Cougars v Sheffield

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The Cougars played host to high fliers Sheffield yesterday in glorious Cumbrian weather – better suited for spectators than players! This was a big match for both sides, with Sheffield looking to end their season on a high and Carlisle looking to redeem the score line from the away leg of the fixture (53-13) and maintain their winning streak since the Christmas break.

The match began on equal terms, with both teams slogging it out for territory in the midfield. The first quarter brought no points, though both sides looked on for a number of tries. A couple of break away runs from Captain and prop Lucy Meadley and propping partner Sam Meakin failed to conclude at the try line. Similarly, Sheffield’s breaks were denied that end with some crucial saving tackles and defensive work from Flanker Belinda Lloyd (Coach’s Player). Both sides competed vigorously at the breakdowns, and Carlisle should have turned over more ball given the dominance of their forwards, who were able to win a number of Sheffield put-ins in the scrums. Sloppy play and careless hands meant loose ball was rife and Sheffield were better able to take advantage of it. 

Conditions favoured a kicking game, and fly half Lisa Ritchie was able to clear play into the opposition half where the pressure was piled on. Two five metre scrums right of the Sheffield posts should have yielded the first try for the home side, but the visitors defence proved impenetrable. Sheffield took the box kick which bounced favourably for oncoming centre Laura Cunningham (Player’s Player) who took it, catching the opposition defence off guard and was able to run her way over the try line touching down left of the posts. Ritchie converted.

Sheffield retaliated with a try out on the wing which remained unconverted, giving the Cougars a slight lead. But the home side knew a mere conversion would not be enough against a team as strong as Sheffield, so the pressure was back on. At the restart, the Cougars were back up in the visitors half, winning another penalty scrum under the sticks. Sheffield gave all they had and were able to resist the drive from the Cougars. Quick ball from the back of the scrum was sent along the line with the cut back inside from Cunningham who flew through the gap and touched down on the right giving the Cougars a seven point lead. The advantage was short lived though with the visitors answering back with another try on the far left just before the close of the first half, settling the half-time score at equal pegging.

The first ten minutes of the second half were inexplicable. Both teams were unrecognisable from the previous forty minutes. Sheffield exploded out of the blocks with a mystifyingly easy try up the right wing straight off from the kick off. Carlisle looked on in puzzlement. The Yorkshire outfit played tactically, turning the match into a decidedly backs orientated game. Over the next ten minutes, the visitors put down an astonishing four tries, much to the embarrassment and confusion of the home side. Their defensive line was non-existent and the pack were unable to exert their power with such quick ball being played through hands. Carlisle were in disarray.

Pulling themselves together after a confounding initial quarter, the Cougars were finally able to get possession and hold on to it. The match began to resemble that of the first half, with vigorous competition at the break downs and more aggressive attempts to break the Sheffield line. The Cougars managed to edge their way up the pitch abetted by Meakin’s break up the midfield. A quick tap and go from scrum half Phil Bell began a series of rucks along the Sheffield try line that eventually wore out the defence which was broken through by the strength of flanker Rosie Tyson, who wrestled her way through and over the line. The momentary relief this brought the home side simply fuelled the visitors more, who were back on the war path. Another try from their winger moments later continued to widen the gap.

Carlisle were able to retaliate with one more try to complete Cunningham’s hat trick. Another Sheffield scrum under the sticks was stolen by the Cumbrians who began another relentless storm of the Sheffield defence on their try line that finally paid off with a gap for the centre to dive over and touch down left of the posts. The Carlisle performance was erratic, with some brilliant phases of rugby strung together by some disastrously disorganised play.

Carlisle have one remaining fixture against York at home on Sunday 3rd May, k.o. 2.15 p.m. All support welcome!

Full report PDF