EVERY squad needs those calm, experienced heads within the group in the lead up to big matches, and Watsonians certainly have one of those in the shape of Sarah Jones.
The Edinburgh side welcome closest rivals Hillhead Jordanhill to Myreside on Saturday in the women’s Tennent’s Premiership final and no doubt the younger players in the home ranks will have been getting excited in recent days.
Jones is excited too, but in sporting terms she has ‘been there and done it’ before which allows her to focus on the 80 minutes in hand with just that bit more clarity.
After all, she was a Scottish and British judo cap up until 2007 and then, after taking up wrestling, competed for Scotland at two Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010 and Glasgow in 2014.
And since 2014 on the rugby field, after a brief dalliance with the sport in the mid-2000s, Jones has earned promotion with Watsonians and also been to numerous knock-out finals which has included wins in the 2014-15 Bowl, the 2015-16 Plate and the Sarah Beaney Cup in 2018-19.
That Sarah Beaney Cup final triumph over Hills at BT Murrayfield also gave ‘Sonians the confidence to go on and win the Premiership final against the same opponents a few months later in 2019-20.
Then domestic women’s rugby in Scotland shut down due to Covid until the summer of 2021 – and when Watsonians got back into action the squad had quite a few new faces in it.
“When you are at a club for a number of years you sometimes don’t take a step back and think about all of the players that have come and gone, but when we returned for pre-season training last summer it was clear that a few of the more regular faces had moved on for various reasons such as work and that there was a new batch of players coming in too,” Jones, the 38-year-old second-row, explains.
“It always takes a bit of time to build up relationships and understanding and our first few games of the league season weren’t the smoothest, but the older heads like myself and Claire Bain have tried to lead by example and in the second half of the campaign we started to play some really good rugby. It has been brilliant to see how the newer faces have adapted to things and become a key part of the squad.
“Players like Freya Walker, Briar McNamara, Susie Clements, Julie Lyons and others have been excellent and we managed to finish top of the regular season table.
“That gave us a boost heading into the play-offs and we played really well against Stirling County in the semi-final a couple of weeks ago. We won 39-0, but the scoreline did not reflect how tough it was, we had to defend well too and I think a game like that sets us up well for the final.
“We know all about Hills and they know all about us. In the year or so before the pandemic we managed to get the better of them and this season we have drawn one and won one so far, but none of that matters now, it is down to which side is more composed on Saturday.
“As a pack we know it will be a tough battle up front, but we are looking forward to the game and it’ll be great to play in front of what should be a decent sized crowd.”
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When Freddie Main’s charges played against County on January 15th, it was the first Saturday that the new pavilion at Myreside was open for business some 23 months after a fire. On the wall in the upstairs bar, Keri Holdsworth’s Scotland top and cap have now been restored and Jones often thinks of her close friend – who died in 2014 aged 36 after a car accident – when she is playing for Watsonians.
“I had dabbled with rugby in 2006 and 2007 because my older sister Emma [who now plays for Broughton] was playing for Watsonians and also I’d been at George Watson’s College so had a strong connection to the surroundings,” Jones, who works as a physio, explains.
“Sadly, I picked up serious injuries in those years and had to then put all of my energies into wrestling and making it to the Commonwealth Games.
“I kept in touch with Watsonians over the next few years and got to know a lot of the girls, Keri included, very well.
“When she passed away it hit a lot of people very hard and when I played in her memorial match versus Stewartry a few months after competing at Glasgow 2014 that was when I decided I wanted to give rugby a real go.
“I wanted to do it for her and play for a club where many people had become like family to me.
“Since then, off the pitch we have had a number of other low points and when someone like Stavvy [club secretary Iain Leslie who died last week aged 59] passes away it’s always tough to take, but what helps us all through is the club spirit and togetherness.
“Over the last few years the women’s section at the club has gone from strength-to-strength under coaches such as Tristan Gray, Baz Lawson, Dave Flynn and Freddie. The current squad has come together nicely and it has been great being a part of it this season so far.
“Watsonians has given me so much. I have made lifelong friends at the club and being able to win the Sarah Beaney Cup in 2019 in the same squad as my sister and alongside my now wife [Emma Evans, who has now retired from playing] was brilliant.
“Hopefully there is another big day coming for us on Saturday, it should be a closely fought final for sure.”
WATSONIANS V HILLHEAD/JORDANHILL
VENUE: Myreside @ 1.30pm
Watsonians: S Macey; B Nelson, S Clements, B McNamara, F McGhee; C Bain, R Law; A Tucker, K King, S Donnelly, N Brown, S Jones, F Walker, L Wilkie, A King©. Subs: J Relph, S Kearley, H Davisson, M Nelson, J Lyons.
Hillhead Jordanhill: E Barlow; K Bennet, L Mills, H McHugh, P Saverton; C McDonald, M-A Wales; P Abernethy, S Kyalikunda, A Johnston, K Yeomans, T Armstrong, F Campbell, H Telling, D Lee©. Subs: H Lockhart, R Millar, S Beal, B Carberry, J Ross.
KEY BATTLE: Alice King versus Debbie Lee