STUART RUTHERFORD @ BT Murrayfield
A DRAMATIC last gasp try from Hannah Smith spoiled Murrayfield Wanderers’ hopes of a fourth consecutive Cup success, and allowed Hillhead-Jordanhill to get their hands on the trophy for the first time since 2013.
The capital outfit shot to a ten-point lead, however, two brilliant solo tries from Smith and Abi Evans flipped the script to give the Glasgow side held a slender 13-19 lead at the break. When Murrayfield’s Eilidh Sinclair scored against the run of play after 60 minutes, it appeared as though the league champions would continue their run of dominance in the competition, that was until Smith waltzed in for her second score of the day with only minutes to spare.
The result left Hillhead/Jordanhill captain Louise McMillan feeling understandably delighted.
“I’m so proud of the girls. Before the match, we talked about how we thought we deserved the victory, but I think we really earned it today. There was obviously a bit of panic in the first-half, and you saw it again in the second-half at times, but we managed to flip the switch and say: We’re going to win this now,” said the flanker.
“For a while people questioned whether we could beat them (Murrayfield Wanderers), but we’ve always had that belief, and today we showed what we’re capable of.”
Smith, who deservedly won woman-of-the-match, was an unstoppable force in attack all afternoon, and ended the match with two fine tries – including the match-winner.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking at times but we pulled it out the bag. We were obviously shaky, but our leaders such as Jade (Konkel) and Louise (McMillan) really pulled us through,” she said.
The match began with Hillhead/Jordanhill controlling the lion’s share of possession, and as they gradually worked the ball deep inside the Murrayfield half, through a series of neat of interlinking passes, it appeared as though they may draw first blood. However, in the midst of a promising attack, stand-off Abby Cook attempted a no-look pass, which Murrayfield’s Helen Nelson read perfectly. In one fell swoop, the inside-centre plucked the ball out of thin air, before a mad scramble for the whitewash ensued. When Nelson was eventually caught ten metres from the try-line, the capital side attempted to move the ball wide at pace, but when Hillhead/Jordanhill were caught offside at the resulting ruck, the referee had no other option but to award a penalty, which Lisa Martin duly slotted home.
With the wind in their sales, Wanderers set about increasing their advantage, and 10 minutes later they scored the first try of the afternoon. From an attacking lineout just inside Hillhead/Jordanhill’s 22, the ball was eventually brought down before the capital side’s menacing pack started to gather momentum. With the opposition back-pedalling at pace, it was only a matter of time before Murrayfield scored, and when the ball found it’s way into the hands of Jennifer Cram, the back-row had the simplest task of collapsing over the line. Helen Nelson nailed the tricky touchline conversion.
With number eight and Scotland internationalist Jade Konkel leading from the front, Hillhead/Jordanhill began to claw themselves back into the contest, but they lacked penetration. That was until Hannah Smith collected the ball on the half-way line. With Murrayfield’s back-line drifting wide, the inside-centre threw a deft dummy – leaving her opposite number completely bamboozled – and with only Chloe Rollie to beat, Smith turned on the afterburners to cap off a magnificent solo try.
Hillhead/Jordanhill had snatched the impetus and only moments later they took the lead after impressive work from their midfield pairing. Following a powerful drive, which brought the Glasgow side within only metres of the whitewash, the ball was eventually recycled to the awaiting Smith, who showed splendid footwork to beat her marker. She was eventually smothered by the scrambling Murrayfield defence inches from the try-line, but centre partner Abi Evans was on hand to crash over.
The capital side were clearly rattled by this onslaught of tries, and Hillhead/Jordanhill were clearly determined to continue striking while the iron was hot, and they soon added their third try of the afternoon, through Evans again on an arcing 30 yard run which showed just how much pace she has.
Wanderers managed to stop the rot with their second penalty of the afternoon to make it 13-19, before the match was halted for 10 minutes while Hillhead/Jordanhill winger Sarah Smith was treated for a head injury.
With both sides playing a cautious brand of rugby, the opening twenty minutes of the second-half were pretty uneventful, until Wanderers took a surprise lead against the run of play, putting together a neat string of pick-and-goes which sucked in the Hillhead/Jordanhill defence, before the ball was quickly played through the back-line to Eilidh Sinclair, who showed an impressive turn of pace to round her defender for the score. With Nelson, yet again, curling in the conversion, the score read 20-19.
When Martin dissected the uprights for her third penalty of the afternoon, it left the the capital outfit on the verge of a league and cup double, but only moments after the restart Hillhead/Jordanhill snatched possession deep inside the Murrayfield 22, and with the crowd on their feet in anticipation of a match-winner the girls from the west inched closer and closer to the whitewash through a number of powerful drives. Then, with Wanderers’ fringe defence at sixes and sevens, the ball was played down the blind-side to Smith, who ghosted in for the dramatic, cup-winning, score.
Murrayfield: C Rollie; E Bonet, S Callender, H Nelson, E Sinclair; L Martin, J Taylor; B Dicken, S Quick, L Robertson, S McCormack, E Wassell, J Cram, L Park, R Cook. Subs: A Wilson, K Fisher, C O’Driscoll, J Alford, K Auckland, E Wilson, C Newton.
Hillhead/Jordanhill: A Watson; S Smith, A Evans, H Smith, L Willis; A Cook, M McDonald; H Lockhart, S Kyalikunda, L Smith, K McConnell, K Reid, H Telling, L McMillan (c), J Konkel. Subs: F Dorman, D Falconer, J Johnston, M van Wyngaarden, K Openshaw, A Gaffney, K Daly.
Referee: Alexandra Gordon Smith
Murrayfield: Tries: Cram, Sinclair; Cons: Nelson 2; Pens: Martin 3
Hillhead/Jordanhill: Tries: Smith 2, Evans 2; Cons: Cook 3
Scoring sequence (Murrayfield first): 3-0; 10-0; 10-7; 10-14; 10-19; 13-19 (h-t) 20-19; 23-19; 23-26
Player-of-the-Match: Whilst Abi Evans had an equally impressive afternoon – finishing the match with two excellently taken tries – it was her running mate Hannah Smith who was ultimately the best player on the park. The inside-centre backed herself at every given opportunity and could have scored an even better solo-try than the one she claimed were it not for some heroic scrambling defence.
Talking point: Perseverance: thats the moral of today’s Sarah Beaney Cup. After losing the final three years in a row, Hillhead/Jordanhill finally got their hands back on the trophy. The Glasgow outfit will now be chomping at the bit to start next season’s league campaign.