Looking out of the window as I am writing, the skies are leaden and the traditional Scottish mist has descended, but when St Andrews’ Women’s Rugby first XV played their final fixture of this year’s BUCS season it was as if spring had arrived for the late season fixture between the league leaders. Conditions could not be more perfect for attacking rugby, and the game would go on to show as much.
St Andrews went into the tie on the back of a fantastic season, with wins against Dundee and Aberdeen in the last two fixtures seeing them into second place in the BUCS league. Glasgow went into the game as distant league leaders, unable to be caught, and were one of only two sides to have defeated St Andrews, and themselves were only defeated once previously in the season.
It was St Andrews who made the immediate impact, drawing an obstruction penalty shortly after kick off on a pristine R1, and the resulting line out saw inside centre Rihannon Fox-Rothwell channel Johnny May she found her way through the Glasgow defence for the first try of the match after just one minute of play. The conversion was a foregone conclusion from in front of the posts, and at 7-0 it was not long before the Saints’ backs again showed their running prowess as an offload from fly-half Siân McGuinness to outside centre Alexis Jenkins once again broke the visitors’ line, but a fumble in the following play led to the first scrum of the game in favour of Glasgow, which was well won in a scrum similar to how Theresa May would describe her 2015 government.
Indeed, the Glasgow scrum proved to be the more effective outfit throughout the game, but it was from a St Andrews scrum which brought the next score, as full back Seamus Parratt showed her pace, making 50 yards before offloads through McGuinness and winger Phoebe Drew saw the ball held up on the line. McGuinness was the recipient from the scrum-five and sold the defender a fantastic dummy as she took the ball in for the home side’s second try. 10 minutes later, she would score again, this time from halfway as the Glasgow defence parted like a watermelon under the influence of an axe. After 20 minutes of play, the score stood at 19-0 with St Andrews in complete control.
Glasgow’s line speed in defence was simply not quick enough to dampen the power of St Andrews’ runners, while their own attack was struggling to make any progress on the gain line. Their first effective attacking period came from the kickoff following Saints’ third try, as a knock on from the kick taker led to a scrum deep in the St Andrews 22. Now St Andrews showed their defensive prowess, holding the ball up short of the line and turning over possession at the breakdown. McGuinness kicked to touch on halfway, and the threat was weathered. Not long after, McGuinness found herself the recipient of a pass out of a maul deep in enemy territory, and once again forced her way over to complete her hattrick in the corner.
Glasgow showed some more attacking promise towards the end of the half, but Parratt was imperious in defence, forcing a knock on in the tackle on the visiting runner. On the stroke of halftime, McGuinness, as if providing a demonstration on running rugby, showed feet most often seen on the dancefloors of Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom to score under the posts from well within her own half. It was a dominant, ruthless half of rugby from the home side, and the scoreline of 31-0 left none doubting which side was in the ascendency.
Both sides made numerous changes at the break, but initially it seemed to make little difference, as runs from McGuinness and Parratt saw St Andrews threaten again in the corner, but the killer pass was ruled forward to spare the visitors any more embarrassment. However, the Glasgow changes began to take, and a quick penalty from an offside infringement was scored. This was reinforced by another try immediately after the kickoff, as, despite the best efforts of Parratt, her opposite number found her way through the defence to score in the corner. With the score now at 31-12 going into the final 20 minutes, the momentum had thoroughly shifted to the advantage of the away side, and while the deficit was still sizeable, complacency could easily have led a glimmer of hope for Glasgow to become a raging supernova.
Thankfully for the home side, complacency had been left in the changing room, as McGuinness stopped the rot following a fine kick in-behind, going over in the corner for her fifth try of the match. This enlivened the home defence and, despite one final try for their opponents, they saw the match to its conclusion at 36-17, holding off Glasgow with some valiant tackling to prevent any chance of a late comeback.
Both sides played some truly fantastic rugby over the course of the match, and in some ways, the scoreline does not give Glasgow full credit for their performance. Their scrum was extremely effective throughout, even taking the ball against the head on numerous occasions, and there was some fantastically powerful running among the backs.
The fact that this was nullified to the extent that the match appears as a drubbing on the scorecard is testament to the ruthless efficiency Saints showed in attack, with McGuinness’s five tries being the obvious standout, but line breaks from the two centres and support from the back three were crucial throughout to create those chances. And, despite the tries scored by Glasgow, their defence was masterful. From the start, the visiting attack found themselves hitting a brick wall around the breakdown, and Parratt at full back was relentless in tracking down and flooring any runners who made it through the line. This was a fine performance to close a BUCS season in second place in the league, and they will look to take these successes into the upcoming sevens season.