SUNDERLAND Flames were just edged out 17-10 by Leigh Ladies in their competitive debut in the Women’s National Challenge North One.
The teams braved torrential rain at Ashbrooke, but Sunderland emerged with enormous credit – losing out narrowly to a club with 20 years of women’s rugby experience behind them.
As something of an unknown quantity, the home side took their visitors by surprise with their strength and pace. However, Leigh almost opened the scoring, only for full-back Helen Jones to hold them up,
A try did follow, though, but Flames hit back almost immediately afterwards. A quickly-taken penalty from scrum-half Jenny Snowdon found its way out into the backs, with Kirsty Paterson breaking the defensive line to land the Wearsiders’ first league try. Laura Envy narrowly missed the conversion.
Leigh pulled ahead again after finding a gap out wide, however Flames continued to fight hard.
The back row – flankers Steph Bennett, Envy and Amber Stonehouse (alternating with Sydnie Grace at number eight) – looked dangerous, while Becky Robson shone on the wing.
The backs, marshalled commandingly by fly-half Keshia Brennan, continued to test Leigh in the second half.
The weather, however, dominated proceedings. Leigh’s tactics switched to kicking frequently in a bid to test the backs and tire out the forwards.
It worked for a while, until Envy collected a ball from inside her own 22 and ran the entire length of the pitch to hit back for Flames.
Leigh were again denied a try after great hold-up play from full-back Jones and second row Amanda Hilton, but they were not to be denied and went over to move ahead again.
With three minutes to go, Sunderland needed a converted try to level the game. They pinned Leigh back but just could not force another score.
Flames travel to meet Liverpool Collegiate on Sunday.