Women’s Six Nations: Caity Mattinson sets her sights on extending record winning run

Scotland scrum-half has been part of big turnaround from long losing run to a six-game sequence of victories

Caity Mattinson
Caity Mattinson in action for Scotland against Wales in last year's Six Nations match. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

WHEN Scotland take on Wales in Saturday’s opening round of the Women’s Six Nations, they will be targeting something that would have seemed inconceivable this time last year: a record seventh straight win in all competitions.

Bryan Easson’s team went into the 2023 Championship having already lost nine consecutive matches, and that run of defeats stretched to 12 when they were beaten by England, Wales and France. But then came that remarkable turnaround: they ended their Six Nations campaign with wins over Italy and Ireland, defeated Spain in a friendly, and in October beat hosts South Africa, the USA and Japan to win the WXV2 trophy.

It is the first time since their Grand Slam-winning year of 1998 that Scotland have been able to celebrate six victories in a row, and an unprecedented seventh would clearly be a cause for serious celebration. Yet, while the squad are rightly pleased with the progress they have made over the past 12 months, they know that winning at Cardiff Arms Park will be far from easy against a team who they have only defeated twice in their last 19 meetings.

The Welsh won with something to spare in last year’s Championship, beating the hosts 34-22 at Edinburgh’s Hive Stadium. But other recent games between the teams have been closer, and Scotland scrum-half Caity Mattinson, for one, is sure her team will be up for the fight.

“Wales is always a big game for us,” she says. “There is no need for us to hype that up emotionally. That is the game that everybody wants to win, and obviously that is the first job of the tournament, so all eyes are on that at the moment.”

A curious aspect of the team’s transition from perpetual losers to serial winners was how quickly, in the end, they turned the corner. From the outside, a 55-0 defeat by France in last year’s third round appeared to be a deeply dispiriting sign of how far they had sunk. But then, a mere six days later, they followed it up with a defiant 29-21 home win over Italy.

For Mattinson, the explanation is simple: no matter how heavy the defeats, this squad neverlost their togetherness. “From the outside it was probably really easy to think ‘Scotland are doing really badly’ and being quite pessimistic about it,” the 27-year-old explains.

“But I’ve always had full confidence in this group: it’s a really hard-working and really lovely group of people. So I think even though it was definitely tough, we pulled together rather than apart, and I think that’s probably why we have gone on to have a very successful run.

“And it’s really special. It’s cool to be able to change things around like that. I’m really proud of being involved in that.”

Born in Inverness, Mattinson first played international rugby for England, where she grew up, before a new World Rugby ruling allowed her to switch to Scotland in early 2022 following a three-year stand-down. “As soon as it came through that World Rugby had changed the eligibility laws, I spoke straight away about wanting to play for Scotland,” she coninues. “I was born up here and Scottish rugby had always been a big passion of mine – I just fell into the English pathway because that’s where I was living at the time.”

In fact, she is still living there and playing for Gloucester-Hartpury in the Premiership Women’s Rugby – at least, when she is not on Scotland duty or being released to represent Edinburgh in the Celtic Challenge. This is the most demanding time of the season for England-based players, when national camps and club commitments make for some hectic weeks, but Mattinson is well capable of seeing the positive side of those crowded hours.

“I think the first two or three weeks are really challenging, to be honest. We have three days up here, then you travel back to train with your club on Thursday night then you play on Saturday. There have definitely been some tired bodies. 

“But I think it’s really exciting that the reason we are tired is that everyone has been playing week in, week out in what is ultimately the best league in the world at the moment for domestic rugby. So I think that’s only going to stand us in good stead for the tournament moving forward.” 

Undefeated Gloucester have a healthy lead at the top of the PWR, and Mattinson has fitted in well there since joining last year. But the move had its difficulties: she and her wife, Canadian international Paige Farries, were both playing for Worcester when that club went into liquidation, and in the end were unable to find the same new employer.

“I loved Worcester. Genuinely, it became my home – not necessarily through choice, I never really wanted to be in the West Midlands – but I adored [head coach] Jo Yapp and the set-up we had there. That was an incredible programme. I genuinely have never been happier than I was in the lead-up to WXV with my club and stuff.

“So to be in the best place that I had personally been in my career, then for it to not be there when I got home, was really challenging. And I probably underestimated how difficult I would find that.

“I was also playing with my wife there, and we didn’t manage to get signed for the same club. It’s all been challenging.  

“But Gloucester have been great. For me personally having [England scrum-half] Mo Hunt as a little bit of a mentor and pushing each other has been really cool. She’s been fantastic at Gloucester.

“Yeah, you just have to keep things moving. I’m grateful for the Celtic Challenge, bit more game time, then actually I’ve been getting a little bit more consistency at Gloucester now as well. It’s just taken a little bit of time, but we’re getting there.”

Farries, meanwhile, is at Saracens. “Yeah, we don’t see a lot of each other,” Mattinson adds. “She’s having to commute to London – she stays over there in the week for training. 

“So it’s difficult, but I think because Paige is also an international rugby player, there’s an understanding there that 2025 is the big goal and we’ll just do whatever we have to do to be the best rugby players we can be at the World Cup, really.”

After the Wales match, Scotland have games at Edinburgh’s Hive Stadium against France and England, with the latter well on its way to being a sell-out – something Mattinson thinks is due to the winning run her current side have put together.

“There definitely is more interest in the game – there are already 5,000 tickets sold. It definitely feels there’s a real buzz and excitement around the squad now, which is cool.”

 

WOMEN’S SIX NATIONS 2024:

Scotland’s fixtures:

  • Sat 23 March: v Wales (Cardiff Arms Park 4.45pm)
  • Sat 30 March: v France (Hive, Edinburgh 2.15pm)
  • Sat 13 April: v England (Hive 2.15pm)
  • Sat 20 April: v Italy (Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma 4.45pm)
  • Sat 27 April: v Ireland (Kingspan Stadium, Belfast 2.30pm)
About Stuart Bathgate 1392 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.

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