BY MARC SIMON, THATTO HEATH WOMEN HEAD COACH
The pressure was on for Thatto Heath women’s team, as they travelled to Bordeaux with me, as new Head Coach, and a squad with an average age of just twenty. However, they couldn’t have asked for more hospitable circumstances as Stade Biganos provided excellent conditions and facilities for their preparations.
On a very warm and sunny day, it was the ladies of Biganos XIII that started the stronger, and after two early penalties piggy-backed them towards the Thatto try line, the powerful running of second row Sonia Zaghdoudi took her through a shell-shocked Thatto defence on 7 minutes to score under the posts. Fullback Elisa Ciria added the extras to send the home fans wild, going 6-0 up.
Thatto then showed their mettle as they overcame their early nerves to start making inroads themselves, with props Chloe Hammond and Millie Cadman causing damage down the middle and stand out second rower Roxy Mura constantly breaking through the Biganos line.
Seeing their growing confidence, I sent the message out to punish their loose marker play, and after yet another devastating Mura run down the right edge, hooker Tara Jones exploited poor ruck defence to jink over from fifteen metres out. Centre Rachel Thomson converted to bring it to 6 apiece. At 17 minutes in, this kickstarted the Thatto Heath players into overdrive, with some great handling play being inspired by the half back pairing of talented teenager Carys Marsh, and England regular Jenny Welsby. Welsby was beginning to pull the strings and with some intelligent linking play constantly had Biganos on the back foot. On the 25 minute mark, this enterprise saw Mura, who was having a field day at this point, cross the line under a pile of bodies after a well-placed kick from Welsby saw the back three from Biganos all at sea. Again, Thomson converted and gave Thatto the lead 6-12.
Audrey Zitter, French international and coaching at the request of the Biganos president then made several changes with a view to piling on pressure, and this nearly paid dividends as they seemed to cross the line three minutes before half time, only to see the score chalked off for a forward pass in the build-up. However, after half time the same relentless pressure came, and it took the outstanding defence of Thatto lead by the devastating Chantelle Crowl and Charlotte Hill to keep them at bay, with Hill running herself to a standstill to make multiple crunching tackles that forced turnovers. Frustration started to affect Biganos’ play, as referee Fabian Nicaud began to penalise increasing foul play, and combined with handling errors this allowed Thatto to regain control of the match. On 60 minutes Hill scored a well-earned try, sprinting in at the corner after another display of handling by Marsh, much to the delight of her traveling parents in the stands. Thomson failed with the conversion but by this point confidence was high.
This last score prompted a last twenty minutes of constant onslaught from the Boiens, with the excellent Ciria getting close on many occasions only to be denied by the unwavering Thatto defence. As the clock ticked down it seemed that Thatto Heath would suffer for the travel and heat, but three try-saving tackles on their own line killed any lingering ideas of a comeback. Fullback Rebecca Rotherham constantly diffused attacking kicks, and the strong running Chloe Richardson showed a remarkable comeback from recent injury to steady any nerves with her carries and tackling.
At the final whistle, it was clear that the win for Thatto Heath meant a lot to the players as the celebrations were loud and emotional, while defeat was crushing but taken graciously by the French side, who provided an excellent evening of presentations and entertainment for all well into the evening.
PHOTOS COURTESY Mike Surlevif Marchand