‘Monumental’ Edinburgh-Glasgow women’s match has young gun Poppy Fletcher excited for 2024

Poppy Fletcher is a Scottish rugby talent with a bright future
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Over recent years during the festive period, Poppy Fletcher and her family have been regular attendees at the 1872 Cup Edinburgh Rugby/Glasgow Warriors men’s derby matches at Murrayfield.

So, it comes as no surprise that it was a kind of ‘pinch me’ moment for the loosehead prop and those family members when, on December 30th, Fletcher was suddenly playing in the first-ever women’s clash between the two clubs.

The fact that it was played at Edinburgh’s Hive Stadium in front of a healthy crowd of 1,934 just hours before the men’s 1872 Cup second leg all added to the excitement.

"It felt like a monumental moment to be part of," Fletcher, who scored a try in the 28-12 bonus point win over Glasgow, told TRU.

"I have been lucky enough to have had some highs in my rugby career to date including a trip to Italy with the Scottish Futures a few months ago, but to be part of an Edinburgh-Glasgow women’s derby - the first ever one - is something really special.

"Growing up, I have watched Edinburgh’s men play a lot, been a mascot for them and I’ve been to lots of 1872 Cup games, so to be playing in the first women’s match really was class. The crowd and the hype around the game, it was just magic and much bigger than expected.

“When I was playing, I was just focused on the match and the rugby, but I tried to take in the size of the occasion and it hit home when I was speaking to family and friends afterwards.”

‘Edinburgh want to just build from here and get better and better’

The victory against Glasgow gave Edinburgh - coached by Edinburgh University’s Claire Cruikshank with support from Stuart Corsar, Euan Mochrie and others - the perfect start to their Celtic Challenge campaign.

Now in its second year, the World Rugby-funded Celtic Challenge has been expanded to feature two Scottish outfits, two Irish teams and two Welsh sides with all three unions seeing it as a good way to expose club and university players to a higher level of rugby alongside already capped internationals.

Next up for Edinburgh is another home match with Irish side Wolfhounds on Saturday - who defeated their counterparts Clovers 21-15 on December 29th at Musgrave Park - and Fletcher is looking forward to it.

"I played for the Thistles last year in the Celtic Challenge and at the time, that was a big step up for me from the club rugby I was playing at Heriot’s Blues," Fletcher, who also plays at Edinburgh University, explains.

"It was all new to me and the pace and the physicality of the games was different, but since then I have played for the Scottish Futures and I am now in the Edinburgh University programme and those experiences have helped me get more used to playing at this level.

"The Celtic Challenge this year has gone up a notch though with six teams involved and we know every match is going to be tough.

"The Glasgow game was our first one as a group and I think we had been together for just four training sessions before it and we want to just build from here and get better and better.

"We have been able to watch footage of the Irish and Welsh derbies since then [Gwalia Lightning defeated Brython Thunder in the latter on January 1] and we know that there are some big challenges ahead.

"As a young player, these are the kinds of tests you want to be getting ready for and playing in regularly so I am really excited for the rest of the Celtic Challenge campaign.”

‘I want to just keep building as a player - I am really excited for this year’

As an up-and-coming front-rower, Fletcher seems a real student of the game.

In the Edinburgh squad, she has been working alongside Exeter Chiefs’ and Scotland loosehead Panashe Muzambe while she watches all of the Scotland games and studies the way that fellow props Leah Bartlett and Anne Young operate.

"I remember a few years ago watching Panashe playing for Scotland and thinking what a great player she was, so to now be working with her on my own game and playing alongside her is quite surreal really,” age-grade cap Fletcher admitted.

"Scotland have been on such a great run in recent times and I am always watching the way Leah Bartlett plays for them while I watch Anne Young playing for Scotland and for Sale Sharks.

"I look up to Anne a lot because she used to be at Edinburgh University and now that’s where I am [in first year studying applied sports science] after I took a year out.

"Panashe, Leah and Anne are all great role models, but I also want to be my own player and play in a way that brings out my own strengths going forward.

"Although they aren’t in my position, it has also been so good working with Scotland caps Emma Orr and Jenny Maxwell. It has been insane and you can learn so much from the way they go about things.

“I want to just keep building as a player. I am really excited for this year. “I’ll keep taking advice from the experienced players around me in the Edinburgh environment and other environments I am in and I just want to keep playing rugby at the highest level I can and get minutes under my belt.

“As a front-rower, you never stop learning.”