Pulling The Flag

Opal Series: Looking back at Tournament 2

The Opal Series is already two tournaments in, and we’ve got another one coming round the corner at a rate of knots. So how did the pack shift in Tournament Two? Sophie Parsons reports…

All pictures by P&M Photography

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The second weekend of Opal is done and, now I’ve finally defrosted, it’s time to have a look at what we’ve learned. Teams are starting to pull away from the pack, with a few guaranteeing their playoff spots already.

In the South, the Northants Titans lead the conference with a 5-0 record, having scored 243 points altogether and conceded only 7. The Pink Panthers are hot on their heels, also with a 5-0 record but a lower points difference.

In the North, the two Coventry Cougar teams are still sat in the top two spots. In tournament two, they played each other in a match that was perhaps not as close as expected – the ladies beat the youth 77-0.

Despite this, the Cougars Youth still have the 3rd best points difference in the Series and are in a strong position to secure second place in the Northern conference.

Here are five takeaways from Opal 2…

1) Games of the week

This year has seen some huge one-sided scores – Warwick’s 88-0 triumph over Peterborough, the Cougar Youth’s 59-0 win over Chorley and Northants’ 55-0 score over Iceni. But there have also been some really tight score lines to pique your interest.

In the North, Manchester vs Sheffield was a “thriller” of a game according to GB Head Coach Andrew Gambrill. Sheffield took the lead twice with an extra point and then a pick 6, but much to their frustration both were called back to replay the down. Eventually they triumphed by a single touchdown, ending the game 24-18 and securing third place just above the Northern Titans.

In the South, Iceni faced Wembley in what was described by coach Jamie Fowle as “one of the best in our history”. A close game throughout, it had a made-for-movie ending; pushed back to their own goal line with less than a minute remaining in the game and only a 5 point lead, Iceni’s defense stood strong against the Stallions to secure their second win of the series. With improvements made every week and some favourable fixtures looming, Iceni could be the dark horses in the south.

2. Great sportsmanship

One thing that always seems to come out of flag tournaments – and one of the biggest reasons I love this sport – is the sense of community and the friendliness between teams.

Speaking to the rookie teams about their experience at Opal 1, most have emphasised how nice and encouraging everyone is. When I asked a player in Nottingham about Opal 2, one of the first things they told me was how incredible the running back for Staffordshire Surge is.

In the South, Iceni have commented on how friendly all of the teams are – regardless of a win or a loss. When Chichester found themselves down to four women against the Northants Titans, the Titans dropped their team to four as well to match. Even with the level of competition increasing year on year, we’ve managed to sustain a fantastic level of sportsmanship and friendship across teams, which can only be a long-term benefit to the sport on a national level.

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3. Speaking of Chichester…

I have got to give a special shout-out to this team. With a negative points difference of 111 and a 1-5 record, they would be really easy to overlook. But the passion they bring to the sport cannot be undervalued.

For the second tournament, they turned up with only 5 players – some teams would have decided the travel time and energy was just not worth it, but not Chichester!

The team played every rep on both sides of the ball, sometimes dropping to 4 players due to injury, but always persevering on through – which means the Pulling the Flag Chicken of Judgement can safely continue his winter holiday, recuperating after frowning on so many flag forfeits already this year.

The Golden Arrows were finally rewarded with a 32-0 win over Peterborough, a massive confidence boost for the team. Their improvement continued into the Northants game; despite a 54-7 loss, they did manage to break through the Titans stingy defense and score the only touchdown conceded by Northants in the series so far. Kudos to Chichester!

4. Pick City!

This weekend saw lots of defensive players make their mark on the series.

Nicki Francis had a big impact for the University of Nottingham, making life a nightmare for offenses. Both Cheryl Hadley (Pink Panthers) and Chloe Ranger (Portsmouth Dreadnoughts) had length-of-the-pitch pick 6s – for Portsmouth, Chloe’s secured their 13-6 victory over Wembley Stallions.

Tendai Chieza had four picks for Northants Titans, forever destroying the rumour that she can’t catch. Lindsey Johnson (also Titans) secured a hat trick of picks in one half against Iceni. But defensive star of the week has got to go to Ellie Thorpe (Warwick Wolverines), who had a total of 5 pick sixes across two games leading the Wolverines defense to score almost as much as their offense this week. Good thing the GB defensive coordinator was scouting on the sidelines this week!

5. It’s cold. Finally, a small personal rant but with (I hope) a serious point.

I might have mentioned it once or twice, but seriously, it’s really cold. Two years ago, the final risked being cancelled when the pitch was frozen – luckily, we had a backup plan.

Every year, the series seems to be riddled with injuries and every year there is at least one serious enough that I hear mutterings that this will be the last winter series. We don’t seem to have first aid cover or be prepared in any way for medical emergencies. I’m not suggesting flag football should be required to have full medical cover, but in temperatures that are heading to zero degrees or below, minor injuries can become really serious very quickly.

A broken leg can become life-threatening if a player cannot be moved – hypothermia is a very real possibility. What will it take before the tournament is moved to the summer?

Coming from a university background, I understand the timing difficulties. The year is riddled with holidays and exam periods, making it difficult to find a time to suit everyone. But the Summer Series demonstrated that a successful women’s league involving a good number of teams CAN happen over the summer – a little earlier in the year and perhaps we could accommodate for universities too. If the senior mixed league can happen outside of the coldest months of the year, why can’t Opal?

That’s all for this week. The current rankings are shown below, and I’ll be back to look ahead to the final week of the round robin, where teams will be looking to secure a favourable seeding for finals week.

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