Wildcats continue winning run
By Graham Shaw
Player's development through challenges
This was the final full squad game of the season for the Wildcats before the last few 7s festivals of the season. It was the return fixture from earlier in the season where Dartfordians had loaned players to Warlingham. On this occasion we agreed to play the first half in clubs and then mix up where needed in the second half. The game started with 22 players on the pitch and finished with 26 players getting valuable game time.
It was great to see the player led warm up - this can still improve in future but it was a great mixture of touch rugby, stretches and contact without overdoing any part. If they were asked at the start of the season to run a warm up, it would likely have resulted in a general chat followed by throwing/kicking the ball randomly with little running or purpose involved. This alone set a perfect tone for the game to come because it showed how much they've taken ownership for their development and how seriously they approached the game.
From the kick off the Wildcats meant business and showed that their competitiveness has grown to avoid those slow starts that we were guilty of earlier in the season. They played some good rugby but initially relied on some strong solo runs to score 3 quick tries. These were tries that showed the confidence of individual players to attack space and break tackles to score valuable points. In the build up play to the tries it was good to see the "drop and pop" tactic deliver the speed and continuity of play we've been working on in training - by keeping a high pace to the game, it's difficult for a defensive team to maintain structure which helps create the gaps to capitalise on. The creation of gaps is one thing but for players to start to play with their heads up and spot these gaps is crucial.
After the 3rd try the girls became a little too relaxed - Dartfordians came back with a strong breakaway try and then some solid phase play to score a second. The girls were asked what had changed to allow the game to shift and their responses were - 'we're too bunched in defence', 'we didn't put pressure on their quick girl', 'they wanted it more'. These observations showed how far they've come as a team, as they realised what the opposition and themselves had done differently. By recognising this on the pitch themselves, it will help them adapt and make better decisions themselves without the sideline input.
This spurred them on to get back to 'good Wildcat rugby'. They passed the ball more, they kept the ball alive, they committed to the tackles more often, and just played well overall. This led to 2 more tries which were skilfully converted. These extra points were something we treated as a bit of a joke at the start of the season and applauded anyone that got the ball near the posts - the fact the players have worked hard individually on their kicks and are now scoring the extra points is a credit to them.
The tries continued for both sides with Warlingham keeping a safe lead. This saw a first try for one player and first conversion for a different kicker. Dartfordians meanwhile showed their resilience and determination to continue to press in attack and show great tackle technique in defence. They also had 2 conversions showing the girls game is improving everywhere.
During the second half we tried a few different things to test players. Moving our hatrick scorer to the opposition to see how our defence handled a different challenge; letting our scrum half play hooker; making our wingers play second row; allowing forwards to move in to the backs and figure out new positions; allowing 6 different conversion kickers; changing the players on the pitch but not giving them positions which forced them to adjust and organise. We also agreed that tries would only count for 5 points if two supporting players were first to the ball once scored (This is reflected in the published score!). This proved important when an amazing try saving tackle brought a breakaway to a halt but 3 Wildcats were in attendance to finish it off - previously the Wildcats would have watched the breakaway from a distance and likely spurned the chance of points so a valuable lesson.
These challenges are so important to help the girls understand different positions and tactics as well as improving their individual game. It was really pleasing to see them tackle these and overcome nerves/worries to play out of position. Next season we'll be looking to develop individual and team challenges over the whole season and will track our progress as a group.
An unfortunate injury, meant we switched to half a pitch to finish off but both teams continued to press and play some great rugby. We're glad to report the injury has been checked out at hospital and the player is back home with no longer term damage.
Overall, the squad proved to themselves and their supporters that they can play well as individuals and as a team. At the start of the season I don't think anyone could have predicted we'd finish so strongly and I can only say thank you to everyone for bringing them to matches/training and to the girls for their work ethic and thirst for learning to improve to the standard they've shown over the last 4 weeks. No rugby next Sunday due to Easter but look forward to seeing as many as possible for 7s at the end of the month.
Please remember - no photos to be shared on Social Media from today's game unless only Warlingham players are visible. This is extremely important.