Three months on and last Sunday afternoon at the Haslucks Green Road club Camps' Chargers were just 4minutes from avenging their thrashing in a thrilling battle that kept everyone guessing to the very final whistle as to who would take the spoils.
In a tight affair the defensive work the Chargers had been so focused on readdressing delivered handsomely as they held Sharks adventurous backline and international mite - personified by the impressive England lock Tamara Taylor, captaining from No. 8 - for 76minutes. With the lead changing hands four times throughout the contest it was Camps that managed the early momentum best whilst the Sharks did their best to uphold it - fullback Jo Kilby on the end of an illegal challenge which left the referee with no other choice but to sin-bin Sharks international fly-half Katy McClean.
Taking advantage, 18yr old inside centre Jo Hart punched through the cover on a short attacking ball to take Camps into the oppositions' 22m, from which point the maroon and light blues' forwards took control. Working in units, the carries of front five team-mates, Sian Williams and Olivia Horgan alongside back rowers Antoinette Morgan and Lucy Pollard yielded the critical hard yards that took the home side within a metre of the white-wash; with a rolling maul established to breach the gap whilst protecting the ball, Camps crossed the line courtesy of Pollard for the opening score. Kath Adie from the wing, displaced the extras convincingly (7-0).
Slightly shocked but no where near deterred Sharks regrouped and set about their attack with endeavour utilising their complete armoury: width, pace, power and the aerial option in the process. Multiple phase play followed but still the Sharks could not unlock Camps' organised defence, their continuity skills allowed them to maintain possession and inch forward but those were difficult yards that did more to boost the confidence of Camps than their guests. With a collective comfort level building it was suitably ironic that Darlington's first and second scores came not from well worked tries but from two quickly taken tap penalties from 10m out. An overlooked weakness cruelly exploited (twice) gave Sharks a perhaps fortuitous 3pt lead going into half-time (7-10).
With Head Coach Reece Spee providing the stern half-time guidance, Camps entered the second half with positivity and belief - at this point in the November fixture Camps were 19-6 down and 33-11 down within 10minutes of the re-start so focus was everything. Continued diligent retention from the forwards pushed the Sharks back, blindside flanker Sheena Larkin making a nuisance of herself with carries beyond the gain-line which set up the ruck from which scrum-half Vanita Henry struck to send maroon and light blue hearts soaring. A calculated 'show-n-go' from the base of the breakdown fooled all, with the rucks' guards stepping forward Henry exploited the space and charged to the try-line untouched. With the conversion from wide just slicing the uprights Camps resumed the lead (12-10) with 15minutes to go.
With Sharks travelling support looking concerned their team spent the remainder of the game throwing everything they had at Camps in a last ditch effort to salvage a win - with arguably the most clinical backline in the country at complete odds under Camps relentless pressure knock on's and turn-over's came freely which allowed any mounting pressure to be relieved. Camps had their chances but in squandering the limited opportunities the game presented in the closing stages combined with the loss of the influential No. 8 Antoinette Morgan to cramp, the leagues' leader summoned one last effort which with ruthlessness they took, and converted, to seal a dramatic come back. Within 4 minutes remaining Camps were awarded a penalty but with no time to kick for territory running from depth with heavy hearts proved too much of a task.
"It was a tremendous team effort. We can take the massive positives from a great competitive game and work on the improvements ahead of our next fixture, away to Carlisle [02.03.08] as they are going to be tough" advised Captain Becci Lewis.
Lorely Burt, MP was also suitably impressed: "Camp Hill's last ditch efforts to prevent a further try before time were just inspiring. I watched No. 7 [Lucy Pollard] dive on the ball, wind herself, then be ill before then replacing her scrum cap and getting back on the field…if anyone ever tells me women aren't brave I'll tell them about Camp Hill Chargers."
Sharks now move into a commanding position, 10 points clear of the nearest opposition in National Championship One North (Lancaster's Vale of Lune on 43 pts and Camps on 40pts) and will hunt the play-off place for the divisions' champion barring any serious misfortune.
Camps must now scale back their ambition from winning the league as newly promoted contestants to securing runner's up spot. Three games remain this season including two away trips - to Waterloo and Carlisle - before what might prove the decider against Lune in April.
For more information on Camp Hill Chargers visit www.chrfc.co.uk
Fourth is no good enough