Tennent’s Women’s Premiership Final 2023 | Final
The Tennent’s Women’s Premiership will come to a conclusion this weekend when Scottish Rugby crown a new Championship winner as Stirling County host Corstorphine Cougars at Bridgehaugh.
Will it be Stirling County – the hosts who topped the regular season table? Or will it be the Edinburgh outfit Cougars – who haven’t claimed the title for some 16 years?
This Final is shaping up to be a cracker, and it’s especially exciting for fans of the Women’s game and the supporters and players of both teams!
In Scottish Rugby’s match preview, we’ll recap each team’s journey to chase the Tennent’s Premiership trophy and share insights and reflections from the two sides.
County have been the front-runners this season with 11 wins from 12 rounds played, a staggering feat particularly when compared to their run last season, which saw them finish in fourth place with just four wins under their belt.
But at every step of the way, Corstorphine Cougars have been challenging County’s position, as the two sides danced between first and second place in the league standings.
The Edinburgh side have also seen a marked improvement in performance from the previous season, finishing a place higher and with more wins than losses to show for it.
Stirling’s only defeat this season (Saturday 8 October) was at the hands of Cougars where the visitors enjoyed the spoils of a 20-27 victory at Bridgehaugh.
Stirling, however, got their own-back in the return leg of the fixture just three weeks ago, with a 15-19 win at Union Park.
With one apiece in the head-to-head and two tight score lines, there’s a clear indication that neither side will make it easy for the other to take the win on Saturday.
For Stirling County Head Coach, Mark Ainsworth, he hopes his squad will treat the occasion just as any normal game.
“Our squad, I think we just play our normal game. To be honest I think Cougars, I think Eric [Jones] will probably say the same to them, to play their normal game”, said Ainsworth.
“But we play two contrasting styles. He has got a stand-off who has got a lovely kick, so they are probably going to try and play the kicking game and play off that.
“We tend to go through a lot of phases, fast phases, so it will be a contrast in styles. It didn’t work the first time for us at Bridgehaugh but it worked a couple of weeks ago. Saturday will be one of those games of whoever turns up on the day is going to win.”
Ainsworth, who joined the Women’s set up as Head Coach at the beginning of the season, has brought with him a raft of young players from the U18 Girls side he previously coached.
The blend of the new players and existing experienced players, has proved to be a strong combination for the team.
“We brought 10 girls from the U18 squad up into the senior squad. So, the challenge was first of all, that this is my first senior year, which was a little bit daunting. The biggest problem I saw was integrating the young girls into the squad. How were they going to be taken by the older girls? Could they actually step up to senior rugby? I think obviously our record this season would suggest that they have.”
One such young player is Lucy Macrae. The young centre joined the ranks mid-season and has quickly been gifted a starting spot in the line-up.
“I have only played a couple games in the senior team, and it has been quite full on to start off with. But the girls and those with more experience being around me has helped a lot. Especially my outside centre, Rachel Shankland. She’s helped a lot”, said Macrae.
“I think having a mix of players is really good for the sort of brand of rugby that we want to play. We want to play a quick, fast game with lots of skill and I think that comes from the younger ones being quite fit and the more experienced ones bringing skills.”
Captain, Ailsa Luke is one of those experienced heads. The loosehead prop has been with the County outfit for nearly five years and has been playing for more than 10.
The dream of reaching the Final may have initially seemed a stretch with so much change at the start of the season, but team’s leader feels they more than deserve it.
“When we started in pre-season I think it was kind of unknown. New coaches, new players but every week and every game, these guys continue to impress, to work hard and to surprise me. I have played a lot of seasons in this league, and this is the best so far for sure”, said Luke.
But now that dream is a reality, the Captain is ready to go, adding: “I think we have to just try to treat it like another week as much as we can. Keep calm, train hard and try to ignore the buzz. It has been a long season, and this is just the game to celebrate the best rugby that we have played, hopefully, in that Final because that is all we can try and do.”
Rachel Shankland in action against Garioch [Photo: Gareth Falls]
Cougars are also hoping to put on a performance that displays the best of their rugby.
Having come close to the Final in the two previous seasons, and pipped at the post both times by Hillhead Jordanhill, the Edinburgh side were hopeful they could turn things around this year.
And they did – the Edinburgh side clawed their way to the final when they beat last year’s Champions, Watsonian FC 17-0 at Union Park on Saturday 14 January.
For Head Coach Eric Jones, there is a sense of relief now the wait for a Final is over, particularly following the move of the team from Royal High to Corstorphine five years ago.
“A lot of these players have been here since our move five years ago. It was pretty rough in those early days with low numbers at training but with this group here we now have over 30 players”, said Jones.
“For players who have been here from the start with me, ET [Emma Turner], Kiyomi [Honjigawa] and TG, [Tanya Griffiths] being in this Final is really big because they’ve stuck about when it hasn’t been great. Saturday will be a big day for those players.”
Something that has set Cougars apart from their competitors this season has been their skillset and confidence from the kicking-tee. Vice-captain Kiyomi Honjigawa has amassed 60 points for Cougars from her boot alone this season.
Jones explained: “A lot of games this season we have thought it would come down to small margins and at times we’ve just got to play sensible rugby and bank the points when we need to, especially early doors. A lot of the teams this season have been coming out pretty hard for the first 20 minutes so if we can get the points early, we have the confidence in Kiyomi to get those points.
“But we do also have a hooker who can kick, and the likes of TG can step up to the mark if needed to as well.”
Giving his pre-match predictions, Jones added:
“I think a lot of people have said that both teams deserve to be in this Final. On paper it’s the best attack versus the best defence. We’re not going to change much this weekend. We’ll play how we have all season and I imagine it’ll be the same for Stirling. We know they like to play wide.
“I think it’ll be a really good game because the previous two have been. When we beat them through there [Bridgehaugh], that was the best half of rugby we’ve played. I think it’s going to be a tough game, pretty close but the way our players are acting and behaving, we have the confidence that we can go out there and win this.”
For Captain Emma Turner, who has been with the club as a young girl, this weekend’s opportunity is layered with emotion.
“We have worked tirelessly to get here. We’ve had the third-place curse for the past two seasons, I just can’t believe we’ve done it.
“My Cougars journey started as a water-girl for the RH Cougars at the Sarah Beaney Cup final in 2014, so I can’t believe it has come full circle and I’m captaining the team to the Premiership Final. I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls do to this with.
“Lifting the trophy would mean everything, to know we are the best. It would show all our hard work and that we’re not just individuals, it’s our entire team.”
Kiyomi Hojigawa lines up for a kick at goal.
Stirling County: Fi Keys; Nicole Flynn, Rachel Shankland, Lucy Macrae, Sky Phimister; Ceitidh Ainsworth, Jodie Hutton; Ailsa Luke, Aicha Sutcliffe, Katie Lindsay; Sarah Murdoch; Kiera MacDonald, Heather Davis, Ciorstaidh Ainsworth.
Replacements: Megan Kennedy, Angharad Hopwood, Sophie Murphy, Ilja Puccianti, Brogan Henderson.
Corstorphine Cougars: Kiyomi Honjigawa; Lorna Young, Ailsa Clark, Morgan Welsh, Rheo Laurenson; Tanya Griffiths, Zoe Turner; Merryn Gunderson, Lucy Park, Kaylee Fraser; Lucy Kidd, Adelle Ferrie; Pip Benson, Lily Glendinning, Emma Turner.
Replacements: Louise Green, Devan Anderson, Lauryn McGrotty, Rebecca Bestwick, Emily Mullen.
Saturday 8 October: Stirling County 20 Corstorphine Cougars 27
Saturday 7 January: Corstorphine Cougars 14 Stirling County 19
The Tennent’s Women’s Premiership Final will be broadcast for worldwide viewing on the Scottish Rugby website, with coverage starting at 1.20pm.
Commentary will be led by Stuart McFarlane, who will be joined by guest co-commentator, Kaeli King, Watsonians FC vice-captain.
In addition to the worldwide coverage, a highlights show with the best of the action and captain’s interviews will be available on the Scottish Rugby website and social media channels the following Monday.
For more coverage ahead of the Final, listen to the Official Scottish Rugby podcast and watch Scottish Rugby’s preview show linked below.