THE Girls National Youth Cup Under-18 Final kicks-off at 2.45pm on Sunday at Murrayfield and what an occasion it will be for the players from Edinburgh Harlequins and Stirling County to run out at the national stadium.
Edinburgh Harlequins were set up in 2021 by Lismore Rugby Club to provide playing opportunities for young people in the south and east of Edinburgh. This expanded to a wider catchment due to the current landscape of the girls game.
“We’ve worked hard this year to do our best to prepare the girls for adult rugby as well as having an enjoyable experience,” explained Harlequins and Lismore development officer Eric Jones. “Players have been training with their own clubs during the week and we have come together for games or training at weekends.
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“This season we have played Stirling three times and we have come second on each occasion, so we are under no illusions as to how difficult the match will be. However, I’m sure a few of the players will be looking back to the Italy game at the weekend [when the senior men’s team shocked Wales] and be taking inspiration from that.
“It’s a great experience for the girls being able to play on the main pitch at Murrayfield and in front of what should be a larger crowd. In terms of the game, we know that Stirling will attack the breakdown hard so we’ve done a bit of work around that as well as developing our own attack and defence.
“It’s great to see our under-16s competing in the Bowl final on Saturday as well.”
Meanwhile, Stirling head coach Mark Ainsworth insisted that his team are not taking the task ahead lightly, despite their record against Harlequins this season.
“The County girls are looking forward to playing at Murrayfield on Sunday and are prepared for a tough contest against an Edinburgh Harlequins team that has been improving as the season has progressed,” he said. “We have travelled the length of the country, from Dumfries all the way to Thurso, on our unbeaten run to the final in Edinburgh.
“In what has been a difficult couple of years in a sporting context for the girls and the coaching team have been extremely proud of the dedication and commitment they have shown in improving their skills, technique, fitness and knowledge.
“We try to play a hard running, tough tackling and expansive brand of rugby and hope that we can replicate this on the big stage on Sunday and give the large travelling support from Stirling something to cheer about. Thank you, as ever, to all the girls families for all their support.”
Stirling County are also in the under-16 Cup final where they play East Lothian Girls earlier in the day (10.45am) at the national stadium.
Joey Crozier, head coach of County, said: “The squad are really looking forward to what should be a fantastic experience and a great game of rugby on Sunday.
“They have worked hard over the season, overcoming some strong opposition to make it to the final. The final itself will be tough, East Lothian are a great side who are unbeaten this season and beat us earlier in the campaign, so the girls know they will have to be on top form at the weekend.
“After the last two years, Sunday should be a fantastic day for the squad, coaches and parents – what better way to spend Mother’s Day!
“The aim is to go out and enjoy the occasion and make the most of getting to play on the main pitch in front of a large crowd – experiences like that do not come around often.”
East Lothian Girls was set-up five years ago, and has made rapid progress.. “Since formation some of our girls have gone onto feature in the Scotland under-18 set-up,” said Craig Robertson, who coaches the side alongside Roger Woods and Andy Napier.
“The squad is made up of players from Preston Lodge, Musselburgh, Ross High, North Berwick and Dunbar rugby clubs and are supported by Preston Lodge, playing their home games at the Pennypit in Prestonpans.”
In the Shield, the under-18 final is at 3.15pm at the DAM Health, home of Edinburgh Rugby, with Dundee Rugby taking on Caithness.
Dundee Rugby director of rugby Colin Sangster said: “The girls are really looking forward to the final, it’s a great opportunity for them and they are definitely excited and full of anticipation as they appreciate that they won’t get an opportunity like this very often.
“Following our Cup semi-final defeat to Edinburgh Harlequins, the girls have trained well in preparation for the game. They played Caithness in an earlier round and won that match, however both teams were missing players and they know this will be a different proposition.
“I’m sure that Caithness will be well prepared and will be going all out for the win. And for me, having previously coached in Caithness and taken a girls group to a final, it is a strange experience being involved in a match against them! We hope to produce a good game of rugby as an advert for the girls game.”
Caithness team manager Jenny Dunnet said: “The girls are really looking forward to the weekend and playing in the new DAM Health Stadium.
“Our under-18s have not had much game time due to various factors so it is great to see them still representing Caithness on this stage and I am sure they will leave it all out there on the pitch come Sunday.”
Finally, in the under-16s Shield final on the same ground at 11am, Caithness feature again, this time taking on Tayside Girls.
Tayside Rugby’s squad is made up of players from Perthshire Rugby, Montrose, Dundee Rugby and Strathmore. Winning all their games in the pool stage, they lost out to Stirling County in the Cup semi-finals. The effort put in by all of the players was outstanding, but they were beaten by a better team who have played more regularly as a squad at a more competitive level.
However, they have still been rewarded with this big game and a club spokesperson said: “This has been a hugely positive experience for all our players, bringing long overdue levels of equality to girls rugby and finding a level at which they can push themselves onto good levels of achievement both as players and as individuals.
“It has been impressive how they have come together from four clubs across Tayside, instantly creating an inclusive and welcoming environment.”
Caithness team manager Dunnet added: “For a lot of our under-16s this is their first season playing games so it has been an incredible journey for them. They got off to a slow start in the competition, but with more game time they have come into their own.”
Two Bowl matches take place at under-16 level on Saturday, with Annan takin on Edinburgh Harlequins in the final at 10am at Forrester Rugby Club in Edinburgh, while Highland taking on Oban Lorne in the third and fourth place play-off at the same time.
Cup and Shield Final Teams –
- Under-18 Cup Final, 2.45pm @ BT Murrayfield
Edinburgh Harlequins: Sky Phimister; Niamh Crosbie-White, Rebecca Watson, Morgan Welsh, Logan Armstrong; Isla Jamieson, Rebekah Douglas; Karly Conn, Rosie Kancir, Heather Crabbe, Rose Young, Ellie Bonner, Merryn Gunderson, Alex Stewart©, Millie Capaldi. Subs: Leighann Lawrie, Zara Nicholson, Ruby Dellal, Anna Halliday, Caitlin Cooper, Alanna Beetham, Kendrick Chow.
Stirling County: Hannah Walker©; Nathalie Roy, Lucy MacRae, Freya MacColl, Nicole Flynn; Ceitidh Ainsworth, Brogan Henderson; Chloe Brown, Aicha Sutcliffe, Natasha McEwan, Elsa Quigley, Charlotte Russell, Tessia Smith, Kiera MacDonald, Maia MacDonald. Subs: Jaia Blair, Lucy Roy, Eilidh Fleming, Rebecca Davies, Jessica Orr-Ewing, Charlotte Gilmour.
- Under-16 Cup Final, 10.45am @ BT Murrayfield
Stirling County: Mazzy Walker; Ella Crozier, Niamh Robertson-Jack, Joy Fletcher, Ella Spiers; Emily Forsyth©, Charlotte Heath; Aria Hannigan, Zoe Pike, Mia Lidbetter, Daisy Morrison, Gemma Thomson, Ella Gibbons. Subs: Rebecca MacKenzie, Flo Mahoney, Poppy Poole, Emily Sansom, Olivia Izon, Scarlett Haddow, Kady Grieve.
East Lothian Girls (from): Skye Taylor, Sophie Ryan, Scarlett Crossan Brown, Ellie Moffat, Rowan Kittle, Becca Keith, Adele Parkinson, Emily Love, Faye Sutherland, Saara Archer, Eve Cowe, Rebecca Knox, Demi Reid, Ellie Myles, Tandala Macrae, Phebe Duncan, Morgyn Conn, Cleo Storrier, Emma Jane Thomson.
- Under-18 Shield Final, 3.15pm @ DAM Health Stadium
Dundee Rugby (from): Olivia Dunn, Eloise Salt, Kelci Noble, Emma Dodd, Megan Hyland, Cayley Jamieson, Izzy Greer, Sunia Taganekurukuru, Jenna Milne, Eva Milne, Caitlin Hay, Aila Ronald, Lily Campbell, Charlotte Burrows, Libby Smith, Ailsa Murray, Roxy Roberts, Olivia Steel.
Caithness: Susanna MacDonald; Sophie Burns, Kirsty McInnes, Amy Lloyd, Emma Leitch; Morven Thomson, Hannah Dunnett; Elise Comey, Katie Henderson, Isla Mackenzie, Olivia Marxzak, Zoe Henyel, Catherine Green, Samantha Williamson, Rhianna Mackay©. Subs: Abbie Dunnet, Lyndsey Dunnet, Kamryn Norrie.
- Under-16 Shield Final, 11am @ DAM Health Stadium
Tayside Girls: Rowan MacGugan; Caitlain Sandilands; Phoebe Lawson, Elli-Jo Simpson©, Ellie Marsh; Grace Fraser, Niamh O’Reilly; Lily Beaton, Violet Craig, Elizabeth Craig, Eva Finnie, Ruby Blackhall, Ilja Puccianti. Subs: Tracey Webster, Jocelyn Norrie, Erin Barker, Kara Cameron Gall, Rona Barber-Smith, Hannah Binnie, Morag Strang.
Caithness: Laena Munro; Sophie Gunn, Alyssa Gunn, Eilidh Hay, Sophie Miller; Bethany Peden, Tamzin Rosie©; Abbie Dunnet, Camilla Elder, Sarah-Jane Dunnett, Sarah Manson, Isla Burgoyne, Amy Coull, Katie Macintosh, Lyndsey Dunnet. Subs: Rebecca Nicolson, Cara Miller, Paige Scott, Rachel MacNeish, Jasmin Brown.
- This event is free, but anyone looking to attend is asked to register by Scottish Rugby beforehand by clicking HERE.
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