A THRILLING finale saw Stratford Ladies win the North East Midlands Ladies Touch League as they triumphed in the final meeting of the season at Newbold Falcons on Sunday.
The success capped a fine weekend for Stratford RFC, whose 1st XV, 2nd XV and Colts side all won on Saturday.
Leading the table by one point, Stratford needed to finish higher than Redditch on the day to retain their title. In the event of a tie for the league, while the tournament result would stand, a separate play-off would be required to decide the overall winner at the culmination of the tournament.
Eight teams competed at Newbold, which meant the tournament was played with the two pools of four structure and would result in knockout style matches for positions.
Stratford were up against Rugby St Andrews first and Megan Mansfield, who only joined Stratford in September, marked her debut with two fine running tries to put the team 2-0 up.
Tries also came from speedsters Maddie Rendell and Helen Clifford (2 apiece) to seal a 6-0 win.
Next came Berkswell & Balsall and another four tries for Rendell and one each for Maddie Massey and Sarah Tooze sealed a 6-2 success for Stratford.
All was looking good and after a rest Stratford faced Wellesbourne to determine who finished top and second in the pool stage of the day.
The game was extremely tight with no side giving anything away in defence and trying everything they could in attack. Just before the final whistle, Wellesbourne exploited a small gap and a speedy player scored a try which defeated Stratford 1-0.
Winners from each pool then had to play the runners-up of the other pool to determine who eventually played-off for 1st/2nd or 3rd/4th place.
Stratford faced Camp Hill in what they knew was a must-win match to keep their league title hopes alive and they did not disappoint.
Rendell with another brace and tries apiece for Massey and Clifford secured a 4-0 win.
The last game of the tournament saw Stratford take on Redditch for 1st/2nd place on the day. A win for Redditch would not only give them the tournament win but also force a play-off match between the same two teams to determine the winners of the league.
Redditch were first to cross the whitewash and it looked like that would be the result until quick hands and feet put Rendell in to level the score right on the final whistle.
This forced the game into a sudden death ‘drop-off’, which sees the teams drop a player after every minute of play until there are only three remaining on each side. If a team scores, the other team has a ‘right to reply’, meaning they have to score in their next set of six touches to stay in the game.
Redditch were again the first to go over the try line when the teams were down to three. Stratford attacked hard in the next set of six and thought they had scored in the corner to keep the contest going but the try was not given and Stratford had to settle for second on the day.
This meant a play-off to decide the outcome of the overall league and exhausted players on both sides prepared to give it one last shot.
With a minute to go, it looked like they were facing another sudden-death situation. However, a fine ball out to the wing put Rendell over for her tenth try of the day.
There was still time on the clock and the game did have to restart but Redditch had no time to reach the try line and Stratford won 1-0 to secure the title for the second season running.
Every single player who has played in the black and white hoops this season has contributed to winning the league and should be very proud.
Jessica Fox returned from injury in this event, whilst player of the tournament was Rachel McGovern for playing the most minutes and giving everything whilst doing so.
The Midlands Ladies Touch League also run a Super Sunday competition in which the South West and North East sides face each other. The final tournament is on October 30 at Droitwich RFC and Stratford are sitting in joint first place at the moment with all to play for.
Stratford always welcome new players to the team and this tournament has firmly proved the need to have strength and depth in a squad. Anyone interested in joining can attend training on Tuesdays at 6.30pm at Stratford RFC.