Stirling County 27
Corstorphine Cougars 8
GARY HEATLY @ Bridgehaugh
STIRLING COUNTY came back from 8-0 down to defeat Corstorphine Cougars and claim the women’s Premiership title with 17-year-old winger Nicole Flynn leading the way with two tries.
Cougars had won at the same ground earlier in the season, but up against the best attacking side in the top flight they knew they had to get off to a good start to disrupt their flow, and the Union Park outfit did just that to race into an 8-0 lead.
Unconverted tries in the 20th minute and the 34th minute gave County a timely two point lead at the break, though, and then, thanks to two more scores and a conversion, they were 22-8 up 12 minutes into the second period.
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Flynn’s second try seven minutes from time sealed things and the fact that young players like her and many others – including player-of-the-match Lucy Macrae (17) and Ceitidh Ainsworth (18) – are getting an opportunity to flourish at this level is testament to County’s dedication to youth rugby.
“I am delighted with the way the team composed themselves to turn things around,” said winning head coach Mark Ainsworth. “In the first half we struggled, to be honest, our handling wasn’t up to the usual standards and it might have been down to nerves and a big crowd. But we weathered the storm a bit and then it was important to go in at half-time two points up.
“Even though we had not played at our best – and Cougars had thrown a lot at us because they are a good side – we were ahead and it allowed us to reset at the break.
“We asked the players to go out with confidence in the second half and they did just that.
“The passing was better, the pace was better and when we play like that we can really stretch teams.
“This win means a lot to the club. The players who have been around a few years remember the days when numbers at training were low, but they have played a key part in getting the team to where it is now.
“And I am very proud of the younger players who have stepped up from the youth section and really put in the work in recent months. There are some teenagers there who have bright rugby futures, for sure.”
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Both sides showed good attacking intent early on, but there were a number of handling errors and that led to repeated scrum time for the packs.
In the sixth minute, a nice box-kick from the base of a ruck by Corstorphine stand-off Tanya Griffith got the visitors into the Stirling 22 and, after a powerful scum, she slipped a lovely pass to winger Lorna Young who went over on the right.
During these opening exchanges, Cougars played the smarter rugby: using Griffith’s boot to pin County back, forcing mistakes through strong defence, and getting ball carriers like Adelle Ferrie and skipper Emma Turner into proceedings.
In the 15th minute they extended their lead to 8-0 when full-back Kiyomi Honjigawa kicked a penalty.
County needed to settle things down and get playing in the right areas of the field and a good break by centre Macrae got them on the front foot.
As the 20 minute mark came and went, Stirling got on the scoreboard when Rachel Cox powered over from close range.
Centre Rachel Shankland could not convert, but the hosts were right back in things and soon brought on former Scotland loose-head Megan Kennedy and Sophie Murphy to bolster the pack.
County half backs Jodie Hutton and Ceitidh Ainsworth were starting to dictate play and their promptings got their side back into the Cougars 22 six minutes before half-time, then Macrae fed Flynn who showed good pace to go over for a try. Shankland did not convert, but County had their noses in front 10-8 at the interval.
County came flying out of the blocks after half-time in their semi-final last week, and they did the same here. A quick tap from Hutton was fed on by Ceitidh Ainsworth to sub Angharad Hopwood, who showed good strength to go over for try number three. Ceitidh Ainsworth could not convert and it was 15-8.
The pace that County were putting on the ball was now stretching Cougars regularly, andit left the away team helpless in the 52nd minute when Ceitidh Ainsworth broke through and set up hooker Aicha Sutcliffe for a well-worked try. The stand-off converted and it was 22-8.
The last points of the game came in the 73rd minute as Flynn bagged her second score. It was not converted, but it mattered not, and, after a late yellow card to Corstorphine loose-head Merryn Gunderson, the celebrations began for the hosts when skipper Ailsa Luke picked up the trophy from Scottish Rugby president Colin Rigby.
“It was a good game, but in the second half County started playing better in the midfield and were getting over the gain line,” said Corstorphine head coach Eric Jones.
“We had been disrupted by injuries in the first half and we started to get stretched, but I cannot fault my players efforts, they really gave it everything and can be proud.
“In the first 20 minutes or so things were working really well and we were pinning County back and forcing them into errors. We got eight points on the board, but we probably needed one more score and the lead at half-time.
“It wasn’t to be, but we have come a long way and women’s club rugby in Scotland is on the up, for sure.”
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, B Henderson, I Puccianti.
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: D Anderson, L Green, L McGrotty, R Bestwick, E Mullen.
Referee: Mary Pringle.
Stirling County: Tries: Cox, Flynn 2, Hopwood, Sutcliffe. Con: Ceitidh Ainsworth.
Corstorphine Cougars: Try: Young. Pen: Honjigawa.
Scoring sequence (Stirling County first): 0-5; 0-8; 5-8; 10-8 (h-t); 15-8; 20-8; 22-8; 27-8.
Yellow cards –
Corstorphine Cougars: Gunderson (78mins)
Player-of-the-Match: In the opening exchanges, Tanya Griffith and Adelle Ferrie went well for Cougars, but County eventually got on top. Rachel Cox carried well and teenage stand-off Ceitidh Ainsworth grew into the match to put in an assured showing. However, fellow youngster Lucy Macrae got the nod from judge Eva Donaldson (Scotland) and had some great midfield runs with her quick feet.
Talking point: This win was special for Stirling County on many levels: remembering former team members Eilidh McNab and Siobhan Cattigan, who passed away in 2019 and 2021 respectively, being top of the list.
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Well deserved victory which had it’s seeds planted in an excellent inclusive youth development system. Anyone who saw the age grade ladies over the last few seasons would have believed this was going to happen. Congratulations to all involved.
Great report Gary and touching mention of Eilidh and Siobhan. Some outstanding young female athletes showed the best of Scottish women’s rugby today. A very fast paced game with high skill levels, once the nerves settled