Atlanta banked its third win of the women's DI season with a 43-15 win over the Village Lions yesterday. The Harlequins have a one-point lead in the standings over Providence, who is also 3-0 in the CR3.
The Harlequins raced to a 36-10 halftime lead, spreading the field well and using its mobile forwards to overwork the Lions' defense. Two tries came from the forwards, one off a driving scrum into the try zone, another from a darting punch off a lineout. But the majority came from out wide, as Atlanta's initial back line began with Heather Hale, Patty Jervey and Pat Neder, who helped set up a speedy back three that manipulated the Lions' defense.
The Lions did post three tries against Atlanta, and all were scored by inside center Rosie Rough.
"We played well for the first 20 minutes, executing our game plan and using our territorial kicking well," Atlanta coach Jason Payne said. "But there weren't a lot of positives in this game. In the second half, we gave away too many penalties, made some poor decisions, forced passes. It was our worst half of rugby all year."
Atlanta had trouble reacting to an uptick in pressure and started committing too many players to the breakdown.
"I have to compliment the effort the Village Lions put in," Payne said. "It was 7-5 in the second half, and we were completely outplayed. The Lions' forwards went up a gear and backs starting finding space. If the Lions can bring that intensity off the opening kickoff, they will come away with a few wins this season."
Payne wasn't the only one dissatisfied with the team's performance; the players were equally dismayed.
"They set high standards for themselves and will hopefully be amped up for next week," Payne said. "Last Tuesday's training was good, but Thursday and today we were out of sync. I'm not sure if that has to do with the travel or playing on turf, but we were not mentually switched on today."
Some of that disconnect is a result of personnel. The team has lost a significant amount of players from last year's team, notably No. 8 Leah Barnes (Austin), Erin Diehl (Chicago) and Cara Nocero (San Diego), and had several starters who couldn't make the trip to New York. Atlanta's picked up some good talent in Crystal Phillips, a scrumhalf from Miami who played flanker yesterday, and Micaela O'Connor from Denver Black Ice.
Despite the changes, Atlanta's ultimate goal is returning to the DI final, "but it'll be harder this year since DI's more competitive, especially with many of those Rugby World Cup Eagles shifting around," Payne said. For instance, players like Kitt Wagner, Jill Potter and Hannah Stolba all moved to Glendale
"We're not looking past playoffs, and we did not take today's game lightly," Payne asserted. "We've got Albany next, and they'll be good. We have to watch out for Providence, too. We saw them play last year; they're smaller and mobile, and they're undefeated, too."
Atlanta's in a good spot right now, as its hardest match of the season - NOVA - is behind them, but it's evident that coach Payne sees a lot of work ahead if the team's to return to the DI championship.