Ayr Ladies put in a performance to be proud of at Millbrae on Friday night as they went head-to-head with one of Scotland's best teams and gave the big crowd something to shout about.
Hillhead/Jordanhill has a long and proud history of producing international players and reaching more cup finals than you can shake a stick at. When the team last visited Millbrae to take on Ayr in the Sarah Beaney Cup semi-finals earlier this year, they showed just why they're so revered. This time, however, they didn't get things all their own way.
The power, pace and skill of the visitors were on show right from the off, and they opened the scores with a converted try early on. 0-7.
The ladies in pink and black knew they would have to get stuck into tackles and get stuck in they did, stand-off Catherine Shennan, winger Connie Griffiths and centres Catriona Cowan and Julie David leading the way.
The scrum took a battering at times, but the front row of captain Laura Turner, Lauren Gunn and Louise McLauchlan, shored up later by replacements Lisa Croniken and Michelle Nelson, did well under immense pressure.
Number eight Lynda Morgan managed to pick up from the back and make a break, with full-back Claire Law, Gunn, Turner, Shennan and scrum-half Emily Irving in support.
Flanker Kelsey Swift was not only looking for gaps in attack but tackling her heart out in defence, the diminutive back rower dragging down players twice her size.
Along with second rows Joanne Jones and Phoebe McDowall, she got Ayr into an attacking position in Hills' twenty-two and when the ladies from Hughenden strayed off-side, Law sprang into action, scurrying round the defence and over in the corner for a try. Shennan couldn't get the touchline conversion. 5-7.
The visitors replied with three converted tries in a row, their powerful forwards smothering Ayr and their lively backs finishing up. 5-28.
Ayr knew to expect fireworks from Hills, and instead of standing back and gazing at the show, they got their heads down and worked hard.
Swift and Gunn, voted the players of the match by Ayr and Hills respectively, were tireless in defence. Griffiths attacked well along with flanker Rachel Morrison when they wrestled possession away from the visitors.
It looked like another score was imminent as Hills pressed relentlessly towards Ayr's line. But some sterling work by the Millbrae women saw them turn the hot shots over and Morrison flew through their defence, running this way and that until she was into their half, fending off tacklers and lobbing the ball brilliantly over their heads to reach her backs.
Hills were pinged for a high tackle, but although Ayr could scent the try, they gave away a penalty themselves and Hills were off like a runaway train for yet another converted try. 5-35.
A solid scrum from the home team unleashed Griffiths, Shennan and Cowan, whose fantastic pass found the hands of David, who blasted her way through the defenders for a stunning try that Shennan easily converted. 12-35.
Hills swarmed all over Ayr, and even though Turner, McLauchlan and Croniken were firing the ball at speed, they were turned over. Big tackles from Cowan and winger Ann-Marie Connelly couldn't stop the juggernaut. The final try before half-time was unconverted. 12-40.
An unconverted try for Hills got the second half off to a start, quickly followed by another. 12-50.
The scrum was under pressure, but Irving did well to retrieve the ball and get it away to Shennan. However, they were beginning to get bullied and the turnovers kept coming.
Ayr had a great one of their own though, replacement Rachael Mulholland working hard at the breakdown.
But Hills couldn't be halted, and they claimed two further unconverted tries. 12-60.
It wasn't quite the pasting the scoreline suggests. Ayr camped out in Hills' twenty-two for several periods. the line-out held firm and despite the exhausting tackles, they didn't tire.
Even when three more Hills tries were scored - two converted - Ayr Ladies looked anything but despondent.
Morrison, Shennan, David and replacements Lisa Main and Kirsty Wilson were excellent with ball in hand, Morrison having the vision to chip over the top of the marauding Hills defence and chase. They couldn't get another score, alas.
When the final whistle came, both sets of players and their supporters showed their appreciation for a terrific game of rugby. They're just a few matches into their first season in the BT Premier League, but Ayr Ladies are growing in confidence with every performance.
Final score: Ayr Ladies 12 Hillhead/Jordanhill 79.
- Elena Hogarth.