Tennent's Caledonia Midlands/East Region League:

Dunfermline Ladies 5 Kirkcaldy 37

AN HISTORIC and momentous game of rugby took place at McKane Park on Sunday as Dunfermline's women played their first-ever league match.

Just over two-and-a-half years on from since the club first organised a free training programme to set the wheels in motion for the creation of a female section, they walked proudly out to play fellow Fifers Kirkcaldy, who were one of the first clubs in Scotland to introduce a ladies' team, in their Tennent's Caledonia Midlands/East Region League opener.

Although the result didn't quite go their way, Lynne Stewart had the honour of scoring the team's first try in league competition, and captain Sheryl Wilson said that the players enjoyed the occasion.

"It's a great achievement for the club but it was quite nerve-wracking on the day to be the first women's Dunfermline team in the league. I think we did ourselves proud with the effort that we put in," she told Press Sport.

"We've never all played together in a league, and the team has changed quite a lot over the past year-and-a-half since we played before COVID. This is our first time playing together in an 80-minute, 15-a-side game environment. We definitely put a good shift in.

"There were some girls as well for whom it was their first-ever game of rugby and a couple of them had never actually played a full 80-minute rugby game before. I think they did really well, the girls that did play for the first time.

"The girls that are in that position are on the right path to becoming good players so they're a really good asset to the team."

Dunfermline Rugby Club's former head coach, Mark Dobson, organised the first women's training programme at McKane in January 2019 and, in March of that same year, Dunfermline had made their bow in a match with a combined Strathmore and Lismore team.

"This is our first time in the league but, up until now, we've all played for fun," Sheryl continued.

"We want to do as well as we can; we don't want to be bottom of the league. We're keen to make our mark in the league this year.

"We're keen that this is the first step to becoming a developed team. We had the choice whether we wanted to stay in development this year or if we wanted to move forward in the league, and as a team we decided that it was time to forward. We're definitely looking to set ourselves higher up in the league this year and keep moving forward.

"I joined two years ago when we were obviously still in development. It hadn't long started then but we've come a long, long way since then as players and as a club."

Cammy Dunn, who captains the men's first XV, is the team's head coach and he was proud to watch them progress to play league rugby.

"It was an historic day. Win, lose or draw, it was going to be a momentous day for us all, and it was really good to see them all get out there and get playing," he said.

"Growing the game is huge and we've still got space to grow. We're always looking for more and for others to come along. I think Sheryl and her vice-captain, Lisa (Hamilton-Martin), are on a bit of a recruitment drive still.

"It all started off with our former director of rugby, who just said, 'Right, let's see how many we get'. Next time, we had 30-40 bodies down there, and we thought, 'We did not expect this!'

"It was something new I think in the area, which I think enticed a lot of folk to come along. There's still a number of players from that original group that are still there today.

"We went from that, where we played maybe one or two games in a calendar year, to moving on to playing in the development events, which had about one a month. There was a lot more regular games and contact experience for them.

"In the latter half of the previous season, come New Year, we took part in the cup as Midlands Development, where we joined up with Perthshire Women. That was great because that was a first taste of competitive rugby for the players against some good teams as well.

"Now here we are as a standalone Dunfermline side in a league. It's really good; I'm overjoyed they've got this far."

In terms of the match itself, both captain and coach felt that the scoreline wasn't a completely fair reflection, with Dunn noting: "Defensively, they stuck in; they were not afraid of the contact, which was a big point. Once you get that first bit of contact you'll soon find out how you are in it but they all stepped up really well and we got a try out of it as well, which is great, our first competitive try.

"You need to celebrate that."

The women's section currently has between 20-30 players, and are keen to recruit more, and Dobson, who now works with Scottish Rugby as a regional manager, Caledonia Midlands, added: "To be fair, the women's team is probably one of my proudest achievements at Dunfermline.

"I started that women's team and then handed it over to Cammy Dunn and a few other young lads that wanted to keep it going, and they've just grown from strength to strength.

"To see them entering a league with a good group of females, and they're still recruiting quite heavily, that's really nice to see."