Bristol Bears 48 Sale Sharks 5
Abbie Ward has set her sights on breaking back into the Red Roses squad, just 17 weeks after giving birth to daughter, Hallie.
The England international was among the try-scorers as Bristol Bears Women kicked off the new Professional Women’s Rugby season with an emphatic 48-5 victory over Sale Sharks Women.
Having not played since November 2022, the experienced second-row swapped feeding time and dirty nappies for the mud of Ashton Gate. Ward featured for 47 minutes before exiting stage right. In that time, however, she showed many of the qualities that have earned her 61 caps for her country.
Ward’s remarkable return to the pitch was a timely reminder of her on-field prowess for incoming England head coach, John Mitchell.
With her initial target since giving birth to be back for this season opener, the 30-year-old says she will now re-evaluate matters in a bid to get in Mitchell’s mix for the upcoming Six Nations Championship in the New Year.
“The easy bit was getting back and playing,” Ward said. “For me now, I want to be playing as well as I can, so I want to be pulling on a white shirt next in the Six Nations and getting back in that England squad as soon as possible.
“It’s a hugely exciting time for England and the women’s game. Like I said, I can’t wait to be back in the mix as soon as possible. They have put down some amazing foundations at the WXV with a lot of younger players getting more game time, which is perfect and exactly what we want.
“We want to build that squad that is really tough to get into, so for me it is about trying to put my hand up. I think this time last year I was in Monaco celebrating the World Team of the Year – and if you told me in a year’s time I would be running out for the first time with my daughter, I probably would not have believed you.
“All of that’s great, but I want to be back in that team of the year and have the possibility of working with the new coaches and the new set-up.”
Her first half score was one of eight tries scored by the Bears, whose strong Red Roses contingent bloomed on a dreary day in the West Country. Hooker Lark Atkin-Davies set the hosts on their way, scoring inside four minutes, and she was followed over in the whitewash by Reeneqa Bonner, Ward and Lucy Burgess as the Bears – who are coached by Ward’s husband, Dave – had the bonus point sewn up in little over half-an-hour of play.
The Sharks countered just before the break with a try from Italian international Beatrice Rigoni on her top-flight debut, but that was all they could muster in a relatively toothless display.
Bristol continued to dominate in the second half, using their powerful set-piece as the foundation to add further tries through Phoebe Murray, Atkin-Davies, Jess Sprague and Ella Lovibond, the last of which was the pick of the bunch.