The BAFA’s Sapphire Series came to a conclusion last Saturday (17th March) with the National Finals tournaments being played in three locations.
The Birmingham Lions strolled to their fifth straight Division 1 National title in Manchester after first defeating the Manchester Titans 42-02 in the semi-final. Leeds Beckett beat the London Warriors 34-14 in the other semi-final.
In the regular season, Leeds suffered their only defeat against the Lions and the final saw a repeat result with Birmingham winning 40-22.
The division one MVP for the series was Leeds Carnegie Chargers’ Robyn Steward.
In the division 2A tournament in Tipton, the semi-finals saw the Portsmouth Dreadnoughts shut out the Chester Romans 26-0 while the Sandwell Steelers triumphed 27-7 over the Wembley Stallions. The stage was then set for a final between two teams who had made significant progress from last season.
The final was played in cold, snowy weather that saw the first drives of both teams go four and out as their defenses dominated the early exchanges. The Steelers found their feet first when Natalie Talbot gained yards on the outside before Sydney Green ran in for the score with Talbot adding the point after .
The Dreadnoughts hit straight back with Amber Perry punching it over for the touchdown, but the Steelers prevented the Dreadnoughts from adding the point after.
On the Steelers next series, Taylor’s run down the sideline had the goal line in sight until the Dreadnoughts Hattie Amis tackle forestalled the score. The next play saw Taylor’s burst of speed outrun the Dreadnoughts defense to put Sandwell back in front with Green adding the point after for a 14-6 lead.
The Dreadnoughts Lucy Moss took the handoff, sprang right skirting the sideline, spun through tackles before completing the touchdown run that brought her team back in contention. The Steelers defense again throttled the point after attempt, but Portsmouth now were within two points.
The second half began as a blanket of snow descend and out of the darkness Portsmouth Moss emerged to carry the ball over the goal line. With Sandwell’s defense preventing the point after again, Portsmouth held a 18-14 lead that both defenses ensured was the final score in conditions that were not conducive to competitive football.
Both teams played their hearts out in the freezing conditions, but as in most sports there can only be one winner, and the Dreadnoughts proved to be the better team on the day.
Dreadnoughts Hattie Amis summed up what the win meant to the team, “I thought the day as a whole was a great experience for the team. Despite the extreme weather conditions in the final, we managed to battle to the end and come back from being behind at half time.
The win solely came from the passion from the whole team and our love and enjoyment for the game. We worked so hard over the last year for that one moment and it was an incredible feeling to finally win after our second place standing last year!”
The Steelers took the positives from their season. Head coach Sam Rafferty said, “I’m incredibly proud of how the team responded to everything that was thrown at them this season. We added coaches, moved up to 7s and installed new schemes. The focus and effort at training has been excellent and that allowed us to keep getting better and make it to the final. It’s been a season that I will always remember and I’m looking forward to the next one.”
Offensive co-ordinator Jay Alexander (picture left) acknowledged, “It’s been an incredible year for the team. To achieve a silver medal in their first year of 7s is a testament to the hard work and dedication they have shown all season. Congratulations to Portsmouth. No one can argue with an undefeated season. But our ladies can hold their heads high. This is definitely a case of silver medal earned rather than gold medal lost.”
Sandwell Steelers’ Sydney Green was named division 2A MVP.
In division 2B played in Oxford, the Oxford Saints overcame the Peterborough Royals 41-6 for a place in the final against the Kent Exiles 42-18 who shut out the Staffordshire Saxons 32-0. During the regular season, the Exiles had handed the Saints their only loss. Oxford reversed the result in the final with a 42-18 victory to secure the division title.
Oxford Saints’ Megan Brown was named the division 2B MVP.