HILLHEAD JORDANHILL No8 Debbie Lee may just be 24, but she has been given a key leadership role in the team this season and has flourished, with the squad now on the cusp of a showpiece match.
The Glasgow club head to Edinburgh to take on Watsonians in the Women’s Tennent’s Premiership final tomorrow [Saturday] looking to gain revenge for defeats in the 2018-19 Sarah Beaney Cup final and 2019-20 top flight final.
A lot has changed, on and off the rugby pitch, since those matches, but one thing that has remained the same is that these are the two clubs setting the standards for women’s rugby in this country.
Corstorphine Cougars and Stirling County are pushing them hard nowadays though and, indeed, ‘Hills’ needed a strong second half showing to see off the former 25-17 in their semi-final at Hughenden on January 15th.
“We were losing narrowly at half-time in that one and it seems to have been a bit of a theme for us this season getting off to slow starts, but we did not panic and in the second half we played much better,” says Lee, who has mainly acted as a co-captain in 2021-22.
“I think the reason we have been able to turn a number of games around in recent months is that we have lots of leaders in the squad with plenty of experience.
“We have the likes of Heather Lockhart in our ranks who earned a lot of caps for Scotland previously while, although still young, current international players like Mairi McDonald and Evie Wills have recent experience from the top level which we can draw on.
“At the start of the season I was co-captain along with Aimee Johnston because Louise McMillan was away a lot with Scotland duties and I think during that spell I became more confident about being one of the captains of the team.
“It had been a big honour to be asked to be a co-captain and it is a role I take seriously.
“Louise has a number of caps for Scotland and she is a really good leader whose game management is excellent. I think when we have been co-captains together we have bounced off each other well and both of us help the team in different ways. I have learnt a lot from her just in the way she goes about things – and as long as the group is enjoying their rugby and is successful then that is all that matters.”
Season Appeal 2022
We hope you are enjoying our unrivalled coverage of Scottish Rugby. While mainstream media continues to reduce its interest in the rugby family in Scotland, The Offside Line does its very best to make sure all levels of the domestic game are reported.
Our commitment to the game and sharing its stories means that we do not have a paywall, so we would ask you (only if you can!) to support The Offside Line, either with a one off donation, or with a monthly contribution.
We have been keeping Scottish rugby in the news since 2016 and will have 3 million page views this year, making The Offside Line first for Scottish rugby.
Both sides will be without their Scotland players for this one with a massive World Cup qualifier just around the corner. However, McMillan and co will have had a big part to play this week preparing the squad mentally for the game. To be successful, Hills will have to step things up a notch from their last four triumph – and there is no doubt they have that in them.
They have quality performers across the field, while head coach Aird Jardine is a good figure head, and forwards coach Ryan Howie has helped the pack improve a lot since last summer.
“I have really enjoyed working with Ryan in the last few months and I think all of the other forwards have,” Lee said of Howie’s involvement.
“He analyses the game very well and has been able to help us get greater clarity on our own individual games and on our role as a group of forwards and we have seen steady improvements.
“We have some good ball carriers in our team, but Watsonians have a good pack too and the battle in that area will be crucial on Saturday.
“It has all the makings of a very good game and rather than thinking about previous defeats to the same opponents, we are just focusing on our own performance and the 80 minutes that is ahead of us.
“We are a really close-knit bunch and Aird and others drove that home over the pandemic period when we were away from each other.
“All of us were split into ‘families’ with a small group of other players and we had to take on various fitness challenges to earn points for those families.
“It kept our competitive instincts flowing, but also acted as a reminder to us all just how much we enjoy the company of each other and enjoy playing rugby together as a squad.”
So, how did Brechin-raised Lee end up in Glasgow and at Hills then?
“When I went to Edinburgh University to do my first degree in psychology a few years ago after school I decided to head along to rugby training there because I knew they had a good programme,” Lee, who is now in her first year of a medicine degree at Glasgow University, explained.
“I had never played the sport before, so I was a bit daunted at first, but everyone there made me feel so welcome.
“Early on, I was actually put on the wing before the coaches realised I wasn’t fast enough, so I was moved to the back-row and then played a lot of my rugby in the second-row while there.
“At that time, we had just been promoted to a higher BUCS league and lost quite a lot of games, but as things went on across my four years there the team got better and better and went on to have some great results.
“It was a pleasure to be a part of that squad and many of them are still my closest friends now.
“And I learnt so much from top players who were there at the time like [current Scotland caps] Katie Dougan, Lisa Thomson, Rhona Lloyd, Sarah Law, Megan Gaffney and a number of others.
“After I graduated from Edinburgh I did a masters at Glasgow University in neuroscience and, in that year, I played for the uni team there.
“I then worked in labs for a couple of years to gain experience and while I was doing that I continued my rugby journey with Hills.
“It was the start of the 2019-20 season when I joined the club so I got stuck in straight away and, a few months later, was playing in a Premiership final.
“Fast forward to now and being in another final is a good feeling, I’m keen to make the most of it.”
THE LOWDOWN –
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