Women’s Premiership 2023 | Round 1 Preview
After a seven month break, the Women’s Premiership League returns for another season.
This year, the competition has been further expanded to include eight teams as Stewartry gained promotion from National Division 1.
Scottish Rugby brings a preview for all four matches in the opening round.
Heriot’s Blues v Stirling County | KO 2pm
Last year’s League Champions, Stirling County begin their title defence away to Heriot’s Blues on Saturday.
This season, experienced scrum-half Jodie Hutton has been selected as the team’s Captain with utility player Rachel Cox selected as Vice-Captain.
Last season County had a number of new players in their senior squad transitioning from their U18 set up. The likes of Lucy McRae, Sky Phimister and Kiera MacDonald are just a few of those to name.
Reflecting on the transition, Kiera said: “It’s definitely been a step up from U18 but once you get into it you accept that challenge to push yourself. I think it’s also helped push some of our more experienced players as well at training and for a place in the team.
“The more experience players really help us younger players come out of our comfort zone and they’re really supportive.”
Mark Ainsworth continues to take the reins as the team’s Head Coach with former Scotland international Megan Kennedy maintaining her position as Forwards Coach.
“Mark is definitely a fantastic coach”, said Kiera.
“Both Mark and Megan really push us to the edge and that makes us stronger as players and that’s really been paying off when we’ve been playing, especially fitness. Those last ten minutes of the game, it means we can push ourselves.”
So what does Kiera think we can expect from the County side in their opening match against Heriot’s Blues?
“I think we’re just going to keep playing our game which is really fast, technical and strong. Hopefully we’ll get the win!”
Hosting the champions in Round 1 are Heriot’s Blues, who are competing in their fourth Premiership.
The Blues have appointed co-Captains this season, selecting stand-off and centre partners, Annabel Sergeant and Giselle Chicot.
Reflecting on their performance with last season, Giselle said: “We were really happy with making it to the play-offs. We’ve only been around for three seasons as a at Heriot’s so I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we do have a lot of experience within our squad, so we’ve expected big things. We put in such a big shift in the semi-final against Stirling so it’s proved to us what we can do, and we’ll be putting that into our next season.”
Alongside former internationals Sergeant, Lisa Martin and Megan Gaffney, the Blues have lots of bright talent emerging, which Giselle believes can give her side a strong edge.
“The fact we have players who have competed on the international stage including Six Nations and the Rugby World Cup, it’s a great asset. They can almost act like another coach because they bring so much and they’re so open.
“That helps us all out. We have youngsters like Millie Capaldi and Morven Thomson coming through, and they bring so much energy and it’s pushing our other players to play better and then our experience players bring a level-headedness. It’s a really good blend, and hopefully that will bring us some wins this season.”
The Blues have a change to their coaching set up with Craig Robertson stepping into the Head Coach role, taking over from Lucy Brown.
“So far working with Craig has been really good”, said Giselle.
“He’s got a new approach, a new strategy. He’s helped professionalise the support and administration around the team, putting in a lot of effort. Sometimes you’ve got the great players, but you need something new and I think he is bring that with his approach. He has a lot of hope in us, so it’s exciting to have someone who’s backing you and giving you that confidence. We need confidence this season and he embodies that.”
Looking ahead to their game against County, Giselle hopes playing on the home turf of Goldenacre will play to her team’s strength, saying: “It’s always good to play at Goldie. But for us, we’re really excited to take on the champions. Why not start the season against the best and test ourselves. We’ve been really working hard in preseason so this will really help test that work and see how we compare to the others, and why not do that against the best.”
Heriot’s Blues v Stirling County, KO 2pm
Garioch v Corstorphine Cougars | KO 2pm
After their debut in the Premiership last season, Inverurie based Garioch are ready to go again and make their mark.
Despite finishing at the bottom of the table, team Captain Samantha Ross and her squad are still pleased with their inaugural run, saying: “Last year was a big step up, a lot of learning curves and finding our feet, but I think the girls have really taken it in their stride.
“There was a lot of fear coming into it because of the teams we were coming up against are players we’ve seen involved within Scottish international space. We’ve been looking up to these girls for so long and now we’re looking at them on the pitch. But we’ve actually taken a lot of confidence from it, the fact we fulfilled our fixtures and put in the shift and got on with it. We’re looking forward to the next one.”
A number of the Garioch players shone last season, and have been selected to represent Scotland as part of the Thistles and Scottish Futures including Nikki Simpson, Lindsay McDiarmid, Megan Hyland and Aila Ronald.
“Having those girls on the team sheet really builds us up. Being able to rely on their experience, and having level headed people like them is a big boost”, added Samantha.
The Garioch side have what they hope is an additional boost, by being at home in their opening fixture this weekend as they host Corstorphine Cougars.
“We call it Fortress Kellands and we always get a big support at our games. Cougars will probably be one of our hardest matches of the season, so we’re getting it out of the way. We’ve learned a lot from last season so this season it’s about trying to put all of that into action. It’s going to be tough but we’re looking forward to it.”
For the visitors, Corstorphine Cougars last season saw the Edinburgh side book themselves a Premiership Final and Sarah Beaney Cup Final in the same year for the first time.
Although they came out defeated in both, Captain Emma Turner says her side are anything but defeated themselves, and are galvanized for the 2023/24 campaign.
“We didn’t expect to be there [the Finals]. We’d finished third the two seasons before so to get to one final, let alone two. Although we didn’t win, it’s made us what it even more this time. But second place isn’t so bad.
“We’re taking so much confidence from it. We are going to work even harder this time. Looking at the final against Stirling, they showed up on the day and hands up they were the better team that time round, but when they came to us in the semi-final of the Sarah Beaney Cup, and we put on a display. And then in the Cup final, we lost by one point. We came so close.”
Eric Jones continues his role as Head Coach and Emma is excited about the fresh style he wants to bring this season, adding: “We’ve been chipping away through preseason. There’s quite a lot we are going to change for the season ahead and it’s been really fun.”
Last year’s runners up are not underestimating their opposition this weekend despite previous history. Emma said: “The last time we went to Garioch it was so much fun, they’re a real rugby community. It’ll be a really good opening game. They’ve obviously be geared up for it and it’ll be a good battle to see if we can implement what we have been putting into training into a game.”
Garioch v Corstorphine Cougars, KO 2pm
Kellands Park, Inverurie
Watsonians FC v Hillhead Jordanhill | KO 2pm
In the most recent years of the Women’s Premiership, Watsonians v Hillhead Jordanhill has been something of a showpiece, with the two sides facing off in three of the last five Premiership Finals, and they meet once again in Round 1 of this year’s competition.
Experienced scrum-half Rachel Law partners with hooker Ailie Tucker as Captain and Vice-Captain respectively for Watsonians.
Reflecting on last season Ailie said: “I think last year we were a young team and we had a smaller player base than usual, but we decided we’d just go out there and give it everything we had. We actually did a lot better than we anticipated so we were pretty pleased because we kept progressing.”
Bruce Millar continues as Head Coach having led the Edinburgh side to the Sarah Beaney Cup title in May this year.
“Bruce has brought a lot more fun to our game. It’s been a really good training environment, the girls were happy arriving and happy leaving. He’s brought a different style of play which we are really enjoying and it seems to be working so far.”
Looking ahead to their match this weekend against Hills, Ailie said: “It’s always a competitive match, I don’t remember a game against them where it wasn’t competitive. We’re going to have to put out our best.
“With it being the first game of the season, it’s going to be a real challenge. We’ll be breaking in some new players, so this will show them what a good Premiership game looks like. We’re desperate to get out there and get going again!”
And their opposition are just as ready for the fight.
Following on from her term as Vice-Captain last season, Hannah Telling will now skipper the Glasgow side this year.
Reflecting on last season, Hannah said: “I think last season was a season of change, so we had a new coaching setup, we brought in new structures and new ways of playing, and I think we looked at it as a season where we were regathering.
“We dealt with a lot of adversity with countless injuries, so we had to constantly adapt to that, but we learnt lessons from that and it’s allowing us to rebuild for this season.
“This season we’re really focusing on our culture where we aren’t focused on season to season, we’re looking at our longer-term vision.”
The Glasgow side have worked tirelessly over the last year to build for the future, and how have two additional squads to train alongside, which Hannah believes is a huge asset to the club.
“I think the development of our women’s teams is one of the proudest moments for the club. It’s something we have been trying to implement for years. We’re now going to have two teams competing on a Saturday and Sunday with a third team heading into the Aspiring League and that’s juts going to be wonderful for progression, and hopefully it means we can give some opportunities to some players to come into the Premiership for the first time.”
For Round 1 of the competition, Hills are keen that they focus on their own game.
“We’re just going to have to focus on ourselves and what we want from the game”, said Hannah.
“Watsonians versus Hills, it doesn’t matter what game it is, what’s on the line, whether it’s a Cup final or game in the league, both teams always bring it. We’re expecting it to be physical. We’re looking forward to showing what we have been working on during the off-season, not to give anything away but we are excited!”
Watsonian FC v Hillhead Jordanhill, 2pm KO
Cartha Queens Park v Stewartry | KO 2pm
Cartha Queens Park play host in Round 1 of the competition as they welcome Stewartry to Dumbreck.
Cartha finished in sixth place last season and are eager to step their game up this season.
Reflecting on last year, Captain Sammy Djoh said: “Last season was a builder season for us, coming together and trying to get our moves sorted and gelling as one as a team. We had some highs and some lows, but that’s rugby. We took on every competition as it came, taking those wins as achievements and the loses we tried to move on and refocus.”
Cartha are another side who have developed additional teams, with their 2XV, the Cartha Claymores participating in the West Division 1 this year. Sammy believes this is a real asset for her side, adding: “It’s a huge weight off the shoulders knowing we have that additional squad to work with. We’re hoping some of those players will be able to get game time in the Premiership, which will be a big step for them. But hopefully our more experienced players can also help push them to be the best they can be.”
The Glasgow team began their pre-season earlier than usual to ensure their readiness for this season, working once more with Head Coach, Stephen McLoughlin.
Whilst Stewartry are new to the Premiership this year, Sammy believes her side have a good insight for what to expect on Saturday, saying: “We’ve been watching Stewartry on the Sevens circuit, so we have an idea of some of the strengths they have. We’ve played against them in years past. My second ever senior game was against them, they were a tough team then and they’re a tough team now.
“But we are ready to hit the ground running and see what we can do. But we will expect the unexpected and ensure we can adapt to what’s put in front of us.”
Following on from their emphatic unbeaten run in last season’s National 1 league, Stewartry make their return to the Premiership after previously being relegated in the 2018/19 season.
After a few seasons rebuilding their squad, the team are now ready to go again and begin their season campaign away to Cartha Queens Park.
Speaking to Scottish Rugby about the opportunity that lies ahead, Captain, Clare Dooley said: “I for one am really excited, and I know the rest of the girls are too. We had a particularly good season last year going undefeated, so I think we’re needing that extra challenge.
“We realise that going into the Premiership is going to be completely different but we’re looking forward to it. When we played in the Sarah Beaney Cup last season it gave us a bit of glimpse of what it would be like and it’s actually a really good thing to be challenged and get a chance to play against some really experienced and talented teams.”
Being a rural team, Stewartry have long been challenged for player numbers. Having recruited well over the summer, Clare adds that this has given her side to work on their core skills.
“A lot of our preseason has been about fitness and trying to build our team base. It may not sound a lot, but we have recruited five new players and that’s a big boost for us because it will make all the difference for whether we can play a game with a few subs or actually a whole bench. With that it’s given us a chance to work on our rugby basics.”
Looking ahead to this weekend’s fixture against Cartha, Clare is keen her team don’t go in with too many expectations, saying: “Personally, I’m not going in with any expectation. We’ve played Cartha many times before and we’ve always had a really good relationship with them, so I think this is a good game for us to start off with. We just have to go in and work our hardest, do it together as a team and put in 100 percent, encouraging everyone to do the same.”
Cartha Queens Park v Stewartry, 2pm KO