Edinburgh Harlequins 12
Stirling County 69
DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield
THIS match went according to form, with Stirling County – the predominant force in girls’ age-grade rugby in Scotland – blasting past an Edinburgh Harlequins side, who are new kids on the block, for the fourth time this season. But it was not quite as lopsided a contest as the final scoreline suggests.
Indeed, Harlequins did well to recover from a horror start which saw them concede two tries scored by Nicole Flynn and Nathalie Roy inside the first four minutes, to take a foothold in the game on 15 minutes when Sky Phimister danced her way to the line.
That showed that Harlequins had the ability to ask questions of County but the challenge when playing up a level is being able to keep the pressure on over sustained periods, and to be able to keep the door shut when the opposition get on the front foot. It isn’t easy and doesn’t tend to happen straight away.
Stirling were soon back on the front foot when Tessia Smyth claimed try number three on 20 minutes, soon followed by a fourth from player-of-the-match Maia MacDonald, a fifth from the powerful Chloe Brown and a sixth on the stroke of half-time from Hannah Walker, to make it 38-5 at the break.
Stirling continued to dominate in the second half with Ceitidh Ainsworth, MacDonald again and Jessica Orr-Ewing all finding their way to the try-line, but Harlequins kept plugging away and finally got the reward that their perseverance thoroughly deserved when Karly Conn battled her way over for her team’s second try.
Walker and Flynn each claimed their second tries for County before the end to polish off a comprehensive win.
However, as defeated head coach Eric Jones observed afterwards, this Harlequins team – representing a youth programme set up by Lismore RFC in 2020 to create increased opportunities for young players based in South East Edinburgh – deserve huge credit for the progress they have made during a short period of time.
“We always knew it was going to be tough today,” he said. “We’ve played Stirling three times this season so we knew they were going to be very good at the breakdown and we just didn’t get much joy there today. When you are struggling to retain the ball in contact it is always going to be difficult.
“It isn’t easy for this team because the girls are training with their clubs during the week and then we are bringing them together at the weekend. But we’re all proud of what this team has done this season, we’ve only lost to Stirling and beaten every other team in the country as well as some from England, so we’ve got to take the positives from that.
“Four or five of our team will move into senior rugby next year, but our under-16s won the Bowl yesterday so we’re beginning to develop a pathway and we’ll also look to attract some new faces during the summer,” he added.
“Stirling are the standard-bearers – I think 11 of that squad are in the Scotland under-18s set-up – so our target is to try to catch-up with them. We know the level and we know it is the speed of the game and the physicality we need to work on. There is a long time between now and the start of next season.”
Meanwhile, victorious head coach Mark Ainsworth explained that the on-going success of the girls section at Stirling is down to the culture created by the players.
“This is great end to what has been a hard year for us, as it has been for every rugby side, trying to get back up and running after Covid,” he said. “To be honest, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how things have gone after that lay-off because I thought we’d struggle to get players back and then struggle to keep them motivated when there has been so much uncertainty, but they have been absolutely brilliant. It makes life so easy for us coaches.
“They’ve missed almost two years, which is bad, but the plus side is that they have all been consistently coming to training and it has given them the chance to work on stuff which we might not have had the chance to do if we were bouncing from game to game and dealing with the things which come up on a weekly basis. So, in that sense, I believe it has helped them develop their whole game a little bit better.”
“I don’t know the exact numbers but it is approximately half and half with this squad moving up to women’s rugby or staying at under-18. So, that means we’ll have a really good core at under-18 next year, and I don’t envisage any of the girls moving up being lost to the game, whether they carry on playing at this club, another club, or at university.”
Edinburgh Harlequins: S Phimister; N Crosbie-White, R Watson, M Welsh, L Armstrong; I Jamieson, R Douglas; K Conn, R Kancir, H Crabbe, R Young, E Bonner, M Gunderson, A Stewart©, M Capaldi. Subs: L Lawrie, Z Nicholson, R Dellal, A Halliday, C Cooper, A Beetham, K Chow.
Stirling County: H Walker©; N Roy, L MacRae, F MacColl, N Flynn; C Ainsworth, B Henderson; C Brown, A Sutcliffe, N McEwan, E Quigley, C Russell, T Smith, K MacDonald, M MacDonald. Subs: J Blair, L Roy, E Fleming, R Davies, J Orr-Ewing, C Gilmour.