Emotions ran high and a few tears were shed at the final whistle. County gave everything to protect a [17-5] lead from the first half but ultimately came up short. They defended heroically but were on the wrong end of a [19-17] scoreline. Just a conversion to separate them from Glasgow rivals Hillhead. Exactly the same outcome as the reverse fixture at Hughenden. The same pain afterwards.
County got off to a flying start when Orla Proctor powered through the Hills defence to open the scoring. [5-0]. Just minutes later County missed an opportunity to stretch that lead when another great break in the backs opened up a two on one, with the Hills full-back. The tackle was made and the attack stymied. In those first 10 minutes, it looked like a red-letter day for Stirling women. Hills are an experienced team though and there is a reason they arrived sitting second in the six-team Premiership. They worked field position after scrum infringements by County and applied persistent pressure close to the County try line. County held firm and cleared their lines. Hills came back. County just could not release the pressure enough and eventually their defence cracked. After 25 minutes the scores were level at [5-5].
County responded superbly. First the ball was played out the back to fly half Beth Streets who fed Orla Proctor, who managed a beautiful one handed off load in contact to try scorer Rachel
Shankland. That try wasn’t converted but just before half time, County stretched their lead to [17-5] when Rachel Shankland finished off a great move, with Heather Davies giving the final pass and making the conversion.
HALF-TIME: Stirling County 17 – 5 Hillhead
After half time County looked as though they were going to stretch their lead when Kirsty Wilson went clear down the right-wing but was hauled down inches from the line by the cover defence. That tackle was a game-changer. Hills continued to exploit a dominant scrummage, which was earning penalties and good field position. County put in another superb defensive shift but eventually Hills smashed over for try number two, which they converted. [17-12].
With just two minutes to go Hills were applying more pressure on the County line when Neve Henderson appeared to stem the tide with a superb tackle and steal. It should have been the crowning moment of an outstanding defensive performance by the diminutive full-back. Unfortunately, the ref was unsighted and awarded Hills a scrum. More pressure, more heroic defence but finally the dam burst. Hills scored with another forward crash under the posts. [17-19].
Stirling gave everything to get their lead back and were camped in the Hills twenty-two when the final whistle went. Much to be proud of. This squad is getting better and better. They showed enormous heart and willingness to fight for each other. They knew the game was there for the taking. It was gutting.
The drive for a play-off place continues next week at Goldenacre, where County take on Heriots, who are three points and one place behind them in the table. It looks likely to be a winner takes all encounter. County needs to marry the determination of this week with a more clinical edge to their attack. All to play for.
FULL-TIME: Stirling County 17 – 19 Hillhead