WATSONIANS WOMEN served notice that the established order of the domestic game in this country had shifted on its axis when they lifted the Sarah Beaney Cup last April, finally breaking the eight-year hegemony of Hillhead/Jordanhill (who they defeated 21-17 in the final) and Murrayfield Wanderers (who had dropped out of the competition after a split in the club).
A measure of how far the Myreside outfit had come in a short space of time can be taken from their experience 12-months earlier, when they were thumped 68-12 by Hillhead/Jordanhill in the final of the same competition.
With Watsonians also managing to finish second to Hillhead/Jordanhill in the Tennent’s Premiership last season, a new pecking order in the women’s game seemed to have been established – and the results from the first round of this season’s Premiership, which kicked-off on Sunday, indicate that 2019-20 could follow a similar pattern.
Hillhead/Jordanhill walloped Ayr 0-103 at Millbrae, while Watsonians eased to a 8-61 win away to Corstorphine Cougars. The other match in the league was much tighter with Stirling County edging out Cartha Queens Park 27-29.
“It was the performance – much more than the score – which really pleased me,” said Freddie Main, who has taken over as head coach at Watsonians this season. “The score-line was impressive from our perspective but it was a tough game – Cougars were very powerful up front and they really made us work at the breakdown – so it was just a couple of little things that gave us an edge in terms of our attacking options and how aggressive we were in defence, which I think took them by surprise a little bit.
“A lot of stuff we have been working on in pre-season went really well. I was really impressed with how they adapted and the energy levels they showed. It was as complete a performance as we could ask for in week one.
“But it is going to be a big challenge for us to replicate that in week two against Cartha QP,” he added. “We have a Scotland camp this weekend which takes away a handful of our senior players, and there are a few others that we know are unavailable as well, so our team next week will be completely different from the team which played at the weekend.
“But we’ve known that was going to be the case for a while and we see it as a positive because we are trying to create an environment where we have real depth so that whoever is wearing the shirt can still help the machine run smoothly.”
Main has been involved at Myreside since 2004, as a player, coach, committee member and enthusiastic supporter. However, his day job as a teacher at Merchiston Castle School includes coaching the Under-16s team which has limited his involvement at the club in recent years.
“I helped coach the women’s team in 2014-15, and over the last two or three seasons I have seen their potential really grow, so I wanted to get back involved just to help them really be the best they can. And because they play on a Sunday I can now make that commitment. They’ve been good but I think they can be even better, so that’s what we’re hoping to achieve this year.
The bigger picture
“I also want to focus on the bigger picture of women’s rugby. There are a lot of great players in Scotland at the moment, but quite a few of them are heading down south to play, which is entirely understandable because they need to be stretched by playing in good competitions – but I think we’ve got to try to create a good competition up here as well so that players don’t feel that heading off to play in England is the only option.
“We need to build the women’s game by helping the girls learn the game. What often happens in club rugby – both men’s and women’s – is that the coaches manage the team, spending all their time scraping together 15 players to put on the park, and there isn’t that focus on learning.
“I’m from a teaching background – I’ve coached schools rugby at Merchiston for 18 years – and my attitude is that I want to be a little bit better today than I was yesterday, so that’s what I am trying to instil in the girls.
“We’re doing video analysis, we’ve got game-plans and structures, we’ve talked through scenarios, we’ve documented plays and moves – so different types of learners can learn in different ways. My role as a coach is to create an environment where people, are free to ask questions, free to make mistakes and learn from them.
“I just don’t want there to be any excuses. I’ve said to the girls that I expect them to work hard on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and as coaches we’ll work hard as well, but on a Sunday it is their job to entertain me and anyone else at the game. I want to watch an entertaining brand of rugby. And from my experience, I know they can definitely deliver that.”
These are interesting times at Myreside, with the Watsonians’ Super6 franchise about to embark upon its first season in the new tier which has been set-up by the SRU to sit above the traditional club game. Nobody is really sure how it is all going to pan out, but Main says he is confident that the fundamental fabric of the club is in a good place, and that the ‘Ladies XV’ is being fully integrated into the Watsonians ‘family’.
“I’d imagine every club has got something they can do a little bit better, but we’re a very forward-thinking club. I speak to Chris Hunter, the Director of Rugby, a lot; and we’ve set up a group where all the head coaches of the various teams are connecting with each other, sharing ideas, offering advice and so on. I think there is a very similar mindset from Fergus Pringle doing Super6, to Bruce Ruthven doing the ‘Club XV’, to myself doing the Women’s team and down into the minis section. It is very much about the club and creating a positive culture.
“One of the things we do is on a Thursday evening we eat together, so we can just integrate and get to know each other.
“The great thing for me about Watsonians is the family environment. I think that’s what attracts players down. We discussed our values – what we want to be as well as what we want to do – and we came up with WFC standing for: Welcoming, Family, Commitment. That basically translates as humility, team-first and train-hard.”
Scott Nightingale continues to coach the Watsonians Women backs, while the effervescent Duncan Wilson has come on board as an assistant coach. “He’s Mr Enthusiasm so that’s great,” chuckles Main. “I want to be around positive people, and I want the girls to be around positive people, so if you bring characters like Duncan down it is going to happen.
Lucy Brown, the new Youth Development Officer for Dunbar, is also carrying on as a skills coach, whilst contemplating a return to playing after a long-term injury.
The most notably new recruit on the playing side is Scotland and former Hillhead/Jordanhill centre Hannah Smith.
Watsonians Women have also established a partnership with Broughton which will involve joint training nights and dual registering players, which Main hopes will help drive up standards at both clubs and ensure that players get as much rugby as possible at the appropriate level.