Women’s 6N: Hannah Smith returns to Scotland team to face England

Influential centre is back from suspension for Saturday's Championship opener

Hannah Smith
Hannah Smith in action against England last year. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

SCOTLAND coach Bryan Easson has reshuffled his back line for Saturday’s Six Nations match against England in order to accommodate the return of Hannah Smith. The experienced centre missed the World Cup final qualifier against Colombia last month through suspension, but has regained possession of the No 13 jersey for the match at Edinburgh’s DAM Health Stadium.

Helen Nelson moves back from midfield to stand-off as a consequence, while Sarah Law drops to the bench in an otherwise unchanged back division. The pack, meanwhile, is the same as the one that began the 59-3  win over the South Americans. On the bench, Edinburgh University back Meryl Smith is in line to make her debut.

Several players who would have been in contention for a place in the 23 have been omitted because of illness, including one or more cases of Covid which occurred before the squad met up, according to Easson. Lock Sarah Bonar is unavailable because of her RAF duties but will be free to play in the subsequent four matches in the Championship.

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Although Scotland played with consummate professionalism against Colombia to book the last place in the World Cup finals, Smith was always going to come back for this game, given her ability as a strike runner. “She’s an experienced player in that channel and it’s important that we have as much experience when you’re playing, in my eyes, the best team in the world,” Easson said after naming his team. “To have Hannah back allows us to do different things. Hannah’s experience will certainly show in this game.”

Scotland have not beaten England this century, and have conceded more than 40 points in each of their  last five games in the fixture. So they will need all the experience they can muster, with the performance of No 8 Jade Konkel being as crucial as ever on the occasion of her 50th cap.

“Huge achievement, not only to get 50 caps, but to do it the way she’s done it as well,” Easson said of Konkel. “Jade always puts in a performance; she’s always got her hand up to carry ball. The England girls know her well and they’ll be keeping an eye on her. 

“She certainly deserves the accolade of that 50. She’s an exceptional character and I think going into the fire brigade has been a new lease of life for her. She’s been exceptional since her first cap.

“She’s certainly a good team player. She gives us go-forward, she’s also a very good defender, and look at her work rate – she’s always in the top two or three ball-carriers and defenders. And she’s a good all-round person as well, which is what our squad is built on.”

Easson is well aware that his team face a daunting task on Saturday. But, having seen the team make significant improvements this season, he is emphasising the need to play at the same level again.

“We want consistency of performance,” he added. “We’ve had some good 20 minutes, we’ve had some good 40 minutes: we’d like to see a concerted effort of consistency. The performance we put in against Colombia was probably more professional than we’ve put in before.”

Scotland (v England at the DAM Health Stadium, Saturday, noon): C Rollie; R Lloyd, H Smith, L Thomson, M Gaffney; H Nelson, J Maxwell; L Bartlett, L Skeldon, C Belisle, E Wassell, L McMillan, R Malcolm (captain), R MacLachlan, J Konkel. Substitutes: M Wright, L Cockburn, K Dougan, L O’Donnell, E Donaldson, S Law, M Smith, S Campbell.

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About Stuart Bathgate 1407 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.