LAST year’s champions, Stirling County, go into their penultimate regular season outings of this season’s Premiership clash against bottom side Garioch on Saturday knowing that a win will secure them a place in the final.
In 2022-23, the post-season games consisted of two play-off semi-finals and then a final, but this time around it will just go to a straight final between the top two, to get it all finished by Christmas.
Meanwhile, Watsonians, the Sarah Beaney Cup holders, have been the front runners throughout 2023-24 to date and their walkover 28-0 bonus-point victory last week over Stewartry clinched their final place. The Myresiders take their 12 from 12 winning record on the road this week to face Heriot’s Blues, who are the only other team that can still mathematically make the top two.
Also on Saturday, fifth placed Hillhead Jordanhill host seventh placed Stewartry. Sixth placed Cartha Queens Park cannot raise a squad to travel to fourth placed Corstorphine Cougars so the latter have been handed a 28-0 bonus point win.
Whoever between Stewartry and Garioch finishes bottom in the eight-team league when the regular season comes to an end in December will face round-robin matches with regional table toppers in early 2024 to try and save their top flight status.
With the Celtic Challenge competition being expanded to two teams and running from December through to March, this weekend is also a great opportunity for players to put their hand up to be in the wider squads.
How it stands –
The Lowdown –
Heriot’s Blues v Watsonians
Venue: Goldenacre @ 2pm
Heriot’s Blues: E Flavell; H Riddoch, P Kellie, G Chicot©, D Stamp; L Martin, A Evans; E Collins, M Capaldi, A Wilson, C Syme, C Harrison, M Taylor, A Savage, T Brough. Subs: M Dadie, R Healy, A Murray, E Ashton, P Furze.
Watsonians: R Law©; S Macey, R Philipps, J Lyons, A Conchie; S Clements, M Nelson; A Tucker, K Craig, M Poolman, S Anderson, K King, F Walker, G Laverty, L Winter. Subs: C Abernethy, S Donnelly, A Swan, L Buckingham, B McNamara, J Elliott, C Runcie.
Key battle: Alison Wilson versus Ailie Tucker
Team news –
Heriot’s Blues: Scotland star Emma Orr is missing from 13 so Pearl Kellie moves there and Emily Flavell is at full-back. Deanna Stamp comes in on the wing while the 9-10 combination is made up of Amelia Evans and former national team skipper Lisa Martin. Up front, Millie Capaldi moves to hooker with Alice Savage taking her openside spot and Tabitha Brough also joining the back-row at No 8.
Watsonians: From the last outing against Garioch a fortnight ago, Molly Poolman comes in to start at tight-head, Sophie Anderson and Kaeli King are in the second-row and Freya Walker is in at six. In the backs, Julie Lyons and Rachel Philipps join up in the centres with Shannon Macey on the wing and Rachel Law captaining from full-back.
What they say –
“Saturday is a big game for us, we know Watsonians are a smart and physical side, but since meeting them last our game strategy has developed and we are a lot more confident in our own abilities and our game-plan, especially after last week’s great win against Cougars. We hope to bring that same confidence against Watsonians and put on a great show for the home crowd …” – Giselle Chicot (Heriot’s Blues captain)
“We’ve been fortunate with player availability again this week and have been able to pick a very strong squad. We’re fresh from a week off and excited for what is always a competitive Edinburgh derby. A win would ensure a home Premiership final, but we’re under no illusions about how tough this will be against a Heriot’s side who have won their last five games …” – Bruce Millar (Watsonians head coach)
Verdict: Heriot’s had a good win over Corstorphine last time out and have won their last five. They will throw everything at this one while they still have a slim chance of making the final. Watsonians have been able to pick a strong-looking squad though and will want to stay unbeaten and secure a home final.
Hillhead Jordanhill v Stewartry
Venue: Hughenden @ 2pm
Hillhead Jordanhill: R Fraser; B Tobin, H McHugh, M Warren, S Smolina; C McDonald, H Dunnett; S Marra, R Millar, D Lee, C McGowan, E Henderson, H Telling©, F Campbell, K Yeomans. Subs: H Lockhart, P Abernethy, Z Dura, M Wales, H Mulligan, B Carberry, L Brett.
Stewartry: H Sainsbury; J Stewart, P Snailham, F Spernagel, D Burns; L Ritchie, B Ginnelly; S Rook, D Currie, L Nicholson, C Craik, C Dooley©, J McCulloch, S Durnan, A Henderson. Subs: A Oliver, K McReddie, A Scholtz, K Kennedy, C Docherty.
Key battle: Roma Fraser versus Hannah Sainsbury
Team news –
Hillhead Jordanhill: Senna Marra and Debbie Lee come into the front-row to join Rochan Millar. Emma Barlow continues to be ruled out after picking up a shoulder injury a few weeks ago. Following the success of the 2nd XV last week in winning the West Two title, Hazel Mulligan and Lou Brett join the bench.
Stewartry: Suzy Rook returns from injury while Claire Manson and Lisa Ritchie represented the Scottish Police in their first ever women’s match on Wednesday evening versus Hearts & Balls at Bridgehaugh. This will be Alet Scholtz’s first game for the club and she is on the bench.
What they say –
“We’re really excited to welcome Stewartry to Hughenden this weekend. It’s the first time we’ve played them at home in a while having travelled to Castle Douglas for our three previous meetings, mostly in the Sarah Beaney Cup pool fixtures. They’re a strong team ball in hand, but we’re looking forward to meeting them head on in what should be a really entertaining match. We’re still in the fight for third place which would be an improvement of two places from last season’s league campaign and Stewartry are in a fight to secure seventh place and book a place in the Cup in the new year so it really is all to play for with both teams looking to get some vital points …” – Hannah Telling (Hillhead Jordanhill captain)
“Our compact squad has struggled with injury and illness in the last couple of weeks. Despite this, we put in one of our best attacking performances against Heriot’s, narrowly missing a try bonus point. Despite the return of Suzy Rook and Lauren Nicholson, three of our regular starting XV are still out of action. We will be looking to our developing squad to continue to step up and take the game to an in-form Hillhead Jordanhill. The Sirens coaching team are clear the focus is to continue the improvement trajectory and end the league season strong …” – Alastair Lamb (Stewartry interim head coach)
Verdict: Hills have lost their last two on the road, but last time at home they got the better of Corstorphine 27-26. Stewartry had to forfeit their last outing due to injury and illness, but will want to try and build up some momentum ahead of their crucial match with Garioch next month. Home win.
Stirling County v Garioch
Venue: Bridgehaugh @ 2pm
Stirling County: F Keys; S Phimister, C McLaren, Ciorstaidh Ainsworth, S Murdoch; Ceitidh Ainsworth, J Murdoch©; A Luke, A Sutcliffe, C Brown, E Fleming, E Graham, K MacDonald, H Davis, R Cox. Subs: P Aitken-Robinson, E Sweeney, S Murphy, E Meegan, S Mitchell, R Work, J Fletcher.
Garioch: T Fowlie; E Dicks, S Pepper, L Davis, L Milne; N Chalk, L Keay; J Shaw, M Stewart, K Eades, K Ritchie, H Small, S Burnett, S Ross©, N Simpson. Subs: A Ward, M Hyland, A Rose Love, L Sneddon, J Delgarno, K Grant.
Key battle: Heather Davis versus Sammy Ross
Team news –
Stirling County: Holland Bogan and Sam Taganekurukuru both miss out through injury and are replaced in the second-row by Eilidh Fleming and Eilidh Graham, with Kiera MacDonald coming in at six.
Garioch: Morgan Stewart comes in at hooker with Kirsty Ritchie making her first start in the second-row.
What they say –
“We look forward to welcoming Garioch to Bridgehaugh on Saturday. We go into this game on the back of some good results based on hard work and maintaining the high standards we set ourselves. Saturday will be no different in that we need to be playing to the best of our abilities to give ourselves the chance of winning …” – Mark Ainsworth (Stirling County head coach)
“This week we are resting up a few players. The Stirling game is going to be tough, but we have some important home games coming up so the focus is on them …” – Dave Duguid (Garioch head coach)
Verdict: Stirling want to make sure of their final place as soon as possible while Garioch have eyes on the upcoming home games with Cartha Queens Park and Stewartry.