Hillhead Jordanhill 12
IAIN HAY @ Hughenden
THE Premiership table topping twosome swapped positions as visitors Watsonians claimed the spoils in a ferociously fought, energy-sapping contest on a chilly afternoon in Glasgow’s West End.
Watsonians are now one point clear with one game of the regular season to play, against Stirling County at home next Sunday. Meanwhile, Hill-Jills’ final match is on the same day, away to Cortsorphine, who are only two points behind so will fancy a crack at making it into the top two (thereby securing home advantage in January’s play-off semi-finals).
Having completely dominated the first half, Watsonians only found themselves ahead at the break due to a missed conversion. Hillhead had capatilised on what was their first foray into Watsonians’ 22 in the dying embers of the half through livewire scrum-half Inaya Haque.
“It could have been [one of those games where were sucker punched], we dominated the first half, territorially we played most of the game in the Hills 22, or certainly in their half, but that shows how good a team Hills are,” said Watsonians head coach Freddie Main.
“We worked really hard, then a couple of mistakes, a couple of breaches through the middle, and then they score. We maybe should have capitalised more on that territory, and been 14-0 up at half-time, but that’s the level we’re playing at, and that’s where we need Scottish women’s rugby to be.”
If this is the level then it should certainly catch the eye of those getting a little tired of constant aerial bombardments and milking scrums for penalties. There were tackles which echoed round the ground as the players collided, and plenty of them were required from the home side especially.
Captain Alice King gave Watsonians the lead early on, and then a superb break from halfway by Briar McNamara put the pressure back on Hills until an important turnover by Hannah Telling, whose afternoon unfortunately didn’t last very much longer as she got injured on the next wave of Watsonian attacks.
The pressure kept on coming as Hills struggled to clear their lines beyond the 22, either by boot or by hand. Bryony Nelson was unlucky not to snaffle up a loose ball when Hills could have been accused of overplaying in an attempt to release the pressure.
But, as we’ve already heard from Main, somehow the hosts clawed themselves back into it.
A penalty which they put to touch was their first visit to the Watsonians’ half for about 35mins, only for the line-out to go askew.
McNamara made another outstanding charge down the middle of the field but was halted around half-way and turned over, then Evie Wills decided it was her turn to show what inside centres can do, as Hills kept the pressure on until that sniping score from Haque.
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At the beginning of the second half, Watsonians opted for a tap and go penalty from right in front of the sticks – much to the chagrin of coach Main – and although McNamara lost possession in contact going for the line, Watsonians had the upper hand in the scrum.
They drove Hills back on their own put-in, which Haque had to retrieve and put down over her own try-line this time. On their own put-in, Watsonians heaved forward, King picked up from the base and powered her way over the line.
Hills had a chance to strike back almost straight from the restart when Scotland international stalwart Louise McMillan intercepted a pass on the edge of the 22, but they’ll maybe regret their decision to reject a fairly straightforward looking shot at goal.
Instead of the sticks, Amanda Moore went for touch, which a combo of Rowann Sinclair and Isla Craigie prevented, only for the ball to roll dead.
The five-metre scrum didn’t produce anything for Hillhead either, and eventually Watsonians won the penalty in the centre of the park, and to add insult to injury, the hosts were marched back a further 10 metres for chatting back to referee Scott Cubitt. It happened again moments later, so maybe a few words about saying less words is required.
The second 10-meter add-on led to a line-out in the Hills 22, and although the line-out hadn’t functioned fantastically, this one went alright and soon led to King’s hat-trick try.
Watsonians then showed the same sort of grit as Hills did in the first half with some highly aggressive try-line defending, which prevented Penelope Saverton from scoring out wide, smashed Stella Kyalikunda back, and held Deborah Lee up over the line.
A consolation score did eventually come, again from Haque who ran home from the 22 after McMillan had recovered a Craigie spill.
“It was pretty frustrating for us, we killed ourselves with our discipline, so struggled to get momentum,” said Aird Jardine of Hills.
“I’m hoping we can kick on and use our defence as a weapon, we did only concede the one try from that long period in our 22 of about 30 to 35 minutes but we killed our own momentum.”
The Premiership play-offs will see the team which finishes first in the league hosting the team which finishes fourth and the team which finishes second hosting the team which finishes third on 15th January. The winners of these two games will face each other in the play-off final on 19th January (hosted by the team seeded highest at the end of the regular season).
Hillhead Jordanhill: A Moore, C McGowan, L Mills, E Wills, P Saverton, C McDonald, I Haque; H Lockhart, S Kyalikunda, A Johnston, K Yeomans, H Telling, F Campbell, L McMillan, D Lee. Subs: R Millar, F Wood, T Armstrong, S Anderson, H McHugh.
Watsonians: J Lyons, B Nelson, S Clements, B McNamara, I Craigie, C Bain, H Davisson, A Tucker, K King, S Donnelly, F Walker, S Jones, S Kearley, A King, C Homewood. Subs: J Relph, N Brown, R Sinclair, C Harris, C Knott
Referee: Scott Cubitt
Hillhead Jordanhill: Tries: Haque 2; Cons: Moore.
Watsonians: Tries: King 3; Cons: McNamara 3.
Scoring sequence (Hillhead first): 0-5; 0-7, 5-7 (h-t) 5-14, 5-19; 5-21, 10-21; 12-21
Player-of-the-Match: Despite not quite getting across the whitewash herself when spilling in contact, Briar McNamara’s boot and linebreaks caused a load of problems, and she also showed up well in defence. Sorry, Alice King!
Talking Point: By my count it was 15-8 in terms of penalties, which may come as not much of a surprise when Hills had been under the cosh for so long, but neither side opted for a three-pointer to keep the scoreboard ticking over.