Baker’s loss proves crucial for brave Guernsey’s hopes

SCORELINES do not always tell the whole story.

Tonbridge Juddians were worthy winners in the horrendous wet and windy conditions that swept across Footes Lane on Saturday afternoon as they were more streetwise than their hosts and had a couple of outstanding players who shone through the gloom.

But head coach Steve Evans can take plenty of positives from a never-say-die performance from his Guernsey side who were an intriguing mix of experienced heads and fresh faces.

Certainly, fullback Liv Kenneally’s late consolation try was the very least they deserved for their efforts in a game that ended 33-5 and had they not been forced into a re-shuffle following the first-half loss of influential fly-half Justeen Baker to injury after she had started so brightly, the outcome might have been much different.

Despite playing into the elements, which were coming across the ground diagonally from the direction of the Grammar School, the home side were out of the blocks the quicker of the two teams with Baker at the heart of much of the good early work they produced, as was Rachel Merrien.

The No. 8 was the first to get over the gain line in the match, punching a hole in the TJs defensive line with a powerful run in the second minute, and a few moments later she was back in possession barging down the left touchline after Baker’s fine work over the ball won a penalty in their favour.

However, most of the play was confined to the centre of the pitch and gradually TJs got a foothold in the game and exerted a decent period of pressure on their hosts after quarter-of-an-hour which GRL did well to repel with strong defence.

The green-and-whites then showed the threat they possessed when an opposition knock on coughed up the ball and in a flash Baker and Chelsie Blondel had combined to set Lucy Pratt off on a fine run.

Moments later they were at it again, but this time Baker used the runners outside her as a decoy to ghost through a gap and when she looked around for support Fiona Power was right on her shoulder.

It was then a foot race between the Guernsey forward and the TJs backs and although Power got her head down into the wind, she was eventually hauled down just after entering the opposition’s 22.

On 23min. the whole momentum of the game shifted, though.

Not only did TJs open the scoring by breaking down the right-hand side and running good support lines before their flanker crossed for a try, but more harmful to Guernsey’s prospects was what was transpiring back near halfway, where Baker was still grounded having suffered a shoulder injury, and she was to play no further part in the game.

That was a massive blow to the hosts and by half-time they had conceded twice more, once to an opportune try for the impressive TJs fly-half who capitalised as Guernsey failed to gather the ball, which by now was resembling a bar of soap, and then to an excellent individual effort from the evasive visiting fullback.

A 19-point half-time deficit was harsh on the hosts, but it was to get worse before it got better after the turnaround as the red No. 10 set up one of her wingers for their fourth try.

Guernsey, who were now much changed both in personnel and position as Evans rang the changes, began to build some momentum as Pratt became more influential while Merrien continued to put in big hits that roused the crowd.

They were unfortunate that when a debatable decision in the middle of the pitch went against them on 65min. the TJs fly-half took full advantage with her second try in a player-of-the-match performance, but finally GRL got the reward their play deserved.

Their best move of the match ended with Beth Le Gallez bundled into touch deep inside the TJs 22, but the green-and-whites soon won back possession and neatly switched the ball to the left where Kenneally pinned her ears back and made the line by shrugging off a last-ditch tackle.

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