Since its resumption in 2011, the spectacle of the Scottish Varsity has only grown. Yesterday’s clash between St Andrews and Edinburgh was the second held at Murrayfield, the home of Scottish Rugby, and was bigger and better than the year prior.
This year saw the fixture given an even bigger promotional push, resulting in 10,156 in attendance for the game from both Universities, and it was put at the centre of the new Kingdom vs Capital Cup. The Universities sport clubs met in fixtures throughout the day across varying sports on the ‘Road to Murrayfield’. It was designed so that all the other sports could be done by the time the women’s game kicked off at 5pm.
Edinburgh’s women had been too much for St Andrews last year and with St Andrews unable to name a full substitutes bench, it was always going to be a struggle. Add into that the small issue of Edinburgh having international players amongst their starting XV eight and St Andrews had their backs against the wall from the get go. What then transpired over the next 40 minutes was perhaps no surprise, although the margin probably was.
Poise, speed and power all sprang to mind when trying to describe the performance by Edinburgh’s women from whistle to whistle (to whistle). Edinburgh had rattled off five tries in the opening 12 minutes, all expertly converted by the Edinburgh captain Sarah Law. That completely killed any contest that may have occurred over the remaining 28 minutes in the match.
St Andrews saw little of the ball and even when they did, Edinburgh were too strong and too organised for St Andrews to break through. A clear example of this was their sixth try. Saints had enjoyed some good possession but the ball was ripped from the St Andrews full-back Alexis Jenkins in the tackle and Edinburgh’s inside centre Lisa Thomson sprinted clear from halfway to dot down.
Their margin had increased to 47-0 at the break and it didn’t take them long to score again after the interval with hooker Hannah Kurtz going over the whitewash. Woman of the Match Megan Gaffney soon scored the next one, breaking several tackles and showing some incredible footwork. It was a beautiful try and one you felt you just had to applaud.
Tighthead prop Katie Dougan scored a hat-trick in the last ten minutes, whilst there were also tries for wingers Rhona Lloyd and Natalie Guy. The final score was 97-0 to Edinburgh and to be honest was an accurate reflection of their domination. They are one of the nation’s very best and hopefully the St Andrews girls can learn from that defeat during the season ahead.
Taking such a beating could have deadened the atmosphere inside the stadium but there was a raucous reception for the announcement of the teams on one of the big screens. The two squads lined up for official photographs and to shake hands with past and present Scottish Rugby presidents and representatives from match sponsors RBS. It all seemed very official and only seemed to heighten the atmosphere for the game.
When you first play rugby you are always told that the first hits in a match make a difference as they send an impression to the opposition. Those lessons obviously stuck with the players from both teams and both sides landed some huge hits in the opening encounters as both sides sought a foothold in the game.
Edinburgh had a great chance to take the lead just five minutes in, as their forward pack got a huge shove on in the scrum and earned a penalty. Fly-half Dave O’Sullivan opted for the kick but dragged it wide.
The team in green would be the ones to take the lead, though. They managed to string several phases together, producing an overlap on the right wing which allowed Robbie Kent to go over in the corner. It was converted by O’Sullivan for an early 7-0 lead.
That cushion was to last for precisely five minutes before St Andrews got control of the game. A long kick from St Andrews fly-half and captain Scott Docherty caused the Edinburgh backline a whole host of problems and a poor clearing kick from their full-back Jon Price saw St Andrews regain possession just 10 metres from the line. Some good work drew a penalty which scrum-half Charlie Davies took quickly. That created a dog leg in the Edinburgh defence that saw second row Ludovic Meaby crash over. Scott Docherty levelled the scores from the tee but his kick was followed by a long pause as one of the Edinburgh players was stretchered from the field after being knocked out in the build up to the try.
The gap in proceedings gave both sides to collect their thoughts and re-group after a frantic opening quarter of an hour. It seemed to benefit St Andrews more, though, as they started to show some great hands and incisive running moves. The game was very physical throughout and that seemed to favour St Andrews, who dominated possession and did a lot of the running.
The second St Andrews try came after 25 minutes and was a great team try. The forwards managed to string a series of phases together before flanker Ruari Bell went over the line but Docherty was unable to add the extras as hit conversion hit the post. The fly-half also narrowly missed a penalty before the break as St Andrews went into the tunnel 12-7 to the good.
Edinburgh’s Dave O’Sullivan was sent to the sin bin with 47 minutes on the clock and that was a real blow to the capital side who were already struggling to get territory and string phases together. St Andrews were able to make the most of their man advantage, Rob Lind the beneficiary of a driving maul from a lineout. Docherty landed his kick to stretch St Andrews lead to 12 points with half an hour still to play.
The pace slowed over the next ten minutes or so before Edinburgh managed to get a try out of nowhere to keep St Andrews honest with a quarter of an hour left. A long kick wasn’t properly dealt with and Edinburgh flanker Scott Burnside was the main beneficiary. A missed conversion meant that the capital side would still need more than a converted try to win the game but it at least gave them a chance.
However, St Andrews were to have the last say as they scored their fourth try of the evening in the dying embers of the game. Some amazing team work, led by Docherty’s incisive quick penalty saw Mark Wilson score in the corner. In an annual fixture that has increasingly become a tradition, déjà vu is inevitable. There was something uncanny then about the conversion of that final try. It was more or less in the same position as the dramatic penalty from Finn Murphy one year prior that won St Andrews the fixture in the final seconds. Docherty’s kick came up short but it didn’t matter as it gave them an unassailable 12 point lead. That was how the game would finish, 24-12, with St Andrews victors for the fourth consecutive year.
One of the only issues with the day were the fans who decided to run on the pitch during the second half. Yes, they did provide some amusement, but it completely ruined the tone of what had been a very good event. Indeed, the extra security presence that those individuals forced then meant that some people with pitchside seats had a limited view of the final stages of the game. That aside, the event was superbly organised again and was a great day out for students of all ages.
Credit must go to the players from both teams, with impressive St Andrews performers including Scott Docherty, Ruari Bell, Ashton Squires and Scott MacGregor. David Ross has done a phenomenal job with those players and the increased fitness from two weeks of brutal pre-season was on display throughout.
Well done St Andrews, the kingdom reigns supreme once more!