Pulling The Flag

Opal Series 3: Teesside Triumph

The Teesside Steelers came up with a dominant performance to take the third Opal Series tournament on home turf.

The Women of Steel were downright scary on defense, polishing off an unbeaten day with a 28-0 victory over Leeds Carnegie in the final of the Northern event. Down in the South, the London Warriors pulled off a defensive stop of their own, handing the Coventry Cougars their first loss of the season to bring about a three-way tie for maximum points between themselves, Coventry and Northants.

Saturday’s results leapfrogged Teesside over Manchester into fourth. Pending confirmation from the tournament organising committee, the top six places are filled by Coventry, Northants, London, Teesside, Manchester and Warwick. These teams will get to play for the Opal Series crown on December 6 in Nottingham, while the other teams will jockey for position.

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Northern Report

Leeds Carnegie won Opal Tournament 2 on their debut earlier this month, and they made an explosive start to this one too. Leeds stormed into the endzone on their first play, and followed it up with a pick on Derby’s first play to set up another touchdown. Both Deirdre Nganjo and Vicky Thompson were pulling off defense-splitting passes at quarterback as the Yorkshire side rolled Derby 38-0. Meanwhile, Teesside were determined to make an impression in their home tournament. Sam Parker connected with Becky Rafferty at crucial times, Emma Riggall was slippery on the ground, and Teesside’s defense waded in with multiple picks en route to a 34-0 win over Sheffield.

Manchester had reached the final in both of their previous tournaments, and weren’t to be outdone. The Titans racked up several long touchdowns to grab a 43-6 victory over the Derby Braves, with rocket-armed QB Sian Perry building a lethal connection with Becky Ashworth out wide. It was a tense match-up between Sheffield Hallam Warriors and the University of Nottingham, with Sheffield holding Notts until the final seconds. But with time expiring, Joanna Lumb came up with a crucial interception, and Barbara Pellegrino took a handoff into the endzone for the clinching score with less than 20 seconds to go.

The third round featured two fantastic finishes. The Steelers looked to be easing away from Nottingham in their second game, but the university side clawed back a two score deficit in the late stages. Another Joanna Lumb interception set up a touchdown pass from Sophie Parsons to Barbara Pellegrino with a minute and a half to go, meaning Notts could draw level if they converted the extra point. But Lindsey Robson stormed in to break up a pass to Lumb on the goal-line, allowing Teesside to emerge with a 13-12 win. Leeds unleashed new running back Leoni Edgar against Manchester, and the lightning-quick back flew through the Titans D on her first try to get the score. In a tense and tight game, Leeds were seconds away from victory, but Manchester’s Louise Fitzsimmons pulled in two crucial catches to grab a touchdown and an extra point, which tied up the game at 13 as time expired. However, Leeds had the last word, with Bo Steward hauling in the sudden-death score for a Carnegie win.

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With a second-straight tournament win in their sights, Leeds ran straight into Lindsey Robson. The Teesside Steeler had a spectacular first half of football, hauling in the opening touchdown in a crowd before snatching a pick to set up another score. Leeds couldn’t break down the dynamic Steelers defense, and were shut out in a 28-0. Teesside capped off the victory with a huge play from Karen Portman, who scooped up a tipped ball and ran half the pitch to the endzone for her first touchdown.

In the third place game, Nottingham shocked Manchester 32-15, with Barbara Pellegrino racking up yards on the ground. Steph Warren was a threat both as a receiver and a quick blitzer, and Joanna Lumb broke open the game with a long pick-six in the second half. Sheffield got their second win of the season in the fifth place playoff, defeating Derby 18-7.

 

Southern Report

It was a long day down south on the Selhurst Astro. With nine teams taking part in the Southern tournament, the final became a round robin between the winners of three groups. Those winners looked pretty clear after a couple of matches.

London were looking to grab their first tournament win on their home ground, and opened with a 35-0 victory over Solent. Hannah Pye scored multiple touchdowns and Hannah Smith, Becca Sparrow and Natalie Parker put in great performances as the Northants Titans scorched Portsmouth 47-6. And Coventry got their third tournament rolling with a 52-13 win over Gloucester.

The Portsmouth Destroyers hadn’t won all season, but they opened their account against a potential playoff challenger. The Warwick Wolverines may have had an absentee or two, but the Destroyers finished the job 20-6. Elsewhere, Royal Holloway pushed themselves into the conversation with a 25-0 victory over Solent, while Herts got a 26-0 win over the Gloucester Centurions.

Herts are an interesting prospect, losing only to the top two teams so far in the Opal this season. And they held it close against the Cougars, eventually losing 33-25 despite playing a lot of the game with four players. The Warriors kept up their winning run on the day with a 19-12 victory over Royal Holloway, while Northants weathered an early scare against Warwick to pop out as 32-12 victors.

That set up a three-way round robin between Coventry, Northants and London for top slot, with Herts, Portsmouth and Royal Holloway contesting fourth, and Warwick, Gloucester and Solent in a battle for seventh. Coventry made an early play for that number 1 spot, thrashing Northants 40-0. The Titans rebounded ferociously, taking down London 25-7. That set up a final game between Coventry and London, with the Cougars needing a win or a draw to win outright. London had come close in the last tournament final, and this time they hung with the Cougars throughout a topsy-turvy encounter. A fantastic pass by Chloé Bâton put them up 6-0, but the Cougars levelled shortly afterwards. Not to be denied, the Warriors scored again to make it 13-6, but the Barrett sisters combined for a second Coventry TD. The Cougars then got another to make it 18-13, but wtih two minutes on the clock the Warriors got their noses in front again with another trip to the endzone. At 19-18, the Cougars drove to the five-yard line, but ran out of time with the endzone looming large.

It was Coventry’s first loss of the season, and the first Warriors victory over the Cougars in three tries this year.

In the fourth place round robin, Royal Holloway secured fourth with wins over Portsmouth and Herts, while Warwick defeated Gloucester and Solent to take seventh.

 

 Full Tournament Three Results:

NORTH

Round 1

Teesside 34 Sheffield 0
Leeds 38 Derby 0

Round 2

Notts 19 Sheffield 13
Manchester 43 Derby 6

Round 3

Teesside 13 Nottingham 12
Leeds 14 Manchester 13

Final

Teesside 28 Leeds 0 (1st Place Playoff)

Nottingham 32 Manchester 15 (3rd Place Playoff)

Sheffield 18 Derby 7 (5th Place Playoff)

SOUTH

Round 1

London 35 Solent 0
Coventry 52 Gloucester 13
Northants 47 Portsmouth 6

Round 2

Portsmouth 20 Warwick 6
Herts 26 Gloucester 0
Royal Holloway 25 Solent 0

Round 3

Coventry 33 Herts 25
London 19 Royal Holloway 12
Northants 32 Warwick 12

Final (three-round round robin)

Round 1

Coventry 40 Northants 0 (1st Place Round Robin)

Herts 39 Portsmouth 6 (4rd Place Round Robin)

Warwick 6 Gloucester 0 (7th Place Round Robin)

Round 2

Northants 25 London 7 (1st Place Round Robin)

Royal Holloway 18 Portsmouth 0 (4rd Place Round Robin)

Warwick 31 Solent 6 (7th Place Round Robin)

Round 3

London 19 Coventry 18 (1st Place Round Robin)

Royal Holloway 20 Herts 6 (4th Place Round Robin)

Gloucester 25 Solent 0 (7th Place Round Robin)

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