Dave Flynn reports on an impressive win for the Ladies
Sunday was marked by the final league game of the ladies’ transition season and to finish with a bang, they welcomed this year’s league champions Hillhead Jordanhill Ladies. The two sides had a humdinger of a contest in the away fixture at Hughenden (finishing 40-39) and so a good crowd descended on Myreside hoping for a repeat of this. They were definitely not to be disappointed in a game where the lead switched hands several times before the home side ground out a victory.
With this being a match between the current top two ladies’ sides in Scotland, it kicked off at a ferocious pace with the breakdown area being contested more keenly than any other fixture this season. A fluffed kick-off by the away side and the resultant scrum being won by Watsonians meant the early exchanges were all taking place in the Hills half. The ladies continued to batter the Hills defence for several minutes but they stood firm until an intercept was caught by their 9 who did well to make a break and release the Hills 12 for the first score of the day. The conversion missed to make it 0-5 after 8 minutes. Watsonians struck back almost immediately with points of their own - a fumble from a Hills’ defensive lineout saw Emma Evans cross with Nicola Nightingale adding the extras to put the home side in front 7-5 with 11 played.
Following the restart, play continued in the same attritional manner with Nicola Nightingale keeping the home side downfield with her kicking game and Hill’s lineout functioning well to win the ball back, but both defences cancelling each other out in the middle of the park. In these sorts of games mistakes are paid for and so it was a brilliant steal by Ailie Tucker which was to produce the next points of the game - she made a turnover in the middle of the pitch on the 10m line and, having identified space wide, the ball was moved quickly to speedster Charlotte Runcie who went around 2 defenders to score her 13th try of the season. She was to go off shortly after with a knee twinge but showed in that action exactly what the Scotland coaches have seen in her to warrant a recent call up. 12-5 with 19 played.
Hills have been notorious for years for having a strong forwards game and it was pleasing to see the home pack gain parity and even dominance in some areas of the game; several turnovers were won in the first half by the back row and strong carries made by front rows in the loose who all displayed an excellent work rate. Sarah Jones and Celine Thery also had fine games both on and off the ball in the second row.
A momentary switch off at a lineout saw Hills gain 6 metres from a driving maul before releasing their backs to score on 28 minutes, though it was Watsonians who were to finish the scoring in the first half - following the try the ladies restarted positively and with Hills conceding a penalty on the edge of their own 22 Nicola made them pay with 3 points to end the half 15-10 in front.
On halftime some fresh legs were added with Freya Gannon Burns coming into the back row. 5 minutes later Kaylene Jensen, who had a fine showing at Scrum time was replaced by Megan MacIver alongside Panashe Muzambe as the replacement 7. The work rates of all 3 around the breakdown and at lineouts were exactly what was required as the home side looked to press home their ascendancy.
The second half started much like the first had ended, though the curse of the intercept returned as a stray pass was picked up and ran in from inside Hills half 10 minutes in. This was quickly parked and the response was a positive one again as strong carries saw Watsonians into the away 22 before a breakdown infringement by Hills. As such, within 90 seconds of conceding a score, Nicola had slotted another penalty to make the score 18-17 with 20 to play.
The next spell was one of Hills’ better periods of the game and they were able to get over again for a score though the defence had managed to force that out wide and the conversion missed. At 18-22 it looked like Hills may kick on from there, though again it was the home side who were to score next through Isla Craigie - Freya had been a real pest at the lineout following her introduction and her forcing of a crooked throw earned Watsonians a scrum 20 out. Following breaks by Megan Gaffney and with Panashe and Emily Cotterill both held up just short, the ball was moved left for Isla to make it 23-22 with 7 to go.The pressure on Hills to defend their unbeaten run was palpable at this point and it seemed to bring out the best in them as they rallied to come back at the home side and earn themselves a kickable penalty 3 minutes later, which was taken to make it 23-25 with 4 minutes to go.
Some confusion reigned shortly after as one of their props, believing it to be full time, kicked the ball out in open play when there was in fact 90 seconds to play. From just inside the opposition half, Watsonians won the resultant lineout and proceeded to show great patience and composure, going through 18 phases before the winning score arrived - Megan MacIver crossed with seconds to spare as the body language of both teams showed this to be the winning score, with the final result 28-25.
In a game like this there are always several contenders for player of the match and this was no exception though for her resolute defence and both her distribution and straight running in attack Abbie Baillie was the worthy winner.
Several aspects of the game and result were pleasing - the resilience at the end to overturn a 4-point deficit with 3 minutes to go took some real mental strength, and the grit shown for the winning score was an advancement in attitude and perseverance, even on a few games ago. Hills had been unbeaten up to this point and had been quoted as being keen to maintain that, but the ladies love a challenge and rose to this one admirably.
They have continued to make strides of improvement throughout this shortened season and the coaching team have every faith in them to continue in that vein between now and March when the new season kicks off with the cup competitions. Before then the ladies will have cross border fixtures to maintain their match sharpness so keep an eye on the newsletter for details of that.
Match Day squad (All featured):
Kaylene Jensen, Lana Skeldon, Molly Wright, Sarah Jones, Celine Thery, Ailie Tucker, Emily Armstrong, Emily Cotterill, Emma Jones, Nicola Nightingale (C), Bryony Nelson, Emma Evans, Abbie Baillie, Charlotte Runcie, Megan Gaffney, Megan MacIver, Freya Gannon-Burns, Panashe Muzambe, Chloe McCue, Isla Craigie.