THE Devon U18 Girls’ season came to a conclusion at Blagdon on Sunday, January 14, in a sensational rugby spectacle at Crediton RFC, the electrifying atmosphere of an amazing crowd setting the stage for a gripping clash between Devon and Gloucestershire.

Crediton U14 Girls forming the Guard of Honour prior to the County game.
Crediton U14 Girls forming the Guard of Honour prior to the County game. (CRFC)

It was the home side that came away victorious, completing the South West hat-trick, with a 19-17 win.

On a sumptuous playing surface, the girls in green and white showcased remarkable scrummaging ability and precise lineout skills, while Gloucestershire impressed with their speed, strength and control on the pitch.

On a perfect day for the event, the teams entered the fray through a Guard of Honour from Crediton’s U14 Girls and their opponents on the day, Topsham and Honiton; a lovely touch from the host club.

The first half unfolded with a flurry of penalties exchanged from both sides, keeping the tension high. Gloucestershire’s attacking prowess shone through as they executed a training ground penalty tap and go, resulting in the first try of the game, successfully converted, to take a 7-0 lead.

The match then entered a stalemate, featuring outstanding attacking and defensive play from both teams. As half-time approached, Gloucestershire seemed poised to extend their lead, but Devon’s resilience paid off.

Awarded a penalty for a high tackle, a quick ball from Rosie Cadle to a determined Devon pack allowed Freya Moye to score a great team try just before the break, narrowing the score to 5-7. The second half kicked off with a lifted and focussed Devon team, keeping Gloucestershire in their own half for extended phases and well worked set pieces. Gloucestershire’s stoic defence and rucking performance held strong, keeping Devon at bay. 

However, following a knock-on by Gloucestershire, Devon’s scrum dominance allowed the backs to create a gap which resulted in a last-ditch tackle attempt penalised as too high. A quickly tapped penalty sent Devon on the hunt again and after two pod phases, Maddison Spampanato scored.

A successful conversion by Lois Burry, saw Devon open a 12-7 lead.

The attritional nature of the game continued with no side able to force an advantage until Gloucestershire, deep in the Devon 22, took a pick and go from the base of a ruck and found a gap in the defence to barrel over the line. With the conversion missed the score at 12-12 reflected the game; deadlocked.

The green and white shirts, smarting from conceding, re-doubled their efforts to grasp the advantage again, built well into the opposition 22 but, just as another score seemed imminent, a brilliant interception by the defending inside centre saw the visitors charge down field. Frustratingly for Devon, who were on a team warning at this point, the covering tackle from full back Lois Burry, was deemed high and the yellow card was inevitable. 

Crediton girls, Poppy Oepkes-Barnes (L) and Poppy Harrison (R), part of the Devon Squad, with Andrew Drayton, centre. (CRFC)

Down to 14 players, Devon managed to turn over a Gloucestershire lineout and utilised the pace of the backs to get into the Gloucestershire 22 yet again.

Despite some fumbles and a staunch defence, Devon’s fortitude and determination forced the ball into the in-goal area, leading to a penalty try being awarded for a high tackle, pushing themselves to 19-12 as the game moved into the final, nail biting, minutes.

This turn of events sparked yet another spirited response from Gloucestershire who,  refusing to accept defeat, relentlessly pressured Devon in their own half and capitalised on some desperate Devon defending resulting in a penalty which they took quickly and, outnumbering Devon on the short side, crashed over. With the conversion unsuccessful the score still favoured Devon, but by a delicate two points.

With the tension palpable in teams, coaches and the vociferous crowd the full time whistle provided both relief and confirmation of a victorious Devon display of 19 – 17.

“Taff” Williams and Sian Brooks, Lead Coaches for the squad, were enthused by the display from their cohort and were effervescent in their praise: “Our squad this year has been exceptional; proven and highlighted by the three victories. Every girl who has pulled on the jersey has played their part in delivering a rare unbeaten season.

“Today was no different but we must make special mention of the relentless Co-Captain Elizabeth Cameron (Newton Abbot), awarded Forward of the Day, and the outstanding Rosie Cadle (Kingsbridge), named Back of the Day.”

Also celebrated were Forward and Back of the Season, Tilly Hindley (Newton Abbot) and Izzy Cocking (Exeter Saracens) who were both instrumental in all three victories this season. 

The pair continued: “We would also like to add a heartfelt thank you to all at Crediton RFC for their exceptional support and hospitality throughout the day. From arranging a Guard of Honour from the club’s U14 girls to the exclusive use of the Lounge Bar for the after match presentations and many other small details. It all contributed to the occasion and success of this memorable rugby encounter.”

Crediton girls, Poppy Oepkes-Barnes (L) and Poppy Harrison (R), part of the Devon Squad.
Crediton girls, Poppy Oepkes-Barnes (L) and Poppy Harrison (R), part of the Devon Squad. (CRFC)