 17 points to their opponents’ seven.

Fixture
England Premier 15s
Gloucester-Hartpury Women RFC
36 - 24
Full-time
Bristol Bears Women
All Stats and Data

A half-time change for Bristol saw Bern replaced by Simi Pam, adding yet more dynamism to their front row. It was Gloucester who thought they had opened the scoring though, moving confidently through the phases to allow space for Bethan Lewis to score, while Emma Sing’s boot added a conversion.

It wasn’t to be though, as a review showed that Bears full-back Meryl Smith had stopped Lewis getting the ball over the line. The scoreboard was reset and Gloucester were once again 10 points adrift.

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In the meantime, a substitution saw Mackenzie Carson leave the field to be replaced by El Perry and continued their relentless attack on the Bristol line, the Bears defended resolutely and wave after wave of attack broke on their try line against a wall of blue shirts.

Finally, the cherry and whites found a space and Pip Hendy weaved her way through to score. Sing’s boot was true once again and Gloucester were back within three.

It seemed a fire was lit under the reigning champs and they continued a relentless assault inside the Bristol half and with 57 minutes on the clock Sing finished off a team move before coolly slotting the conversion and suddenly Gloucester-Hartpury were four points in the lead.

With both her fellow outside backs already on the score sheet Mia Venner extended the  lead courtesy of an inch-perfect Lleucu George pass. Even then Gloucester didn’t relent and Hannah Jones capitalised on some powerful runs punching holes in the Bristol line.

Gloucester-Hartpury co-captains Hunt and Zoe Aldcroft marshalled their troops for the final 15 minutes of play as both teams began to lean on their benches for fresh legs. Bristol capitalised with renewed verve and Ella Lovibond, newly entering the fray, clawed back some points for her team.

Bristol continued to pour on the pressure, but a late mistake saw Hunt point to the posts and, with barely a minute of time remaining Sing once again made kicking look effortless, ensuring their hard fought victory.

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finn 6 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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FEATURE Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma
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