Oban ladies head for Murrayfield final

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Oban Lorne Ladies 29, Howe of Fife Harlequins 5

BT Women’s Bowl semi-final

Oban Lorne Ladies took to the field on Sunday in the biggest game of their 15-year history as they welcomed National Division 1 side Howe of Fife Harlequins for the much anticipated BT National Bowl semi-final.

For Oban, this game has been the reward for what has already been a hugely successful 2017/18 season with the team securing the National Division 2 title in style by winning all 10 fixtures played so far and only conceding two tries in the process. The Bowl competition has offered the team a chance to take on higher league opponents and challenge for a national final place at BT Murrayfield on Silver Saturday, April 28.

A large home crowd gathered at Glencruitten as the teams were piped onto the field on a fantastic spring day. Oban Lorne coach Corrie Louw and team manager Darrell Williams had a full squad to choose from with the strong contingent being led by captain Laura ‘America’ MacCormick.

Oban made a strong start to the game and were eager to get on the scoreboard early to ease some of their pre-match nerves. Italian centre Erika Skofca had a strong run early in the game giving Oban a great attacking platform to play from. Unfortunately, the ball was knocked on near the line, gifting Howe a reprieve in the form of a five-metre scrum.

A handling mistake from Howe’s stand-off at the tryline was gathered up by Oban inside centre Kirsty Sinclair, who made the visitors pay for their mistake touching down for an early try. Oban led 7-0 after a straightforward conversion from Lucy Stewart.

Despite going ahead so early on, this was not to be a one-sided fixture, as has been the case in the majority of Oban’s fixtures this season. Howe Harlequins possessed a big physical presence and were competing very well at the breakdown thanks to their impressive blindside flanker and second row.

The visitors enjoyed a strong spell in the game during the first 20 minutes but were undone at times with some fantastic Oban tackling. Ailsa MacLachlan was having a storming start to the game with her work rate in defence being particularly impressive. Impressive, too, was a big hit from winger Ellen Barlow, who managed to hold back a promising Howe attack.

The visitors hit back on the scoreboard after around 20 minutes as a quickly taken free kick was finished off over the line reducing the deficit to two points at 7-5 to Oban.

It was the visitors who controlled the majority of possession and territory during the first half but were limited in scoring opportunities down to a fantastic defensive attitude by the whole Oban team.

Oban, when in possession, looked the more promising side in attack and broke upfield on a couple of occasions with runs from try scorer Kirsty Sinclair and captain Laura MacCormick.

The reward for Oban’s superb defensive display was a second try that was scored just five minutes before the half-time break. Rachel MacDonald’s run upfield gifted Oban possession close to the tryline. Some clever play by scrum-half Audrey Barr allowed prop Ellie MacNiven to power over the line and extend Oban’s lead to 12-5.

Both sides played out a largely uneventful closing to the first half as Oban went in to the break as narrow leaders.

Oban’s efforts were dealt a blow early in the second half with prop Ellie MacNiven being removed from the field due to a concussion. MacNiven was replaced by Nienke Van Geel who proved to be a very strong replacement, impressing at scrum time throughout the second half.

It took Oban 15 minutes of the second half to orchestrate a promising attacking move. Stand-off Lucy Stewart broke free from her own half and had a timely offload to the onrushing Erika Skofca, who raced clear and touched down for Oban’s third try of the game. This extended the score to 17-5 as a tricky conversion bounced back off the uprights.

Oban were now looking very dangerous every time they had the ball in hand, with notable good plays from full-back Kelly Lamont and winger Ellen Barlow. Unfortunately, Barlow had been carrying an injury from around half-time and she was replaced by Lyndsay Waterson coming off the bench.

The home side were starting to dominate and were unlucky not to score their fourth try of the game after some good forward play resulted in the ball being held up over the line.

From a five-metre scrum, Oban found their fourth try and a bit of breathing space that came along with it.

The hugely impressive Ailsa MacLachlan just managed to touch down underneath the posts, a big reward for her hard work through the game as she extended her team’s lead to 24-5.

Oban could now relax a little and were looking very confident with the ball in hand. Further good runs from Erika Skofca, Kelly Lamont, Kirsty Sinclair and Rachel MacDonald were putting the tiring Howe defence under pressure.

With 10 minutes remaining, Oban pressed for their final try of the day. Some clever play by Rachel MacDonald and Lyndsay Waterson allowed the ball to be spun from left to right across the pitch, eventually finding the determined Erika Skofca, who finished off her second try of the game putting the result out of sight at 29-5.

Despite being behind in the game, huge credit must be given to Howe Harlequins who never gave up and had a very strong finish to the match.

The visitors dominated the closing stages of the play but could not find a clinical edge to get past the yet again strong Oban defence.

As the final whistle was blown their were celebrations all round Glencruitten as Oban Lorne Ladies now progress to the BT National Bowl final at BT Murrayfield on Saturday April 28.

Despite the celebrations, Oban were very respectful of Howe Harlequins, who were without doubt the most impressive side Oban have played against this season. Sunday’s game could at one stage have gone either way and a 29-5 scoreline does not reflect how the majority of the game was played.

Key players for Oban on the day such as Laura MacCormick and the centre paring of Sinclair and Skofca contributed well to the win but nobody could come close to emulating the efforts of flanker Ailsa MacLachlan, who simply put in an outstanding performance.

The team enjoyed their aftermatch celebrations in a packed Glencruitten clubhouse but the attention for now goes back to league duty where the team face a tough trip away to Kelso this Sunday.

Oban Lorne Ladies will be taking on Garioch RFC Women in the Bowl final, after they had a convincing 55-0 against Orkney in the other semi-final game. Tickets for Oban Lorne’s final on Silver Saturday can be purchased via the Scottish Rugby website with supporters being encouraged to choose Oban Lorne from the list of available clubs to receive commission from the gate receipts.

More details for the final will be announced by the club in due course.

The ladies’ team would like to thank the Regent Hotel in Oban for their fantastic team breakfast on Sunday as well as Tommy Sutherland from Bespoke Hotels who provided a buffet and aftermatch meal for the team and supporters. Thanks must also go to the long list of ongoing sponsors and supporters who made the event on Sunday go extremely well.

Oban Lorne Ladies:
L. MacCormick ©, S. Keppie, E. MacNiven, V. Speirs, G. Mitchell, R. Sims, A. MacLachlan, C. Leslie, A. Barr, L. Stewart, K. Sinclair, E, Skofca, E. Barlow, R. MacDonald, K. Lamont.
N. Van Geel, C. MacPherson, H. Cringles, H. Bean, S. Rosinski, L. Waterson, L. Comer.