Sarah Beaney Cup
West of Scotland were the first opponents for Stirling County in the this season’s Sarah Beaney Cup. The format is two pools, with the top four teams from National League One joining the six Premiership sides. The top two dies from each pool will go through to the semi-final. West have had some good results in their league this season and County came into the game following three recent defeats. There was plenty at stake.
After several weeks of poor weather, Bridgehaugh was bathed in sunshine, albeit a cold wind reminded us that we are still in February. County were looking to impose themselves from the start but undermined that ambition with a series of offside penalties that allowed West to build field position and pressure. When West went over under the posts on 7 minutes, there was a risk that County would panic. It was credit to the team that they remained patient, used the ball well and turned the game around.
The first try for County came when the ball was recycled to the left and Beth Streets drew the defence to make some space for Rachel Shankland. There was still plenty to do, as Rachel took an outside line to score in the corner. That try was followed with a score from Neve Henderson that was all about attitude. Comfortably the lightest player on the pitch, she persistently made metres through contact and this try epitomised her determination to carry beyond the tackle. With Rachel Shankland adding an excellent conversion, the score looked healthier at 12-7, with just over a quarter of the game gone.
Stirling continued to enjoy the majority of possession and territory, with Jodie Hutton and Beth Streets marshalling some good phases of attack. Katie Lindsay carried powerfully all day and it was fitting that she was rewarded with the third try, which was successfully converted by Rachel Shankland. That stretched the lead to 19-7. With the clock ticking down, County were camped in West’s twenty-two. Rachel Shankland turned that pressure into points with another score in the left-hand corner, to make it 24-7 at the break.
Stirling made some changes as half time with Shannon MacLean coming on in the front row and Jenny Menday in the second row. Having spoken about getting a strong start, County delivered. It was captain Ailsa Luke who powered over, stretching the lead to 29-7 after just two minutes of the second half. County continued to make changes, with the whole bench coming on through the second half.
West were allowed back into the game following another bout of poor discipline from Stirling. Offside penalties let West establish field position and they powered over under the posts, to close the gap to 29-14. That set back was followed by some of the best rugby of the season from Stirling. County went through a series of penetrating phases on the right, with Jodie Hutton moving the ball quickly and picking great passing options to stretch the defence. The move finished with Heather Davis taking a pass on the short side, right on the touchline and outpacing the defence to score in the corner. That made it 32-14 and then Rachel Shankland rounded things off with a powerful break and another try for her hat-trick.
West competed hard throughout and finished the scoring with another try. Final score 39-19. County can be pleased with seven tries and improved defence. There were patches of excellent attacking rugby. Jodie Hutton and Rachel Shankland shared the nominations for player of the match. Both these experienced members of the team led by example, in the quality of their play and work rate.
The squad know they will need to step up a level when they take on Heriots next week. For now, time to reflect on a strong performance and a good start to the cup competition.
Photo credit: Bryan Robertson