Premiership Final preview: Stirling County and Corstorphine Cougars gear up for tight contest

Clash at Bridgehaugh could go either way

Stirling County and Corstorphine Cougars contest the Premiership Final this Saturday. Image: Rugby People
Stirling County and Corstorphine Cougars contest the Premiership Final this Saturday. Image: Rugby People

LAST season’s women’s Premiership final was horribly one-sided with Watsonians defeating Hillhead Jordanhill 67-0, but this year’s match up looks like being a much tighter affair when Stirling County take on Corstorphine Cougars.

Throughout the 2022-23 season to date they have been the two best teams in the top flight and while not quite a changing of the guard in the women’s game in Scotland, it is pleasing for the growth of the sport to see different names than we are used to in the final.

The sides will meet at County’s Bridgehaugh ground on Saturday afternoon and it really should be a cracker given the two sides’ stats from this campaign.

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County won 11 of their 12 regular season games while Cougars won 10 and lost two as they finished first and second in the table respectively.

During that time, Stirling scored 434 points and earned 10 bonus points for scoring four tries or more in single match. They then added another 28 points to that tally as they defeated Heriot’s Blues in a hard-fought play-off semi-final last weekend. It means they are averaging 35.5 points per game while, on average, they have conceded 13.6 per game.

Corstorphine battled past Watsonians 17-0 in their play-off semi-final a fortnight ago and the clean-sheet means that they have conceded just 117 points all season in 13 games. That is, on average, just nine points per game while, in attack, they are averaging 24.8.

When the two sides met in October at Brigehaugh, Corstorphine put down a marker with a 27-20 away win, but then County repaid the favour three weeks ago at Union Park (19-15) to suggest that this one really is going to go to the wire.

Both sides are well-coached by Mark Ainsworth and Eric Jones and their respective coaching teams while there are young players in both camps who will be keen to catch the eye of Thistles head coach Claire Cruikshank and Scotland head coach Bryan Easson.

In any final, experienced players are always key, and,  to that end, County centre Rachel Shankland, 31, and Cougars stand-off Tanya Griffith, 34, will be crucial for their respective sides.

Shankland won two Scotland caps during pandemic times and is cap number 221 on the international roll of honour while Griffith is 113 on that list because she earned nearly a half century of caps from 2007 onwards.

“It is just so exciting for the club to have a home final to look forward to, it is something a lot of people have worked hard for,” Shankland, who works for a walking charity, said. “Last summer, when the coaching team changed and a batch of players moved up from the under-18s, it was a bit of the unknown, but nobody should have worried because everything seemed to click into place quickly.

“When we turn up to training we know what to expect,” she added. “Sessions will be at a high intensity led by Mark, Kenny Craig and Megan Kennedy, and while we get pushed hard it is all done to make sure everyone is clear on their role come match-day.

“The youngsters that have come in bring real energy and they have a lot of pace too, so for the players that were already here before like myself, captain Ailsa Luke and scrum-half Jodie Hutton it’s our job to keep the communication up and put them into space.

“They seem to be wise beyond their years at times too, for example Ceitidh Ainsworth at 10 has taken to that role well, and Lucy Macrae at 12 has come in recently and done well.”


“Cougars are a good side, no doubt about that,” Shankland continued. “And they showed it when they came to Bridgehaugh earlier in the season.”

“We have home advantage, though, so we are really trying to focus on ourselves and what we can do. We showed in the second half against Heriot’s last week that we can cause problems when we inject pace into our attack and we’ll look to do that again on Saturday.

“There should be a good crowd there and it’ll be a great showcase for women’s rugby in Scotland.”

Griffith agrees that the match will be a good way to show a wider audience just where women’s club rugby in this country is at just now.

The playmaker, who works as a general manager of a restaurant, said: “With contracts coming in for the Scotland squad, the Thistles starting up, and an exciting end to the Premiership season, these are good times for the women’s game here.

“In the club game, it has been good to see clubs like ourselves and Stirling getting better and getting the chance to put a different name on the trophy. And to the younger players involved at this level now I’d say to them ‘keep working hard, because opportunities are out there for you’.

“Stirling have shown that they are a good attacking team and the two matches so far between us have been tight. We have the best defence in the league, so we need to front-up in that area, and our backline needs to use the ball that we get well.

“I am confident that we can win the game if we play to our potential, while having a second XV this year has really helped us because it raises the standard of training sessions and just creates a real buzz around the place.

“We are a small club, but we try to punch above our weight and we showed that in the semi-final when we scored 17 points in the second half against Watsonians,” she added.

Griffith started playing rugby when she was five at local club Livingston and then, in her teens, played for Monklands in Coatbridge.

Since her late teens, apart from a break from the game at one point, she has been linked with Corstorphine in their various guises – they were Royal High at one stage and RHC Cougars when they won the Plate in 2010-11 for example.

Griffith has seen the days when just a few people would be at training, but it’s not unusual to have around 30 along these days and they seem to have found a home at Union Park under the aforementioned Jones and his right hand man Gav Paul.

The match will be refereed by up-and-coming official Mary Pringle.


5 quick-fire questions –


  • Rugby hero?
    • Rachel Shankland (RS): “Portia Woodman-Wickliffe.”
    • Tanya Griffith (TG): “Quade Cooper due to the nature in which he plays rugby, care-free and exciting”
  • Best rugby moment?
    • RS: “Getting my first international cap and scoring the try for Scotland women to draw against France.”
    • TG: “Being selected to play for Scotland for my first cap in 2007, but most importantly being selected for the World Cup squad that went to England in 2010.”
  • Rugby ambition?
    • RS: “My only ambition in the game going forward right now is for us to win the Premiership final on Saturday at home in front of our supporters to lift the trophy for the first time ever.”
    • TG: “To play well on Saturday and come away with the win. We have so much potential and the spirit is great within the team, so we just need to stick to the game plan and to our structure.”
  • Team joker?
    • RS: “At County it is probably Aicha Sutcliffe for always being the person who asks the silly questions…!”
    • TG: “Emily Mullen – she is always up to no good! Her energy is contagious and she is always laughing and joking either with her team-mates or the opposition or the touch judges and referees.”
  • Why do you play rugby?
    • RS: “ I love the competitiveness of the sport, the physicality of it, being fit and strong and always pushing to be the best for myself and the team.”
    • TG: “I thoroughly enjoy it and it’s all I have ever known. I have met so many amazing people along the way and it has taught me so much about life, responsibility and leadership. The camaraderie and sportsmanship shown on and off the field from each and every player means it’s just a great sport overall.”


The Lowdown –

Stirling County v Corstorphine Cougars

Venue: Bridgehaugh @ 1.30pm

Teams –

Stirling County: F Keys; N Flynn, R Shankland, L Macrae, S Phimister; Ceitidh Ainsworth, J Hutton; A Luke©, A Sutcliffe, K Lindsay, R Cox, S Murdoch, K MacDonald, H Davis, Ciorstaidh Ainsworth. Subs: M Kennedy, A Hopwood, S Murphy, I Puccianti, B Henderson.

Corstorphine Cougars: K Honjigawa; L Young, A Clark, M Welsh, R Laurenson; T Griffith, Z Turner; M Gunderson, L Park, K Fraser, L Kidd, A Ferrie, P Benson, L Glendinning, E Turner©. Subs: L Green, D Anderson, L McGrotty, R Bestwick, E Mullen.

Key battle: Aicha Sutcliffe versus Lucy Park.

What the coaches say –

“It should be a highly entertaining and tight final. I think it’s only fitting that the two standout teams from the regular season are contesting the final and the whole squad is looking forward to playing in front of our fantastic support at Bridgehaugh. It’s sure to be a fantastic match and we are looking forward to seeing the wider rugby community coming to Stirling to support this fantastic young squad, too, as they represent the club …” Mark Ainsworth (Stirling County)

“It’s great to see both ourselves and Stirling in the final. Stirling have to get credit for coming top of the league in the regular season and the manner in which they did it. We can take confidence through to Bridgehaugh though as we have already come away with a win there this season. On paper, it’s the best attack in the league against the best defence, so it’s a fascinating game on that level …” – Eric Jones (Corstorphine Cougars)

Verdict: This really is a tough one to call. Both teams will be nervous given that they haven’t been at this stage before, so it may come down to who best manages that whilst playing the match and not the occasion. Having won at Bridgehaugh already this term, Cougars will look to use that experience, but if County can get their attacking game going they may just shade it.

Stirling County win.

Tennent’s Premiership preview – runners, riders and verdict for 28th January

About Gary Heatly 330 Articles
Gary has loved rugby ever since he can remember and since 2004 he has covered the sport and others in a professional capacity for many publications and websites and runs his own company, GH Media.