Hillhead Jordanhill 17
DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield
FOR only the fourth time in history, and the first time since 2010, a team outwith the traditional hegemony in Scottish women’s club rugby of Hillhead Jordanhill and the now-defunct Murrayfield Wanderers will have their name engraved on the Sarah Beaney Cup. Watsonians recovered from losing an early try to snatch the lead on 18 minutes and never looked back. The result is all the more remarkable because the team which won this game lost 68-12 to the same opposition when they faced each other in the last final.
“This time last year they played the occasion and not the game, and by the time they got out there it was rabbit in the headlights stuff,” recalled Watsonians coach David Flynn. “So, they took that on board in the best possible way, said to themselves that was the level that they had to get to, and gave themselves 12 months to do it. And they have worked so hard, they are a very good bunch of people in terms of being supportive of one another and sticking together, even when things aren’t going well.
“This time they were fitter and stronger and there is a lot more depth,” he added. “There was two 18-year-olds starting in our pack [Allie Tucker and Emily Armstrong] and one in the centre [Abbie Baillie] so there is lots of growth still there. I can see lots that they can get better at, so from full-time there, the clock is ticking for the next one. They are good but there’s more to come.”
Flynn added that Watsonians’ progress shouldn’t be seen as an isolated success story. “We’re not the only team that’s got better,” he reasoned. “There are other teams coming up who I think will be causing the big sides problems in the near future. That’s why we’ve got to keep working hard and getting better.
“Hopefully that was a massively positive advertisement for women’s rugby in Scotland today. The skill level is really high now, and the fitness and athleticism is definitely there. Women’s rugby is probably the fastest growing sport in Scotland, I would think, so that means there is going to be disruptions in the normal order of things with other teams coming through.”
Hillhead Jordanhill flew out of the blocks and Hannah Smith got the first try of the match with Mairi McDonald adding the conversion, but Watsonians struck back almost immediately and Alice King’s touch-down followed by Nicola Nightingale’s successful kick tied it.
Watsonians then grabbed the lead when loose-head prop Allie Tucker powered over and Nightingale once again added the extras with 18 minutes gone, and they kept their noses in front throughout the remaining 62 minutes for a well-deserved and emotional victory.
A McDonald penalty narrowed the gap to 10-14 at half-time, and it wasn’t until the 62nd minute that the scoreboard operator was troubled again, with an excellently taken try for Watsonians, launched by hooker Lana Skeldon – who showed the fleet-footedness of a winger when feinting inside then skipping outwards past her tackler to break Hillhead’s defensive line, before feeding Megan Gaffney, who managed to recycle out of the tackle for Emma Evans to pick up and dive over, setting up an easy conversion for Skeldon.
Hillhead dug deep to try and rescue the match, and they pulled it back to just four points when they were awarded a penalty try after Gaffney’s high tackle prevented Abi Evans from propelling herself over the line.
Gaffney also saw yellow for that misdemeanour, which created a tense final ten minutes for Watsonians, but they showed admirable composure and resilience to close the game out.
Hillhead Jordanhill: L Mills; H McHugh, H Smith, A Watkins, E Barlow; P Mias, M McDonald; H Lockhart, S Kyalikunda, R Kerr, F Syfret, J Ross, J Forsyth, H Telling, L McMillan. Subs: F Wood, A Johnston, K King, E Davie, A Evans, R Francis, A Moore.
Watsonians: E Evans; C Runcie, M Gaffney, A Baillie, B Nelson; N Nightingale©, H Davisson; A Tucker, L Skeldon, M Wright, S Jones, R Bragg, P Muzambe, E Armstrong, A King. Subs: M MacIver, L McCue, E Cotterill, C Thery, E Jones, I Craigie, C McCue.
Referee: Hollie Davidson.
Hillhead Jordanhill: Tries: Smith, penalty try. Con: McDonald. Pen: McDonald.
Watsonians: Tries: King, Tucker, Evans. Cons: Nightingale 2, Skeldon.
Scoring sequence (Hillhead Jordanhill first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-5; 7-7; 7-12; 7-14; 10-14 (h-t) 10-19; 10-21; 17-21.
Yellow card: Watsonians: Gaffney.
Player of the Match: Kiwi prop Mollie Wright is a huge influence both on and off the park for Watsonians.