Women's National League Final: Three in a row for Hartpury but Loughborough run champions close

Hartpury were made to work hard but ultimately came out on top

Hartpury University’s grip on the Women’s National League title continued as they defeated Loughborough 34-22 in a gripping final at the StoneX Stadium.

The holders made an efficient start with Amy Dale and Olivia Constable rumbling over before Daisy Aspinall dotted down in the corner.

But after an ominous opening quarter, Loughborough sparked into life with Sally Williams darting across the line and even though Clara Grizzle-Johnson stretched the Hartpury lead, the Midlands outfit stayed in the fight via Kendall Waudby.

The champions hit back as Dale got her second on the stroke of half-time but Loughborough were determined not to let this final get away from them as Isla Curphey burrowed over from close range to cut the deficit to 27-17.

The African Violet didn't take their foot off the gas and after passing up several opportunities to strike, Freya Greensmith made it a five-point game heading into the final 10 minutes.

But despite their best efforts and consistent pressure, Loughborough could not find another score as Hartpury finally sealed the contest via Anouk Veerkamp to clinch their third successive title.

Andrew Ford’s side continue to reign supreme at the top of the women’s university game and the Gloucestershire institution have created a dynasty over the last three seasons.

But this was far from one-way traffic in North London despite Hartpury's dominant start.

After immediately camping themselves in the Loughborough 22, the African Violet initially repelled their pressure but usual suspect Dale finally got the ball rolling for Hartpury before the hooker was forced off due to a cut to the face.

Her replacement, Constable, seamlessly stepped into her shoes to extend Hartpury’s advantage before some dazzling footwork by Charlie Manns - plus some nice link-up play with Pip Hendy and Lucia Scott - allowed Aspinall to put the champions in command.

But Loughborough’s free-flowing style then entered this final as captain Ellen Scantlebury freed up Williams who touched down.

It wasn’t just a flash in the pan as even though an Aspinall sprint clear ended with Grizzle-Johnson dotting down on the opposite wing for Hartpury, a barnstorming run by Waudby meant Loughborough weren’t going anywhere, anytime soon.

However, with the clock ticking towards the interval, the African Violet lost two scrums on their own feed and were eventually punished as Dale dived over for her second.

There was a very lengthy delay at the start of the second period due to a serious head injury to Constable before Scott was also forced off but when play resumed, Loughborough came out firing and after waves of pressure, Curphey touched down.

Momentum was with the African Violet and a great move between Lucy Weaver, Georgina Tasker and Freya MacColl finished with Hartpury prop Veerkamp being shown a yellow card.

Loughborough had been knocking at the door for a while and after penning Hartpury back in their own 22 for almost the entirety of the second period, the Midlands institution finally crossed as Greensmith scampered in.

And they nearly brought the game level with Williams going extremely close only to be denied by a superb try-saving tackle from Sophie Davies.

It proved to be a match-winning moment as Hartpury edged their way up field and forced Loughborough into mistakes.

Even when Manns saw a late penalty remarkably hit both posts, there was time for more drama but the contest was eventually put to bed when Veerkamp went over to clinch a third title in a row for Hartpury.

Hartpury: 15 Lucia Scott, 14 Clara-Johnson, 13 Pip Hendy, 12 Abileigh Priestnall (cc), 11 Daisy Aspinall, 10 Charlie Manns, 9 Jess Kershaw; 1 Anouk Veerkamp, 2 Amy Dale, 3 Evie Roach (cc), 4 Sophie Davies, 5 Gaby Skov, 6 Robyn Davies, 7 Gemma Bell, 8 Alaw Pyrs.

Replacements: 16 Olivia Constable, 17 Alisha Smith, 18 Evie Addy, 19 Agatha Joao, 20 Freya McGinlay, 21 Katie Harrison, 22 Tilly Ryall, 23 Kelsie Webster.

Loughborough: 15 Georgina Tasker, 14 Ellen Scantlebury ©, 13 Becca Lawn, 12 Molly Anderson-Thomas, 11 Bo Westcombe-Evans, 10 Alex Baker, 9 Lucy Weaver; 1 Katherine Baverstock, 2 Kendall Waudby, 3 Isla Curphey, 4 Keevy Fitzpatrick, 5 Issy Winter, 6 Maisie Johns, 7 Lucy Finch, 8 Sally Williams

Replacements: 16 Cerys Shrewsbury, 17 Erin Proctor, 18 Steph Atkinson, 19 Emily Peters, 20 Poppy Phillips, 21 Amelie Anstead, 22 Freya Greensmith, 23 Freya MacColl