READING Abbey Ladies produced a gutsy performance to secure a losing bonus point in their 22-12 defeat against table-toppers and league champions Thurrock RFC, writes Fiona Tomas.

The Emmer Green side led last year’s league champions by two points at the break after two tries from Alice Denton secured a 12-10 advantage.

But a physical contest proved a game of two halves as the home side showed their experience to oust Abbey’s defence and score 12 unanswered second-half points.

The hosts made a bright start, characterised by former England international Sally Tuson who made several clean breaks to score in the corner.

Undeterred, Abbey responded with intelligent kicking from fly-half Denton and full-back Annette Tomas, forcing Thurrock back in their own half.

Repeated infringements gifted Abbey territory and eventually a solid set-piece, with Jess Potter – making her 50th appearance for the Nuns – and prop Meaghan Fowler at the stronghold, released wing Nat Bow down the wing.

Quick hands found the in-form Denton, who crossed to make it 5-5.

Abbey continued to attack in Thurrock’s 22 with a series of well-chased kicks from Anais Carbon and Lou Burgham.

Effective rucking from the pack, combined with quick decision making from scrum-half Ellie Rice, saw centre Burgham pick a clean line through the defence, allowing Denton to cross under the posts for her second, this time converted.

However, Thurrock then caught the visitors off guard to allow their wing to sneak into the corner.

Abbey retained their lead for the majority of the second half, courtesy of immense tackles from Hayley Matthews, Nat Mitchell and Joey Fowler, whose efforts marched Thurrock back.

Storming runs from Annabel Hawkins threatened to break Thurrock’s line, which held despite repeated infringements costing them ground and possession.

As the physicality of the game increased, so did the injury count – with a huge collision mid-pitch saw three players down and both squads were forced to make changes.

Thurrock made the better of the reshuffling and their fly-half crossed from short range. Moments later, she bulldozed her way to the line.

The result leaves Abbey seventh in Championship South, but a losing bonus point was nothing short of pleasing for Abbey’s captain, Fowler.

She said: “In spite of the result, I’m taking great confidence in our performance against well established and top of the league Thurrock.

“Our performance was more convincing than some of our wins last season.

“It was, of course, disappointing to let our lead slip at the break and we thought we could do the job, but we will learn to remain clinical for the full 80 and we will continue to pick up points.

“We have belief in spades and momentum is building. We’re hungry for the rest of the season.”