Women’s rugby in Scotland takes another leap forward this weekend as the national cup final on the international pitch at BT Murrayfield is broadcast live for the first time.
If the league clashes between up-and-coming Watsonians and the champions of Hillhead-Jordanhill are anything to go by then BBC Alba viewers will be in for a treat when the Sarah Beaney Cup is contested for a 19th time, the final kicking off at 5:35pm tomorrow.
Named in honour of the former Murrayfield Wanderers and Scotland A player who was tragically killed in a road accident 14 years ago, it looks certain to be a much closer affair than last year’s meeting between the same two sides, when the Hill Jills made it two in a row with a comfortable 68-12 triumph.
Watsonians have filled the void in the capital created by the split at 12-time cup winning superpower Murrayfield Wanderers, who have seen a number of players moving to create a new team at Heriot’s, and have pushed the Glasgow side hard this season.
They beat Hillhead-Jordanhill 28-27 at home this season and lost 40-39 away, which gives their skipper Nicola Nightingale confidence that they have a genuine chance of lifting the trophy.
“It was a big occasion for the girls last year because it was the first time Watsonians had been in a Sarah Beaney Cup final and the club made a big thing of it,” said the former Scotland stand-off.
“I think this year we’re ready. We’ve learned a lot from last year and the difference in the team in 12 months is massive so we’re definitely there to fight this weekend.”
Hills skipper Louise McMillan is certainly expecting nothing less as she looks to lead her team to a third successive win.
“Watsonians have come on leaps and bounds and put pressure on us in both the games this season but that’s helped show us where we need to work on,” said the Scotland openside flanker, who missed the recent Six Nations with a shoulder injury.
“That’s the beauty of having a repeat fixture. We know what the other team is going to do and I think the start is going to be really important.”
McMillan is used to appearing on TV through her exploits with the national team and the University of Glasgow law student is pleased to see coverage of the women’s game broaden.
“I just hope for the girls it doesn’t change anything and they’re focused on it being televised,” she said with a laugh. “But, yes, for women’s rugby it’s great to have the club game on the same showcase as the international team got during the Six Nations.
“I’ve got family all over the country so it’s great to have them watching. And for anyone it’s great for them to see it’s not all about the internationals; there are great players in the club game as well.”
McMillan, who has an exam on the Monday after the final, is relishing the newfound rivalry with the burgeoning Watsonians but admits to feeling a sadness that the famous Murrayfield Wanderers are no longer a factor, albeit often an annoying one, in her rugby life following last year’s breakaway.
“It’s a strange one not having Wandies around,” she said.
“This is my fifth cup final and I remember in the first two Hills just could not beat them. They were like this unstoppable force in women’s rugby.
“Even now you look at the cup and see their name engraved all over it so it’s strange not to have what was such a dominant name anymore.
“But then you see the growth of Watsonians, and Hills are still performing well, so there is still great rugby happening but it is sad that they’ve had that split.”