Tennent’s Women’s Premiership 2022/23 | Round 1 Preview
The Tennent’s Women’s Premiership returns this weekend! Here we preview the opening round of the competition and share insights from the teams.
The structure this season sees the competition played in two stages;
Stage 1: the teams shall play each other on a home-and-away basis once
Stage 2: to be played at the end of Stage 1, the teams in places one to four shall contest a knock-out competition to decide the Premiership winners.
Some key changes to the competition this year include the expansion to a seven-team league, and fixtures scheduled to take place on both Saturday’s and Sunday’s.
Additionally, to allow league to be further expanded to eight teams next season, there will not be relegation this season.
Saturday 20 August
Championship defenders Watsonian FC start their 2022/23 campaign on the road as they face Cartha Queen’s Park at Dumbreck (2pm KO).
The Edinburgh side have a number of leadership changes this season including a new Head Coach, with Bruce Millar taking the reins from Freddie Main.
Following on from their debut season in 2021/22 with the club, inside-centre Briar McNamara has been appointed as Captain and hooker Kaeli King is this year’s Vice-Captain.
McNamara (25) made 9 league appearances last season where she scored 13 tries and converted seven kicks.
“We’re looking ahead to our opening match against Cartha with anticipation. Our squad is looking very different from last season – including new head coach, Bruce Millar”, said McNamara.
“This match is the foundation where we work to set the standard for the upcoming season, but also an opportunity to trial a new game plan.”
Whilst last season yielded little success for Cartha Queen’s Park, Vice-Captain Jess Fyfe is looking forward to putting last year behind them and moving forward.
“Last season was all about building because there was a lot of change. We started working with our new Head Coach Ritchie Bruce, who has been incredibly dedicated, and for myself and a number of the girls it was our first time playing senior rugby which was a big step up.
“Now we have that experience under our belt, this season we get to build on that, and that’s really exciting.
“Last season it was the tight games that really hurt the most because we were almost there so to have the opportunity to be still in the Premiership is massive and we’re ready to prove why we deserve to be here and hit it hard.
“Watsonians will be a tough game, but we have worked hard and we’re just excited to get back out there again.”
Cartha Queen’s Park v Watsonian FC – Dumbreck, 2pm KO
League newcomers, Garioch will travel south to Edinburgh to face Corstorphine Cougars at Union Park.
Garioch, who are based in the north-east town of Inverurie have had somewhat of a meteoric rise through the ranks. Having formed 10 years ago starting at regional league level, Garioch are now the first Women’s team from the north of Scotland to play in the Tennent’s Premiership league.
Garioch secured their promotion into the Premiership in the Tennent’s National 1 league play-off against Stewartry Sirens in February (19-10).
Whilst the step up into the next level is certainly a challenge, it’s one that captain Nikki Simpson and her team relishes.
“We are definitely really excited about this opportunity, there’s such a buzz around the team and at the club”, said Simpson.
“We have waited a long time and put in a lot of hard work to create this opportunity for women and girls up in the north-east.
“Obviously there are some nerves going into our first match, but we just have to back ourselves and go for it. We want to be able to hold our own and showcase what we can do. This will be a really good chance for us to gel as a team with new players and old. I’m sure we’ll have a great time!”
Garioch’s opposition, Cougars, have shown a strong consistency in performance over the years having finished in third place for the previous two seasons.
“It’s almost been a bit of a third-place curse, because we have come so close so many times so for us it’s about continuing to build”, said Captain Emma Turner.
There’s no lack of promising talent coming through the Cougars set up, including U18 Scotland cap Alex Stewart.
“There’s a lot of great young players coming into the team and they’re really pushing us all. We are all fighting hard for our position, so it adding that extra layer of competition and it’s really exciting.
“We certainly won’t be underestimating our opening match against Garioch. They have worked so hard to get here so this game will really be a good base point to see where we are and what we need to bring to the table.”
Corstorphine Cougars v Garioch – Union Park, 2pm KO
Sunday 21 August
2021/22 Premiership runners up, Hillhead Jordanhill will face Stirling County in Round 1 of the competition.
The last time Hills and Stirling met was in November 2021, where Hills secured a narrow win (17-19) at Bridgehaugh.
Whilst last season’s Premiership final result was met with disappointment by the Glasgow side, their winning performance against Watsonians in the Sarah Beaney Cup final (5-10) at BT Murrayfield gives Hills a great deal of confidence as they start their 2022/23 championship campaign.
Like many if the other teams, Hills also have a new Head Coach as Aird Jardine hung up his boots following four seasons with the side.
“Our new Head Coach Steve is really changing up the way in which we train and it’s been a great challenge”, said Hills Captain, Debbie Lee.
“For us we just want to be more consistent this year, and hopefully that work we’ve been putting in with Steve will give us those results.
“The last two times we played Stirling in the league we only won by two points. They are so competitive and you never know what is going to happen when you play them. I’d like to think we can get more than a two-point lead because that’s really stressful, but a win won’t come without a fight.”
Stirling County have some big changes to their coaching staff this season too.
Mark Ainsworth moves on from his Head Coach role with the County Girls’ U18 side will take up the Head Coach position for the Senior team, whilst former Scotland international Megan Kennedy holds the mantel as set piece coach, and Beth McLeod joins as coaching support.
On her appointment, Kennedy, who has 18 caps for Scotland said: “After a little while away from rugby, I’m really excited to be back at Stirling County in my new role as set piece coach.
“It’s a very exciting time for women’s rugby in Scotland following the announcement of Scottish Rugby’s new Women’s and Girls’ Strategy. Women and girls now have opportunities they’ve never had before and I’m really looking forward to playing my part in that.
“Stirling County was such a huge part of my rugby career and I’m hugely grateful to be able to give back and for another opportunity to encourage women and girls’ to give rugby a go and see their true potential!”
Looking ahead to this weekend’s match, captain Ailsa Luke anticipates another close encounter, saying: “I would expect nothing less than a close match. We are very focused on how we want to play and it’ll be great to try out some of the new things we have been working on against a team as competitive as Hills who are coming into this on the back of winning the Sarah Beaney Cup.
“We’re feeling positive, and hopefully we’ll come out on top.”
Stirling County v Hillhead Jordanhill – Bridgehaugh, 2pm KO
Heriot’s Blues opening match
With the league expanded to host seven teams, Heriot’s Blues have a slightly later start to their campaign, hosting Corstorphine Cougars on Sunday 4 September.
Scotland international Annabelle Sergeant has been named Co-Captain alongside flanker Kirsty McConnell and scrum-half Caitlin Sedgeworth.
In addition to Sergeant, this season the Blues squad will field a strong mix of experienced players including Scotland internationals Anne Young and Lucy Winter, plus emerging talent from the Scotland Futures pathway including Giselle Chicot, Elis Martin and Poppy Fletcher.
Speaking about their first league match, McConnell said: “The girls who have that Scotland and Scotland Futures experience have come in and applied a lot of what they’ve learnt from those environments and bring good training attitudes to us. They’re awesome girls and the skills they’ve got, it’s just pushing everyone to that next level.
“We’re feeling really prepared going into things this season. I don’t see any issues to stop us from hitting the ground running against Cougars.
“The last time we played against them we won 10-12, which was an unheard of score line for us. But we are tenacious in our output and the girls played out their skin, so we really hope we can recreate that in our opening game.”
Heriot’s Blues v Corstorphine Cougars – Goldenacre, 2pm KO