READING Abbey Ladies’ wait for Championship South safety will go down to the wire after the Emmer Green side slipped to a 19-12 defeat at Henley Hawks, writes Fiona Tomas.

The Nuns picked up their eighth losing bonus point of the campaign in a crucial fixture against their Oxfordshire neighbours, where a win would have guaranteed them a sixth-place finish.

But the Rose Hill side fell short after being reduced to 14 players with 10 minutes to spare with the game evenly poised at 12-12, allowing Henley to capitalise to leave Abbey’s destiny out of their own hands.

If bottom-of-the-table Trojans earn at least a losing bonus point in their final match of the season next week against champions Thurrock, Abbey will be sent back to Championship South Two.

The visitors, inspired by the roars of a sizeable group of travelling supporters, took control in the opening stages, allowing Alice Denton to wheel over the whitewash after just eight minutes played.

But their 5-0 lead lasted all of four minutes as Henley responded with an unconverted try through Genevieve Moody after camping in Abbey’s half.

The hosts nearly scored again had it not been for a carefully timed tackle by Nat Bow, who thwarted Henley’s winger just metres from the try line.

Both sides were hampered by periods of indiscipline – Henley’s aggressive backs found their attacks cut short by crossing on several occasions, while Abbey were guilty of holding on and infringing at the breakdown.

When Denton was shown yellow for not retreating after a Henley tap-and-go five metres out, Yas Matthews dotted over to take control of the game at 12-5.

Abbey upped the tempo after the break – and for large periods dictated the game through their dominant scrummaging and strong carries from Joey Fowler, Hollie King and Fi Manning.

The forward pack frustrated their Henley counterparts and forced the sin-binning of Henley prop Bobby Barratt on the hour mark – and were awarded a penalty try for their efforts.

At 12-12, there was little to separate the two sides – bar the referee who, with 10 minutes remaining, dubiously deemed Annette Tomas – whose sight had been impaired by strapping to an infected and bruised left eye all game – to have tackled high.

After Abbey’s full-back left the field, Henley’s own stormed over from the resulting passage of play to snuff out the visitors’ hope for a victory.

Speaking after the match, Abbey coach Jack Reynolds described the result as “gutting”, but insisted his side had proved themselves capable of plying their trade in England’s second tier of women’s rugby.

He also hailed the “fantastic” defensive effort of Lou Burgham and, in the wider context of the campaign, singled out the positive development of Nat Mitchell and Anais Carbon who have staked their claim in an Abbey shirt.

Reynolds said: “Henley played very well and probably wanted the win more than we did. Credit to them in that respect.

“Getting mentality right is an important thing to have.

“We can be proud this season and know that we should be playing at this level.

“Hopefully we can get a bit of luck next week from our friends in Thurrock but if not, we will take away a lot from playing in this league and will be a much better side for it.”