London Irish Emeralds hit seven straight wins to begin their season in style!
Battling against wind, cold and impressive opposition London Irish Emeralds continued their excellent start to the season on Sunday. Their win over Portsmouth Valkyries confirming a run of 7 victories from 7 fixtures to put them firmly atop their league.
This progression, propelled by three successive seasons of promotion, is all part of the wider plan to build an elite women’s team under the London Irish banner (you can read more about that on one of our previous articles here). At the heart of that is the importance of a pathway for young players, something that’s hugely important to the Exiles across the clubs’ various teams who have always taken pride in developing their stars rather than buying them in.
In fact, there are already some players in the Allianz Premier 15s who wore the green shirt at some point in their development. Notably Emma Swords, the mercurial 9 who has shown her class for both Saracens and now Harlequins who played for the club as a teenager. Barnstorming Red Roses prop Sarah Bern got her start playing alongside the boys in London Irish youth teams too.
For now though the focus is on developing the Emeralds into the ideal pathway, both to develop players who will be able to step up into Premier 15s and also as a key part of the community heritage at the club as a whole and judging by the results so far that development is going very well.
The Emeralds started the season with a long road trip to take on Ivybridge. Devon has always been a rugby hotbed and this team, coached by former Red Rose, Saracen and Barbarian Georgie Gulliver are no pushovers. In a hard-fought encounter Irish came away with a win by 21 points to 12 to start the season on the right course.
The next week, another trip to the west country saw them driving back up the M5 with a 12 point winning margin after beating Newton Abbot. Home wins against Newbury and Wasps Ladies 2nds, the latter a huge 46-0 victory, followed. A win in a low-scoring game in Eastleigh against Trojans and a further home win against Cullompton Ladies took the team to 6 straight wins and heading into Sunday’s game the pressure was on to keep the streak going.
Portsmouth Rugby Club’s ground in the northern end of the island, has a lovely, inviting club house and like so many grounds around the country is staffed by friendly and welcoming volunteers, so we arrived early to enjoy a drink before kick-off and made sure to wrap up warm – those open grounds are perfect for icy gusts of wind to roll across.
The game itself was quite stop-start, both teams battling for supremacy and against some odd decisions from the referee and though Irish went ahead early and maintained their lead throughout, adversity was never far away, with a raft of injuries on both sides, notably for the Emeralds their fly-half Catherine Walker who looked impressive before being carried off the pitch due to a knee injury at the breakdown.
I was impressed with the way the team functioned as a unit, despite being told by multiple people from the club that this was their worst performance of the season. Graham Smith is no stranger to scrums and forward play, his pack looked gnarly and ready to battle as soon as the whistle was blown but in Georgia Wood they had a captain and number 8 who is as comfortable working the ball through hands as crashing it into defensive lines.
Former England 7s captain Abi Chamberlain is also part of the coaching team and is an enjoyably vocal presence on the side lines. She’s worked her magic on a backline who look primed to play some lovely rugby once the conditions permit and I really liked the look of centres Devon Hallett & Sophie Bennett who had a nice mix of truculence and skill as well as winger Grace Hicks who stepped into the 10 role after Walker’s injury.
It’s still early days for this group but there’s something special being built at Hazelwood and I’m excited to see how it continues to develop from here on out.
This is also a great reminder that there’s great rugby being played outside the top tier – if you’ve got no game to go to on the weekend check out your local teams and go along to support, it’s always hugely appreciated and a great way to get close to the action and view the game from a new perspective!