THE Sarah Beaney Cup Final on Saturday afternoon pits the top two teams in Scottish women’s rugby against each other. Murrayfeld Wanderers and Hillhead Jordanhill have marched into the last two in emphatic fashion, with the Edinburgh team winning their quarter-final against Cartha Queens Park 74-0 and their semi-final against RHC Cougars 98-0, while the Glasgow side won their quarter-final against Stewartry 100-0 and their semi-final against Ayr 108-0.
This clearly says a lot about the lack of strength in depth in Scottish women’s rugby at the moment, but that shouldn’t detract from the achievements of these two clubs in raising the bar – and in the process leading the charge towards closing the gap between women’s rugby in Scotland and their rivals elsewhere in Europe.
These two sides dominated the BT Women’s Premier League this season, and monopolise the Scotland international squad.
Of the 23 Scotland players involved against France and Italy during the 2016 Six Nations, nine were from Murrayfield Wanderers and six from Hillhead Jordanhill. Melrose and RHC Cougars supplied one player each, with the remaining six based in England.
It certainly is fortuitous that the Cup draw did not line these two sides up against each other earlier in the tournament – otherwise Murrayfield on Saturday could have become the scene of the crime for the sort of gruesome slaughtering of a rugby team which would do incalculable damage to ongoing efforts to grow the game in this country.
Instead, we have two evenly matched teams determined to use the main pitch at Murrayfield [3.30pm kick-off – directly before the men’s Cup Final] to showcase the progress they believe the Women’s game has made over the last year or so.
Murrayfield Wanderers are going for their third consecutive Cup triumph having defeated Hillhead Jordanhill in a 25-22 thriller last year, and Melrose 68-20 the year before that.
Hillhead Jordanhill last won the Cup in 2013, when a late try from Megan Gaffney clinched a dramatic 22-20 win over RHC Cougars.
“I think it’s a really healthy rivalry, to be honest. Being the top two clubs in Premier One, I think we need that hunger and desire to win. It’s so different when you have a real competitive game for the whole 80 minutes. We relish that challenge every time we have a fixture against them,” said Jade Konkel, Hillhead Jordanhill and Scotland’s hard-running back-rower.
“It would be great if we had more competitive games. That would definitely be a boost. It’s a continuing development and teams will get there,” she added.
“It will be a very, very tough game but we’re confident. Murrayfield Wanderers are an excellent team and never give us less than an 80-minute match. We played them the other week and they came away with the win, but we beat them earlier in the season, so anything could happen. It could go either way.”
With Shade Munro taking charge the Scotland women’s international team at the start of the season (fresh from marshalling the Glasgow Warriors pack to the Pro 12 title last term), and Graham Shiel being appointed to lead the women’s Sevens squad earlier this week, the SRU have made sure that two figures with significant experience of elite level rugby are now hands-on involved in a coaching capacity.
Sheila Begbie has tended to fly under the radar since being appointed to the newly created post of Head of Women’s Rugby in May 2014, but she arrived at Murrayfield with excellent credentials after serving as Head of Girls’ and Women’s Football for the SFA since 1998, when she was also responsible for the strategic development of the game in Scotland, vice-chairperson of the UEFA Women’s Committee and a UEFA Match Delegate.
Meanwhile, the appointment of Scottish Rugby Council member Dee Bradbury to the executive board of Rugby Europe, where she is eligible to sit on a number of sub-committees looking at developing the game and women’s rugby, can be taken as another indication that the power-brokers at Murrayfield now want to pay more than lip service to the women’s game
Murrayfield Wanderers and Scotland captain Lisa Martin certainly believes that things are moving in the right direction.
“Definitely. Especially with Shade coming in as full-time coach. That shows how highly Scottish Rugby regards it,” she said.
“We have 16 places in the BT Academy, too, which is great and I’m excited to see what’s next for Scottish women’s rugby. We want to push on and catch up with the Englands and Frances of the world. Wales have just signed their first professional athlete and that’s something we’re all striving for,” she added.
Konkel and Martin are both stage two members of the Academy set-up, and they are clearly enthused by being involved in that sort of professional environment.
“We do lots of individual skills sessions and it’s about taking those things back [to our clubs]. And the work ethic, the minute you step over the whitewash you are switched on. We’re not there for socialising, from the moment that training starts at quarter to seven we’ve got a purpose for being there,” explained Martin.
“We’re all highly motivated to make this weekend’s game a great spectacle for women’s rugby. It is a chance to show how competitive and fluid our play can be,” she concluded.
Meanwhile, in the Shield Final, Stirling County take on Watsonians on the back pitches at Murrayfield with a 1.30pm kick-off ; and in the Bowl Final, Howe of Fife play Glasgow University at noon.
Image courtesy: Scottish Rugby/SNS Group