EVIE WILLS is one of the exciting young guns breaking through onto the Scottish women’s rugby scene and she enjoyed playing for her country in front of a home crowd for the first time last Sunday.
Now, having got past the high of playing before 2,346 people at the DAM Health Stadium in Edinburgh in the victory over Japan, she is preparing for a top of the table Tennent’s Premiership clash back in clubland.
Hillhead/Jordanhill, who 20-year-old playmaker Wills now plays for, are top of the table with Watsonians second, and the two clubs will meet at Hughenden in Glasgow at 2pm on Sunday.
In the last full season pre-Covid, 2019-20, Watsonians defeated Hills in the Grand Final to lift the top flight crown while the Edinburgh side also came out on top in the last completed Sarah Beaney Cup final way back at the end of the 2018-19 campaign.
A lot has changed at both clubs over the last couple of years, but there is still a healthy rivalry between them, that’s for sure, and they drew 22-22 back on October 3rd at Myreside in their most recent meeting.
The Premiership winners for this season will be decided via play-offs in the New Year, but with this being the ninth game of 10 regular season ones, both will want to be in pole position going into the Christmas break, so it should be a tasty clash.
“I came through the ranks at Stirling County from the minis right the way up, so I have so much love for that club,” said Wills. “However, I am now in my third year of a nursing degree at Glasgow Caledonian University and travelling back to Bridgehaugh to train and play was just going to be too much in an already busy schedule.
“As I live in Glasgow, I decided to join Hillhead/Jordanhill in the summer and although I was quite nervous heading to my first training session, I needn’t have been because everyone was so welcoming.
“I already knew the likes of Louise McMillan and Mairi McDonald from my time in the Scotland squad. while I knew a few other players from my time with the Scotland age-grade XVs and sevens squads.
“There is a great mix of youth and experience in the squad at Hills with [former Scotland cap] Heather Lockhart leading by example, and I have really enjoyed this club season so far when I have been available.
“As a young 10/12 learning the game, it is also great to have Aird Jardine, who plays stand-off for the Biggar men’s team, as the head coach because he can answer a lot of my questions and has really helped me out with my game management and my decision making.
“We have two big club matches before the winter break [Hillhead/Jordanhill also play Corstorphine away on November 28th] and we are all focused on the Watsonians game because we know it should be a really hard fought one.
“I am looking forward to it. I’m really enjoying my rugby with club and country right now.”
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It is perhaps unsurprising to hear that Wills is enjoying her rugby at the moment because 2021 has been something of a breakthrough year for her.
“I remember when I was younger in the minis section at Stirling, I was pretty small, but I liked playing with and against the boys and trying to show them that although I was small, I was still powerful,” jokes Wills, who also played hockey at Dollar Academy.
“After P7 age girls cannot play in the same teams as boys anymore so rugby for me dried up for a spell, but then the County under-15s and under-18s girls teams started to really take off.
“Even there I started off playing against people bigger than me because some of the girls I was playing with and against were older, so I have always been used to punching above my weight and, more importantly, been used to finding space out there on the pitch.
“I have great memories from the youth days at Stirling; we had days out for finals at BT Murrayfield, I made great friends there and the exposure to a good level of rugby allowed me to start breaking into representative age-grade squads, and then the full Scotland Sevens set-up when I was 17.”
That call-up was for the Grand Prix event in Kazan, Russia, in September 2018. Since then – and while completing her university studies and placements from 2019 onwards – she has been in and around the Sevens set-up and, more recently, has been a regular fixture in the national XVs wider squad.
A XV-a-side Scotland debut came off the bench against Italy in the Six Nations defeat at Scotstoun in April this year, Wills replacing Sarah Law.
“It was such a surreal moment because although I was delighted to get on – it was something I had dreamt about – it was a bit bittersweet because no family or friends were there because we were still playing behind closed doors at the time,” she recounts.
“Since that day I have just kept working hard and experienced players in the squad who play the same position, like Sarah Law and Helen Nelson, have been brilliant with me.
“I was part of the wider squad out in Italy for the World Cup qualifiers in September and although I didn’t play it was a brilliant experience.
“When Sarah was lining up to take the kick that we needed to beat Ireland and keep our World Cup dream alive, I knew she had it because she is the calmest person around!
“And last Sunday was just such a memorable day. My family were all there, I got on for my second cap [replacing Hannah Smith in the 58th minute] and seeing fans cheering for me – I’m just little, old Evie after all! – was surreal and a bit emotional.”
Now with the final World Cup qualifying event, the Six Nations and potentially the Commonwealth Games sevens and the World Cup, to look forward to in 2022, it will be a busy year, so the talented Wills better get used to ‘little, old Evie’ being cheered on …