Firefighter Sarah Dunn hoping West Park Leeds Ladies earn Premier 15s place
Their hopes of a third successive title suddenly seemed crushed, months of hard work wasted due to one ill-conceived decision in the rain and wind.
However, when, like West Park Leeds Ladies, you are back-to-back champions, all is never lost no matter how invidious the position.
Having fallen 14-12 at home to leaders Cheltenham Tigers earlier this month, turning down a kickable penalty only to botch their bid for a try, they were left with one rearranged fixture to rescue the situation and retain the Championship North One.
There was a caveat, though; it meant beating Novocastrians by 87 clear points, a gargantuan task whereby they needed to score more than a point per minute.
Still, as befits a champion team, they actually obliterated the target and sailed home 136-0.
Full-back Sarah Dunn scored a hat-trick and kicked 18 conversions for a remarkable personal haul of 51 points.
“Everything played into our hands that day,” Dunn told The Yorkshire Post.
“Novo don’t normally travel very well and about two weeks before we’d put 55 points past them at their place.
“So I knew we had a chance but literally everything had to go our way.
“But the weather was awful which meant we played on the 3G pitch rather than the grass.
“That suited our game and nullified their’s. We scored in the first five minutes and got on a roll. Once we were on it, we really felt confident that we could do it.
“We had everything set up, too – extra balls on the sidelines always ready to go as when I was converting they were going over the fence.
“We didn’t want to get slowed down as we knew we were going to have to score a try every four minutes so we had a ball lined up ready to kick-off every time.
“We had about five balls on the go! We knew it’d be hard but it ended up being relatively easy and a bit of a cricket score.
“It was 53-0 at half-time and we got the points we needed with about 20 minutes to go.
“They (Cheltenham) had been in our clubhouse that night after beating us, really celebrating, dressed up in fancy dress, drinking beers and all that.
“It was hard. I thought wouldn’t it be brilliant if we went and got those points the following week and ruined their party?
“I would have loved to have been in their clubhouse when that text came through that we’d got those points…”
Given their dominance in their current competition, where they went unbeaten in the previous two campaigns, it should be no surprise that West Park Leeds want to now test themselves at a higher level against illustrious names like Saracens, Bristol, Harlequins and Wasps. The Premier 15s sees clubs run on a three-year franchise, enjoying the benefits of no promotion or relegation, and the Rugby Football Union is currently assessing applications for the next period.
West Park Leeds have submitted their bid and will be interviewed by officials of the governing body next month as they seek to gain entry from 2020-21 onwards.
Dunn, 39, hopes the club will be successful for myriad reasons but principally, to retain the county’s best players.
With the sport constantly growing, she said: “It’s something that really should happen.
“Yorkshire needs a Premier League team because we’ve got – and have had – so many players that are able to play at that standard. However, because there’s no Premier League team nearby they have had to move further afield or settle for playing in the standard below.
“If we can be successful at this stage, there will be a lot of players who are good enough to play at that level who can stay at West Park and come to Leeds.”
Clearly, their standards on the pitch are up to scratch and off the pitch, too, the club has plenty going for them.
Although Bramhope, on the road north out of Leeds towards Otley, is only a village with a population of around 4,000, its rugby club has wonderful facilities.
Around £5m was invested in The Sycamores, with a new clubhouse, terracing, extensive floodlighting and an all-weather pitch all opened in 2008. Indeed, Stuart Lancaster, who lives in Bramhope and saw his children come through the West Park Leeds set-up, brought England to train there in 2012 when in charge of the Red Rose.
Dunn added: “It’s brilliant. The facilities are second to none.
“There’s loads of pitches, the big clubhouse and 3G surfaces, so in terms of the set-up you have everything that is required for the Premier League.
“Obviously, there needs to be a lot of financial backing and that is one restraint; we need someone really keen on rugby and willing to invest and have a team in Yorkshire in the Premiership.”
The RFU offers sides £75,000 per season but only if it is matched by the club.
Although England Women international players are now being centrally contracted, the vast majority of women players play purely for the love of the sport.
Dunn, who hails from Sunderland but has lived in Leeds since moving to university at 18, works as a firefighter which helps her rugby.
“The job doesn’t necessarily keep you fit but you’ve got to be fit to do it,” she explained.
“The good thing about that is we have a gym at work and we have time allocated at work in order to keep ourselves fit.
“My rugby helps with my job and the job helps with rugby. They complement each other.”
Dunn also plays rugby league for Bradford Bulls and represented England at the 2017 World Cup in Australia.
“I started playing union when I was 30 but the off-seasons are long as there’s not many teams in the league,” she explained.
“So I went to league and played for Stanningley first and started doing dual-code: union in the winter and league in the summer.
“Each season there is a cross-over and I have to decide which team I play for.
“I look at the importance of the games and decide which one I need to play.
“With England, it was a funny experience as I didn’t play as much as I’d have hoped in that Rugby League World Cup.
“I’m not used to being a squad player – I’m a coach’s pet normally and one of the first names on the sheet!
“When you’re not, it’s a bit of a dent to the ego but you have to be realistic.
“And I could not have been more proud.”
Hopefully, taking her club union side into the elite will be another moment to savour.