Abbey Women’s return to Championship 1 South ended in defeat, but there were plenty of positives to take from the first match of a long season at the second tier of women’s rugby in England.</4>
A solid performance from hosts Henley Hawks Women, who took the chances presented to them, resulted in them grabbing a bonus-point victory in the first outing of Championship 1 South, while visitors Abbey Women stole a try to register the first points on the table for them. Two early tries from the home side’s Lauren Mueller and Nina Webb, the latter converted by Rachael Humphreys, afforded them a momentum Abbey couldn’t quite match all game, with plenty of take-forwards into their next match against Hove next Sunday.
Although first-half possession and territory was largely in Abbey’s favour, as was their dominant scrum, they will rue several missed opportunities to the home side’s 22, which could have resulted in points to overturn the 12-0 score line at half time. Strong first-half performances from forwards Natalie Mitchell and Jess Potter were encouraging, but couldn’t contain Henley’s dynamic Lini Kaufana, who was instrumental for the home side in orchestrating their attack. Probing runs from Abbey’s talismanic centre Alice Denton were well-contained by Henley.
Henley were the first to score in the second half, with hooker Katie Phillips dotting down, minutes before Abbey responded with a try of their own; demonstrating the ability and skill within the squad to play a wide, expansive game. Good interlinking play between the forwards and the backs, spearheaded by on-form Number 8 Charlotte Faux, saw full-back Hayley Matthews put winger Caroline Shepherd in for a try. Although this would be the visitors only points all match, it offered an insight into the attacking prowess of Abbey Women, which they will be working to improve on throughout this season. Dynamic performances from co-captain for the day Abi Wall, as well as scrum-half Ellie Rice were encouraging as this new-look Abbey Women embarks on only their second-ever season in the Championship.
Henley concluded proceedings with two more unanswered tries through full-back Genevieve Moody and Juliette Gagglioli to secure the bonus-point win and taking the spoils over Abbey until the two sides meet again in the final game of the season.