READING Abbey Ladies’ hopes of maintaining their Championship South status were handed a resounding boost after battling to a 22-7 victory over Trojans, writes Fiona Tomas.

In a crucial bottom-of-the-table encounter in which both sides were looking to quell their relegation fears, an unconverted Alice Denton try was all that separated the sides at the break.

But Abbey responded to the home support with two further tries – including a second from Denton – to seal a handsome win.

The hosts started brightly, with strong carries from Annabel Hawkins and Fi Manning angling the Nuns on the front foot.

Prolonged periods of territory in Trojans’ half eventually saw Denton perfectly exploit a gap in the visitors’ defence following a scrum five metres out.

Moments later, at the other end, frantic defending from Ellie Rice and Gabriella Millard hustled out a threatening attack which proved pivotal for Abbey’s momentum.

The duo’s efforts ensured Abbey led by a slender 5-0 at the break but, unlike other times where they have faltered in second half-encounters, the hosts' maturity shone through after the restart.

Centres Lia Gingell and Louisa Burgham brazenly carved lines through Trojans’ defence, which was reduced to 14 after their captain Donna Rose saw yellow.

Buoyed by the extra woman – along with a series of several forward carries – Denton dotted down her second to the rapturous cheers of Rose Hill, before converting.

Moments later, Joey Fowler regained the ball at a line-out to release full back Annette Tomas who, despite sprinting the length of the pitch, was caught just short of the whitewash.

But a patient Abbey re-drove at the line again and it seemed apt Tomas had the final word on the attacking masterpiece she had orchestrated from her own half – picking a line off Rice to cross for her team's third.

The visitors, however, pulled a score back following a period of Abbey indiscipline – but it was Abbey who triumphantly ended proceedings.

In the dying minutes, the Nuns’ forward trident of Jess Potter, Claire Stevens and Hollie King spearheaded an attack which eventually saw King wrestle her way over the line.

The result looks set to galvanize Abbey ahead of another crucial encounter against sixth-place Henley on Sunday, February 10 – where a win would secure their Championship survival.

Speaking after the game, Abbey coach Jack Reynolds hailed the “smart” brand of rugby Abbey executed and highlighted Katherine Sheppard’s first Championship start as a testament to the healthy depth within his squad.

Reynolds said: “We were missing four first-team regulars, as well as two other long-term injuries.

“We lost a couple of players in the game, but the bench stepped up and didn’t let the standard to drop.

“A big shout out goes to Katherine, who hasn’t played much first-team rugby but looked like a regular for the full 80.

“The girls deserve all the plaudits they get coming their way, but we are by no means finished.”