Premiership preview: newbies Garioch ready to represent the north in top flight

Corstorphine host newly promoted Aberdeenshire outfit in round one this weekend

Garioch celebrate success in the National One play-off final against Stewartry Sirens. Image: Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Garioch celebrate success in the National One play-off final against Stewartry Sirens. Image: Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

THE new-look seven team Tennent’s Premiership gets underway this coming weekend and it is an exciting time for the women’s game in Scotland.

Scotland have just competed in the Commonwealth Games Sevens in Birmingham, there are two home XVs World Cup warm-up matches against the USA and Spain coming up at the DAM Health Stadium in Edinburgh, and the showpiece event itself is just around the corner in October and November in New Zealand.

In June, Scottish Rugby launched their Women and Girls’ Strategy 2022-2026’ which aims to develop and grow the game at every level for females over the next four years.


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As a result, the numbers of young girls and women taking up the sport is growing and the Premiership clubs will be hoping to take momentum from everything that is going on into the 2022-23 campaign.

With a number of matches now to be played on Saturdays rather than the traditional Sundays, a number of new players and coaches, no relegation with the league being expanded to eight ahead of 2023-24, and Garioch in the top flight for the very first time there promises to be some great action in the coming months.

The regular season sees each team play each other home and away between now and December with all clubs aiming for the top four and play-off spots. From there the title winners will be decided.

The holders are Watsonians – they defeated Hillhead Jordanhill 67-0 in the play-off final – and they have new head coach Bruce Millar at the helm, and Kiwi talent Briar McNamara as skipper with Kaeli King backing her up as vice-captain.

You can read more about Millar’s move to the Myreside club along with news on Stephen Gilles’ appointment as head coach at last year’s runners-up Hillhead Jordanhill – who will be captained by Debbie Lee and she will be supported by Hannah Tellingelsewhere on this site.

Corstorphine were third in the regular season table last time out and then lost to Hills 25-17 in a tight play-off semi-final. They dusted themselves down to beat Stirling County 36-7 in the third/fourth place play-off and the Edinburgh outfit are looking forward to the season.

Head coach Eric Jones said:  “Fiona Cooper is away to play down south, but we have managed to pick up a number of new players during the summer and it has been good in pre-season because we have had a chance to work with them and integrate them into the group.

“Having reached the play-off semi-finals last year and the last four in the Sarah Beaney Cup there was quite a bit of frustration that we couldn’t push on, but at the same time those results gave us real belief that we can take things to the next level this time around.

“When I first started five years ago there were only three players at training and the average age was 28 while the other night there we had over 30 players at training and the average age was under 24, so things have been on a big upward curve and we want them to continue that way.”

Emma Turner will captain Corstorphine this term with Emma Dunbar and Kiyomi Honjigawa as vice-captains.

 

Stirling County finished fourth in last year’s regular season table and were fourth after the play-offs. They have a new-look coaching team led by Mark Ainsworth who has stepped up from coaching the club’s successful under-18 girl’s squad.

“I am really enjoying working with Kenny Craig who has come up from the under-18s with me, Stuart Keys who has been involved at County for years and former Scotland cap Megan Kennedy who is working with the forwards,” Ainsworth explained.

“It has been great to see Megan taking to coaching like a duck to water. She was a brilliant player before her career was cut short by injury and the insight she is giving the forwards and the energy she is doing it with is just brilliant.

“We also have support from Beth Macleod, another former Scotland cap, who is around to mentor the coaches and act as a sounding board.

“Playing-wise, we have 10 under-18s from last year who have stepped up and what has impressed me is the way they have integrated into the playing group straight away.

“Having finished fourth last year and reached the Cup semi-finals we are confident that we can do better this year, but we know that it will be a competitive league for sure.”

Ailsa Luke will skipper County this term with Jodie Hutton as vice-captain.

Heriot’s finished fifth in the regular season table last time out before the fifth/sixth play-off with Cartha Queens Park did no go ahead. This is just their second season ever in the top flight, but the players took a lot of confidence from going toe-to-toe with more experienced outfits in 2021-22 and are looking forward to going again.

Scotland caps like Lucy Winter and Anne Young have been added to the playing group along with national team wider squad member Elis Martin and head coach Lucy Brown said:  “The new faces have added to what was already an exciting squad and with a number of Futures players and other up-and-coming young players in the group we are looking forward to building on things.

“Last season we showed at times that we could battle it out with the more established teams and now we are looking to be that bit more consistent in our performances week in and week out.

“The men’s section of the club have made us feel really welcome down at Goldenacre over the last couple of years and there will be a few double header fixtures with the Blues in the coming months so those will be great occasions to be a part of.”

Heriot’s have three co-captains in the shape of Kirsty McConnell, Annabel Sergeant and Caitlin Sedgeworth.

 

Cartha Queens Park were sixth after the regular season last time around and are also a club on the rise given that this season they hope to become the first women’s teams in Scotland to regularly field three sides.

Last year their ‘second XV’ – the Claymores – won the Bowl last season on Silver Saturday and now they are looking to get a third XV out in the coming months.

“Things are shaping up well, we are looking forward to getting going,” head coach Richie Bruce said. “Starting up the Claymores last year was a great thing and to get another team out would be excellent.

“We have had around 40-45 players at most of our recent training sessions and it is good because we have a solid group of coaches working with the girls on different things at each gathering and this helps to develop all of the players.

“There is just a really nice atmosphere in the squad and everyone is constantly wanting to learn and help each other improve.

“In terms of the first XV, we know that the Premiership will be tough, but it is going to be an interesting league for sure and we are very keen to play our part in the continued growth of women’s rugby.”

The Cartha co-captains are Ellie Sutherland and Louise Smith and the vice-captain is Jess Fyfe.

Garioch are the ‘newbies’ in the division and the Inverurie-based outfit made it into the top flight after a play-off win over Stewartry Sirens.

Head coach Stuart Corsar is under no illusion regarding how tough it will be for his charges, especially given the travelling they will have to do, but with no relegation he is looking forward to them playing with confidence and learning as they go along.

“We are all looking forward to the step up after a successful year last time,” said the former Glasgow Warriors prop. “Following the conclusion of last season a few of our more experienced players have retired while we have some players expecting babies, so that has given us a bit of a challenge, but the challenge of developing newer and younger players is one that myself and others at the club are relishing.

“We are realistic, we know it could be quite a tough season against more established Premiership clubs, so we have not set any long-term goals.

“Instead we will set goals for each week and each match and we will always be looking to improve and hopefully we can make our mark at this level and learn all the time.”

Nikki Simpson is the Garioch skipper and she will be supported by the leadership group of Alana Davidson, Louise Murray, Lindsey McDiarmid and Alisha Ross.

 

This weekend’s women’s Tennent’s Premiership round one fixtures –

Saturday:

  • Cartha Queens Park v Watsonians (Dumbreck, 2pm)
  • Corstorphine v Garioch (Union Park, 2pm)

Sunday:

  • Stirling County v Hillhead Jordanhill (Bridgehaugh, 2pm)

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About Gary Heatly 301 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.

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