Foxes dig deep for each other to win promotion in play-off
Bury St Edmunds Ladies Foxes showed they had the grit of true champions as they came through a tough play-off final to achieve promotion to the third tier of women’s rugby.
Team manager Natalie Palmer felt it was ultimately her side’s mental strength and will to fight tooth and nail for each other which saw them claim a 15-12 victory against previously undefeated Sutton Coldfield at Wellingborough RFC on Sunday.
“It has not quite sunk in yet it was quite as it was quite an intense game, especially coming from behind after they scored in the first five minutes.
“Everyone put in a shift in different places and I think that was the difference. It was not just the forwards tackling and the backs running. There is a picture of two of our backs over a ruck and that summed it up.”
The Foxes had travelled to the neutral Northamptonshire venue knowing that, despite both their unblemished league records, only the victors would be toasting promotion to Women’s National Challenge Midlands 1.
Things did not start as planned for Jordan Robinson’s runaway Women’s NC East 1 champions as they took time to settle into the game and conceded an early converted try.
But they responded well, winning the battle to get the next score. Off the back of a dominant scrum the ball was passed through the hand of the backs, drawing in the defenders for Lucy Kerr to run in from the 22-metre line for an unconverted score.
Some strong tackles from the Suffolk side prevented Sutton Coldfield extending their 7-5 lead going into the break.
The pace and intensity of the match did not wane after the re-start, but it was the Foxes who managed to put themselves into the lead for the first time. After a quick tap penalty they worked their way through the phases before the ball reached the hands of Kerr to put down her second try of the game, with the conversion again failing.
Sutton Coldfield came back at them and managed to score their second try to regain the lead, 12-10.
The Foxes did not let the try deter their belief and their game plan, and with Elina Rougier at 10 controlling brilliantly they were able to get the crucial next points on the board.
A charge down from Sutton Coldfield landed in the hands of Steph Hanratty and the England Deaf captain raced down the wing to put them into a 15-12 lead with less than a quarter-of-an-hour to play.
With so much at stake and with just a penalty kick needed to tie the match, it became a tense backs-to-the-wall effort for the Bury side.
But the Foxes held strong and finished the game on the front foot, with the referee’s whistle signalling their promotion to the third tier in the country for the first time in their short history.
“It is massive,” said player-manager Palmer.
“We only got promoted to this league two seasons ago.
“Hopefully we can now set a precedent for future Foxes to show we deserve to be playing at this level.
“We want to get as high as we can and still enjoy it at the same time.”
Their travelling at the higher level is set to increase but not to match the eye-watering journeys the men’s fourth tier status throws up, with Palmer saying she expects their longest journey to be around two hours.
Having written to the RFU ahead of the game putting across a case for the Foxes being promoted to a more suitable level whatever the outcome of their play-off, Palmer did say the team did feel for their opponents.
Reflecting on the tense finale, she said: We spent about 10 minutes defending for our lives, making sure they did not gain any ground and if they did, that we stopped them from hurting us.
“Those last 10 minutes were tough but there was no way we would give up that lead.”
Cecily White was named forward of the match, while Rougier was named the back of the match.
Robinson, who assumed the role of head coach in September, initially on a caretaker basis, following Andy Marshall’s exit, also paid tribute to the character in the side.
“I want to say how proud we are as coaches to be coaching such a determined group of ladies who always want more,” he said.
“They are ready to face any challenge and will never back down.
“This season has been crazy for the ladies and I am really happy to see that the hard work we have put into training and behind the scenes has paid off.
“Now we are looking to aim for the new league and push even higher.”
The Foxes will have to wait to get their hands on the silverware for winning promotion though, with a shield likely to be sent to the club for their end of season dinner.
Palmer wished to thank their sponsors Volkswagen, Beyond The Fringe from Woolpit and Red Stag for their support in a memorable season.