Sarah Beaney Cup – Pool Game 3
Sunday 13 March 2022
For round three of the Cup, Stirling County welcomed Stewartry to Bridgehaugh. Stewartry have performed well in National League 1 and only just lost their league play off decider with Garioch. Conditions were dry, with a just a stiff cross wind to make handling a little challenging. County came into the game with bonus point wins from their first two games, putting them top of their pool. The target was another 5 points to secure a semi-final place.
Stewartry got off to a strong start and won a kickable penalty after just 3 minutes but pulled it wide. County then got on the front foot when captain Ailsa Luke picked off a trademark interception and set off a promising attack. County were guilty in the early exchanges though, of forcing some of their passes. A number of good attacks ended up with a dropped ball, when a bit more patience and composure was required.
After 23 minutes Stewartry lost their full-back to a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on, when County were in a strong attacking position. Even with a player down, the Sirens continued to defend bravely but on 27 minutes, Rachel Shankland pierced the line on half-way and despite a valiant chase, made it to the line. 5-0 to Stirling.
Late in the half, County put themselves under pressure with a pass from set piece that spilled into mid-field and gave Stewartry a good attacking platform. After concerted pressure moving left, Stewartry then brought the ball right and out-flanked the defence to level the scores at 5-5. With half-time imminent, Rachel Shankland made another line break, this time down the right wing. Fending a cover defender all the way from the half-way line, she was brought down just 5 metres from the line. County had support on-hand and showed impressive composure to set a ruck and move quick ball for Heather Davis to burst a tackle and score in the corner. It was the final play of the half and gave Stirling a 10-5 lead to settle a few nerves.
Opening the second half, Stirling showed their growing maturity to exit with a line-out drive from their twenty-two, followed a by strong kick that took play to half way line. It’s the sort of game management which was absent in the early part of the season but is becoming much more evident as the team develops. Throughout the second half, County kicked well – a part of the game which had been largely missing in the first half of the match.
With possession secured on half-way, Stirling worked the ball to left wing Rebecca More – a former junior player at County who came on for her senior debut at half time. Rebecca made a good break and recycled well. County worked through the phases into the left corner and then brought the ball back right, where Beth Streets picked a half gap and powered through for a good finish. With Heather Davis adding the conversion, that gave County a 17-5 lead. The minutes either side of half-time were crucial – with two scores for County, the match situation looked very different.
Just four minutes later County attacked inside the Stewartry half and Beth Streets spotted space behind the defence. Her clever kick bounced awkwardly for the defenders and was knocked back over the line, where Rachel Shankland raced through to touch down. 22-5 and the try bonus secured.
The game moved into the final quarter with Stewartry continuing to compete hard for everything. From a 5 metre line-out, they drove for the try-line with Katie McIlwraith first in to halt the attack. Stewartry built patiently – County defended valiantly. County gradually pushed the Sirens back and away from immediate danger. Ailsa Luke then made a superb jackal turnover outside the County twenty-two and with four swift passes the ball was in the hands of fly-half Beth Streets. She showed impressive pace and stamina to go the length of the pitch. With the conversion added, County took a 29-5 lead.
Stewartry were not giving an inch. They put some good phases together just inside the County half and broke down their left wing, evading a couple of weary tackles. Stewartry fully deserved a second try, which took the score to 29-10. The final say went to Stirling though. From a ruck on half-way, Kirsty Wilson saw an opportunity to make a late run to the narrow side. Scrum-half Jodie Hutton was alive to the chance, took the ball blind and drew the defence. That gave Kirsty a chance to show her pace, as she went outside the defending winger and down the touchline for County’s sixth try. Rachel Shankland added an impressive conversion from wide out, to end the game 36-10.
The win guarantees County a semi-final place before their last pool match, away against Hillhead on Sunday 27th March. That won’t take any edge off their desire to win though. The team will be desperate to beat Hills, after two narrow defeats to them this season. A better seeding for the semi-final is also at stake, so all to play for.
Stewartry awarded Player of the Match to Neve Henderson who was sharp in attack as well as being rock-solid in defence. The County player of the Match was Beth Streets, who had a brace of tries, kicked well and worked the ball to space.County can be very satisfied with a six-try win. The set piece was good, with some of the second-half scrummaging especially dominant. The defence is much improved, albeit with some individual errors still evident. Game management also showed progress, especially in the second half. Work-ons in the next couple of weeks will include crispness of handling under pressure, to make the most of the space being created. For now, time to celebrate a good win and to thank the Sirens for a very competitive game.