GREENOCK Wanderers made history on Saturday when their seven-a-side team won the Fort Matilda Trophy for the second successive year.
The locals have never successfully defended the trophy before and Saturday’s triumph was only the sixth time the Greenock side have won their own tournament since its inception in 1948.
It was an excellent effort by the pool of nine players captained by Brendan McGroarty and the celebrations went on long into the night.
The success was part of Wanderers’ rugby festival weekend and the event got off to a great start on Friday evening when the newly-established ladies team played host to a Royal High/Corstorphine side who also had some guest players.
The visitors are an established club in Scottish ladies rugby circles but an excellent showing by the Greenock girls made them work hard for their 7-5 victory.
Captain Caitlyn Haldane led her side with distinction and several fine performances were posted, most notably from Emma Grace, Angela Marshall, Kathryn Aviss, and Tina Hemphill. Newcomer Nicole Boffey enjoyed a fine debut and Lynsey O’Neil caught the eye with some determined running.
It was the Edinburgh side who opened the scoring with a converted try on 15 minutes but Wanderers battled bravely to get back on terms and Hemphill cut the deficit to just two points with a touchdown following a rampaging run early in the second half. The conversion was missed and try as they might the locals could not score again.
Despite the defeat it was another promising display from the Greenock girls and they continue to train throughout the close season and are happy to add to their swelling numbers should any local ladies wish to join the club.
The ‘Old Crocks’ match that followed between Wanderers and Birkmyre understandably failed to live up to the pace and quality of the ladies game and was an object lesson in nostalgic self-indulgence by a group of ‘has-beens’ naively attempting to relive their youth.
An elderly, sedentary and pedestrian Wanderers side, with Graham Bolster, David Murray and Kevin Murray starring, did, to the surprise of many curious onlookers, manage to edge the contest 5-0 and were awarded the Dr John Forster Trophy, in memory of the highly popular Wanderers member who sadly passed away recently.
The physical exertion over for the season, the players retired to the comforts of their more natural habitat, the bar, where they clearly felt much more at home.
The main event of the weekend was of course the annual sevens tournament and it was played in bright sunshine throughout and was sponsored this year by well known Wanderers members David Ramage and Steven Haldane.
An excellent competition unfolded before a large crowd and it became clear early on that defending champions Wanderers were in with a real chance of back to back success.
Skipper Brendan McGroarty, and guest players Callum Robb and former Scotland sevens captain Grant Anderson were the stars of the show and they galvanised the Wanderers effort throughout the afternoon but every player involved made a sizeable contribution to the victory, especially youngster Luthias Arthur, who is clearly a star of the future. As expected the danger side were Premier One team Glasgow Hawks and they moved comfortably through the competition in the opposite side of the draw from Wanderers. Amongst other teams, they disposed of Kirkcaldy and Hillhead/Jordanhill to progress to the final The locals worked hard for their passage but a fine opening win against Perthshire by 37-7 set the standard and Wanderers were not to drop below it. Another 37-7 victory in the quarter-final over Whitecraigs set the locals up for a cracking semi-final tie against Carrick.
This proved to be a tense and nervous affair but Greenock prevailed 31-26 to reach the final after a bruising encounter that led to Wanderers’ Anderson and Kenny Diffenthal sustaining injuries and being forced to withdraw from the team.
As both Hawks and Greenock prepared for the climax of the tournament Hamilton defeated Perthshire 36-19 in the supplementary Octavia Shield final, with former Wanderers hooker Yan Young playing a starring role for the Lanarkshire side. With all eyes now on the main final, it was underdogs Wanderers who started brightest and controlled their nerves to build up a 19-10 lead.
A strong Hawks side were never going to capitulate and they narrowed the gap to 19-17 and looked for a time to be the side that would go on and win. Wanderers though rallied and a further try apiece and some stout defensive work from the locals ensured that they would hold out for a 24-22 victory.
It was an outstanding team effort to defeat the more fancied Glasgow side and McGroarty, Sean Connolly and scrum-half Andy McDougall were the chief architects in the Old Anniesland team’s downfall.
The festival weekend was completed on Sunday when the Wanderers youth section hosted youngsters from all over the west of Scotland at their annual competition.
Marr were the top side, winning four of the age group sections, but Wanderers took the spoils at primary five level with a fine team performance.
Several prizes were presented to winning teams and players of the day.
Wanderers are sponsored by Texas Instruments.
'Festival win was for John' WANDERERS vice-president and sevens team manager Stevie Anderson was overjoyed with the Greenock men’s sevens triumph.
And he dedicated the win to outgoing Fort Matilda stalwart John McDougall.
Anderson, above, said: “I was delighted with the Wanderers players who gave their all.
“The selection was a mix of old and new and gives the club a shot in the arm for the coming season.
“The win was a fitting tribute to outgoing president John McDougall who has worked tirelessly for the club over the years and we owe him a huge thank-you.
“Thanks must also go to the referees and all those who volunteered to help on the day and to the high quality of visiting teams without whom the event would not take place.” All Wanderers members are reminded of the cascade meeting scheduled for Thursday 30 April at 8pm in the clubhouse where proposed future developments will be discussed.