Last Saturday saw the first-ever match between Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors’ women’s teams as part of the Celtic Challenge, delivering an entertaining match that was more closely fought than the scoreboard suggested, but with Edinburgh finishing as deserved 28-12 winners.
Edinburgh started better and dominated the early stages. Their first try came after a strong carry from the impressive tighthead Katie Lindsay, one of several she made, before being worked through the backs and finished well by Cieron Bell; a successful conversion made it 7-0.
Glasgow worked the phases when they got possession but Edinburgh’s defence was well-organised and able to contain and soak up pressure a little better than Glasgow, particularly in the first half, proving one of the key points of difference.
Another was the experience and control that stand-off Sarah Denholm and inside centre Briar McNamara gave to Edinburgh. These two combined for the pick of the tries, an absolute peach from Edinburgh.
Denholm showed excellent vision and execution to pop through a grubber kick, and McNamara anticipated well, ran on to it and finished brilliantly. The try was again converted and Edinburgh led 14-0.
Glasgow were not letting Edinburgh have it all their own way though. Rhea Clarke and Ceitidh Ainsworth kept up the tempo and the forwards were also battling hard and carrying well. Good carries from the likes of Lucy Winter and Nikki Simpson got them field position and the team once again went patiently through the phases before Louise McMillan showed brilliant strength to power through tackles and get the Warriors’ first try. The conversion drifted wide in the wind, but Glasgow were back in the game at 14-5.
Edinburgh, however, made sure that it was a dominant first half for them with a third try, coming after some well-worked play following a line out. McNamara took them close and then the forwards racked up the carries, with the props heavily involved and Poppy Fletcher getting the score. Another successful conversion from the composed Nicole Marlow made it 21-5 at half-time.
Warriors started the second half much better than Edinburgh, who started to make mistakes, perhaps the effect of a sleet shower during the on-field half-time huddles. Glasgow certainly seemed more fired up and determined to come back into the game. They were keeping possession better and doing more with it, with Edinburgh’s Bell also seeing yellow for a high tackle. Although Warriors didn’t score while up a player, the try came soon after. Following a scrappy line out, there were some good carries from the forwards, most notably from Winter and then Ailie Tucker drove over the line, and the score was 21-12.
Edinburgh struck back pretty quickly and their fourth try followed a similar pattern to Glasgow’s second. Recovering from a messy line out, Alex Stewart smashed through the defence on a brilliant run and then McNamara stormed through to her second try.
Edinburgh finished the strongest and really should have got a fifth try after an excellent move was nearly finished by Rachel Philipps, who was excellent throughout as a late replacement for Emma Orr, but incredible work from Lucy MacRae held her up over the line.
Further talking points
Given the weather conditions, it was impressive the game was as good as it was. It was absolutely Baltic out there, with an icy breeze, snow in the build-up and then frequent sleet showers throughout. This contributed to more handling errors than the teams would have liked but their skills and commitment definitely shone out despite the cold and wet.
A lack of time together also showed with the occasional bit of miscommunication or mistimed running line, as well as some problems at the lineout, particularly for Edinburgh. That familiarity will grow as they build towards their next games. Lineout work will be key for Edinburgh for their next game as both Irish sides looked strong in that area on Friday. As for Glasgow, both Welsh sides possess a lot of experience in the forwards, so they will need them to front up even more in their next game.
Briar McNamara was a deserved player of the match – excellent throughout, her kicking skills gave Edinburgh good territory, she was inches from a 50:22, she finished her tries brilliantly and put in a particularly crunching tackle.
There were plenty of other standouts.
For Edinburgh, Sarah Denholm was a great play-maker and game manager and Cieron Bell was narrowly the pick of an excellent Edinburgh back three. Katie Lindsay’s carrying was brilliant, and the replacement front row proved to be a bomb squad in the scrum. On the Glasgow side, Louise McMillan showed her class and power in a forward pack that all played well, and Lucy MacRae caught the eye in both attack and defence.
It was fantastic to see nearly 2000 people at the game, and it’s a shame that demand seems to have been slightly underestimated meaning that some who wanted to attend weren’t able to with only the main stand on sale. A small crowd could be seen peering through the fences either side of the Murrayfield stand, although that won’t count towards the official figures!
There is still an element of the SRU not quite getting the game experience right at women’s games – just one food van for 2000 people at a 12 pm kick off, a long queue to go through the one designated route to the main Murrayfield complex after the game, which wasn’t ideal in the cold.
But it feels like quibbling when it is great to see this revamped competition and two new teams get off to such a good start overall.
To end on the positive, possibly the best of all sites was the 20-minute cameo from Jenny Maxwell. Her smile when she went off suggested that a shorter run out had always been the plan. Maxwell fought through one horrendous injury lay-off only to be injured again a few months later. It has then been about a 20-month journey to get back here, and to see she had lost none of her class and control was brilliant.
Fingers crossed we will also see her back soon in a Scotland shirt.