Premiership play-off: Stirling County outlast plucky Heriot’s Blues to book final spot

Bridgehaugh side will host Corstorphine Cougars next Saturday with league title up for grabs

Stirling County defeated Heriot's Blues at Peffermill. Image: Rugby People
Stirling County defeated Heriot's Blues at Peffermill. Image: Rugby People

Stirling County 28

Heriot’s Blues 5

GARY HEATLY @ Peffermill

STIRLING COUNTY progressed to next weekend’s women’s Premiership final by scoring four tries against a Heriot’s Blues side who matched them for 39 minutes and left everything out on the artificial surface at Edinburgh University’s Peffermill facility.

While the venue for this match was moved to the capital because County’s ground was unplayable, if the milder weather kicks in by next Saturday then the final against Corstorphine Cougars will be played at Bridgehaugh on the basis that Stirling are the highest ranked team in the competition.

For the majority of the first half of this game, it was hard to tell who had finished top of the regular season table and who had come fourth such was Heriot’s desire. However, County crucially broke the deadlock just before the interval through a try by hooker Aicha Sutcliffe converted by centre Rachel Shankland.


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Fast forward to the 52nd minute and Heriot’s had a player in the sin-bin while County’s lead had been stretched to 21-0. The Edinburgh side were giving it everything they had, but injuries had taken their toll and their opponents were starting to find their attack shape and connecting better.

“It is a great result for us, credit to Heriot’s as they gave us a real tough test and have improved dramatically,” said County head coach Mark Ainsworth afterwards. “We made life difficult for ourselves in the first half hour, it might have been a bit of rustiness or the different surface, but really our lack of dominance was down to Heriot’s because they played really well in that period.

“They were defending well and their attack put us under pressure, but we weathered that storm then started to impose our game and gaps began appearing which we were able to exploit as we began to use our backs a bit better.

“Credit to the players for finding a way to get on top in the game because it was a physical battle, but we know that we can play better and we’ll have to against Corstorphine.

“The players can enjoy this win, but it is all about the final next week now and we have to refocus quickly.

“If Bridgehaugh is playable, to have a home final will be massive for the squad and big day for the club. It shows just how far we have come in recent times, we have high standards as a group and everyone works hard.”

 

Heriot’s started the game well with No 8 Poppy Fletcher showing up well in terms of carrying and in defence during those early stages.

County also had a fair bit of possession in the first quarter, with back-row Kiera MacDonald and centre Lucy Macrae trying to get them on the front foot, but defences were on top and it was still 0-0 after 20 minutes.

Heriot’s were then dealt a blow when Fletcher, a member of the wider Thistles squad, was forced off with a nasty looking mouth injury.

That was the start of a period of both teams making some substitutions, mostly because of injuries, and, as such, the game lacked flow. One addition for County during that period was former Scotland prop Megan Kennedy.

Eventually, County broke the deadlock on 39 minutes, and it was Sutcliffe who was credited with the try, which was converted by Scotland cap Shankland.

It was perhaps harsh on Heriot’s to be behind 7-0 at the break given everything they’d put into the first 40 minutes and the score seemed to give County momentum.

Five minutes after the half-time interval, try number two came for Stirling via No 8 Rachel Cox, with stand-off Ceitidh Ainsworth converting this time.

Fletcher, having been patched up, returned to the field to try and get Heriot’s back into things, but in the 50th minute their replacement Jade Courtney was yellow carded, and County wasted little time in taking advantage of the numerical advantage, bagging try number three through Cox, converted by Ainsworth to make it 21-0.

Heriot’s, for whom tight-head Alison Wilson never took a backwards step, were not prepared to go down without a fight, though, and with 13 minutes remaining they scored a well-worked unconverted try out wide via winger Morven Thomson.

Fittingly, the final word went to County’s best player on the evening in the shape of the aforementioned MacDonald. She had been off the field for a spell either side of half-time, but returned to put the icing on the cake. Ainsworth converted for 28-5.

 

Heriot’s head coach Lucy Brown is now focused on her side having a good run in the Sarah Beaney Cup which is due to start next month.

“I am very proud of the players and I told them that in the huddle at the end,” she said. “This is only our second season in the Premiership, so to even make the play-offs shows the progress we are making. The players wanted to shake things up in this game and play with real heart and that is what they did.

“It took 39 minutes for Stirling to score and then injuries and things like that began to hit us, but this is a great place for us to be in right now, playing in games like this and competing.

“And it is exciting to think where Heriot’s can go moving forward.”

 

Teams –

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

Heriot’s Blues: P Kellie; M Thomson, M Gaffney, G Chicot, E Flavell; A Sergeant, C Sedgeworth©; E Collins, M Taylor, A Wilson, A Murray, C Harrison, H Dunnett, T Brough, P Fletcher. Subs: C Fairbank, J Courtney, C Syme, J Elliott, J Reid.

Referee: Scott Cubitt.

 

Scorers –

Stirling County: Tries: Sutcliffe, Cox (2), MacDonald. Cons: Shankland, Ceitidh Ainsworth (3).

Heriot’s Blues: Try: Thomson.

Scoring sequence (Stirling County first): 5-0; 7-0; (h-t) 12-0; 14-0; 19-0, 21-0; 21-5; 26-5; 28-5.

 

Yellow cards –

Heriot’s Blues: Courtney (50mins).

 

Player-of-the-Match: There were some impressive showings on both sides with Poppy Fletcher and Alison Wilson leading from the front for Heriot’s. Aicha Sutcliffe and Rachel Cox put in the yards for County, but Thistles wider squad member Kiera MacDonald looked assured for the victors and carried hard, so she gets the award.

Talking point: With a viable pathway now in place in Scotland from the age-grade ranks to contracts with the governing body, young players are starting to step up and say ‘I want to be a part of that’. If there are more young players like Kiera MacDonald and Poppy Fletcher coming through then the future might just be bright.


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About Gary Heatly 318 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.

2 Comments

  1. Great game to watch. Both sides played expansive rugby with really good skills on display. As you say, promising for the future. Ten of the County squad have come through the juniors at the club and fourteen are 22 or younger. Lots of young players in the Heriots squad as well. Good choice for player of the match. Keira was outstanding

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