by Dorothy Mittow
MORAGA, CA - This weekend the All Blues took on ORSU in their final home match of the season, and this one was for all the marbles. With the second seed from the blue division and an upper division nationals both on the line, both teams showed up ready to fight a physical match, but at the end of the day the home team was able to come out on top.
The first half was played almost entirely inside the 22-meter lines, with much of the yardage on both teams coming from dramatic 30+ meter runs. All Blues eight Sarah Walsh had a big break through the middle of the ORSU defensive line, making several tacklers miss through shear force. Her run put the All Blues in perfect position for lock Allie Byrne to pound it in for the opening try of the match. ORSU was quick to respond with a forwards’ try of their own from a ruck within the five meter line.
Just as the match was heating up, All Blues winger Ardia Kelker collided with an ORSU player while attempting to steal a wayward pass and sustained a bad cut on her ear. Kelker was taken out for a blood substitution, but returned with a new hairstyle and a renewed desire to dominate her opposition. After the All Blues pack delivered great field position with a 30m maul off of a line-out, the bandaged Kelker burned several ORSU backs down the sideline to bring the score to 12-5. After one more ORSU try off an overload, Kelker responded with her second try of the match. The last try of the half was contributed by veteran All Blue Phoebe Boone, bringing the score to 22-10.
ORSU was not going to let the All Blues run away with this match however, and came out of the break looking like the fresher and more determined squad. What had been a game played close to both teams’ goal lines during the first half turned into an exhausting defensive stand for the All Blues near mid-field. For several minutes the team struggled to cope with the fast-paced offload game that made the ORSU offense look like a well-oiled machine. After several phases the defensive line broke down and a few exceptional ORSU players were able to touch down two tries.
Thanks to the laser-accurate open field kicking of flyhalf Ruth Bryson as well as ferocious tackling on the inside by All Blues hooker Jack Woods, the All Blues began to solve the defensive puzzle that ORSU presented. While ORSU’s solid ball handling and rucking was able to starve the All Blues of much of the time of possession in the second half, wingers Kelker and Jessica Turner made sure that the few All Blues possessions were all converted into points. Fresh energy from front row subs Maxine Fonua and Emily Peinert hardened the interior defense for the All Blues and stopped ORSU from getting into the try zone for the rest of the match.
By the time the final whistle blew, the score was 34-25 with the All Blues on top. This hard fought yet methodical victory showcased the composure of a team ready to compete on both sides of the ball. With a roster full of both young talent and veteran leadership, the All Blues look poised to claim yet another national championship in Glendale this November.