With the men’s world cup final taking place last weekend, rugby season is very much in full swing. However, far from Japan on a cold but nonetheless sunny afternoon in St Andrews, the women’s rugby team took on their Stirling counterparts. It was a performance marked by determination, but ultimately one where the Saints did not get the result they were hoping for, ending up defeated 31-20. The Saints came into this match off the back of two defeats, although both came at the hands of fine margins. A loss to Edinburgh at the beginning of the month saw them lose by one point, with the final score sitting at 27-28. The following game was held up in Aberdeen, where they lost 14-12. By contrast, Stirling women came into the game in fine form, having won both their previous games, against Aberdeen and Edinburgh Napier respectively. In particular, their victory against Napier saw them win 47-17. It would have been easy to suggest this would be a straightforward win for Stirling given that their confidence must have been high after such impressive victories. However, the Saints were the ones to initially start the match with the first few passages of play, being scrappy affairs which constantly resulted in a changeover in possession.
Neither side was affording the other much breathing space. It was not to last though, with Stirling upping the tempo and capitalising on an error by the homeside which saw their fly-half breakthrough for the first try of the match. They were to keep up the pressure and, just six minutes later, the same fly-half got her second try of the afternoon. Having scored the first conversion, the tie sat at 12-0. It was looking set to be a long afternoon for the home side and Stirling looked to be on their way to another impressive victory. Ultimately though, Stirling’s first two tries were initiated by a sloppy turnover in possession, rather than any individual brilliance. After some sustained pressure from the Saints, they got their first try of the game from fly-half Emily Jones, who then failed to convert the kick, but most importantly had got the home side on the score sheet. Sadly though, they could not keep this burst of energy up and they would go in at half-time having conceded another try which put them 17-5 down. Things weren’t looking brilliant for the home side, but whatever the coach, Sarah Hogwood, said to them was implemented fantastically in the opening twenty minutes of the second half. Given that they were trailing 17- 5, Stirling could have looked to run away with things, but the Saints continued to show resilience and put in a brave performance. A chaotic start saw Stirling pushed right back towards their own try-line. After multiple attempts to break them down, it looked like their defence might hold strong, but Jones again managed to break through and get the score back to 17-10. Stirling came close to immediately responding but Kaitie Golub was there to burst up the field at a great pace.
Although she was unable to score a try herself, this did lead to the Saints pulling it back to 17-15. It was not a day for conversions as the home side failed to convert any of the resultant kicks from their tries. In saying that, Stirling also failed to make the most of their own conversions, which could have pushed the scoreline towards something that looked more like their previous two results. Perhaps it was tiredness that got to the Saints eventually. As they entered the final 20 minutes of the second half, it looked like an incredible comeback was perhaps on the cards. Alas, it was not meant to be as Stirling went on to score their next two tries and conversions, before one final try from the home side in the dying moments of the game.
Despite the result, Sarah Hogwood was quick to praise her team. Speaking to The Saint, she said, “I think it was a bit of a slow start. “The last couple of games we have had a bit of a slow start which is frustrating, but we picked it up in the second half. Basic skills were looking better, [and] we were linking phases of play together and a bit better at exploiting their weaknesses. “Obviously, it wasn’t the result we were looking for but there’s plenty of positives and negatives to take away and work on in training.” One of those positives will no doubt be the reaction from her side in the first 20 minutes of the second half. Having asked her what the message was at half-time, Hogwood said, “For me, it’s always about what’s going well and what do we need to work on depending on what the opposition are doing. “The scrum was working well, we were moving them back which meant we had a go-forward ball so, off-that, we asked what we should be doing which was to play a bit faster. “We realised our catch and pass was the thing that was letting us down and preventing us from doing that so it’s just looking at that and the basics. “If we can do them well, then we can do better.”
As their coach said, if they can get off to a faster start in future games, there are a lot of positives going forward for this side. Ultimately, they did play well when faced with some tough opposition who have dominated their last two matches by a much bigger margin than this. From their coaches comments, she seems to have a very clear idea of what the team needs to work on in order to further improve. Forgetting the result though, if this performance is anything to go by, the Saints are heading in the right direction. They will hopefully find themselves on the opposite end of the fine margins that have defined some of their recent losses