Women’s 6N: Italy v Scotland preview: Rachel Malcolm hopes patience will pay off in Parma

Captain insists hard work will be required in midfield before lethal back three can be unleashed

Francesca McGhie
Francesca McGhie in action against Italy in last year's Six Nations. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

REGARDLESS of the severe disappointment of last week’s heavy defeat by England, or the lesser let-down of the narrow loss to France a fortnight earlier, after three rounds of the Six Nations Championship Scotland are more or less where most observers would expect them to be. They won narrowly in Wales before losing to the teams ranked first and third in the world, and with two rounds to go can still achieve their stated aim for the campaign of finishing third.

To do that, they may well have to win both remaining games, against Italy in Parma tomorrow [Saturday] and then Ireland in Belfast next Saturday. They defeated both opponents at home last year, but, their resources stretched by injuries and absences, they will probably have to reach new levels to do the same this time round.

The depth of the squad has markedly improved over the past year and a bit, and the loss of any one key player is therefore not as anxiety-inducing as it once was. Nonetheless, any team deprived at the same time of three such performers in locks Sarah Bonar and Emma Wassell and No 8 Jade Konkel would feel the loss keenly.

Konkel has been out for the entire campaign with syndesmosis, Bonar since injuring a shoulder in Cardiff. Wassell was a late withdrawal last week for personal reasons and it is not yet known whether she will return to face Ireland.

One massive plus point in the pack has been the performance of teenage openside Alex Stewart, who made her debut against the Welsh and simply looks as if she had been born to play Test rugby. Even so, without the heft that the missing trio normally bring, Scotland may well be on the back foot tomorrow afternoon for longer than they would hope. 

Having said all that, captain Rachel Malcolm remains optimistic. Indeed, the blindside flanker insisted today that last week’s 46-0 loss to England could help her squad get into the right mind set for their remaining two games. 

“Playing the best team in the world is always going to expose your weaknesses, and sometimes it’s the best thing for something like that to happen, just before you have two of your biggest games of the Championship,” Malcolm said.

“Italy are definitely a side that we’re targeting. We’ve just focused on getting back to basics in terms of what were the ingredients for success against Wales and what were the things that helped us put in a good performance against France.” 

While it is just a year since Scotland beat the Italians – a result that brought a 12-game losing run to an end – it is a quarter of a century since they beat tomorrow’s opponents on Italian soil. For Malcolm, however, neither the 2023 victory nor the long run without one on the road are relevant now. 

“You’ve got to look at the Championship as a fresh start,” she insisted. “Every team is in a different place than they were in last year – we certainly are, and I think we can take confidence from where we’re at. 

“If you look at the performances the Italians have put in, they’re definitely in a different place as well. So although we can take confidence from the fact that we got the win last year, we’ve not won out here in a long time. So we just need to focus on what we can control in this game – imposing our game on them rather than letting them impose their game on us. 

“As soon as we start thinking about past results and things like that, you take your eye off the ball and you don’t get the performance right.”

When it comes to getting the performance right against Italy, Malcolm believes that the key quality will be patience. In full-back Chloe Rollie and wingers Francesca McGhie and Rhona Lloyd, Scotland have a potentially match-winning back three, but the captain believes it would be folly, given the nature of the Italian defence, to simply ship the ball wide and hope for the best.

“That back three is probably one of the most dangerous in world rugby if you look at what they’ve achieved in a Scotland shirt, or in any short that they’ve pulled on,” she added. “So it’s absolutely vital that we get them the ball. 

“But the way Italy like to defend is to fly a little bit – they often have specific players who shoot out the line. So if we try and ship it there before we’ve earned the right to, there is that danger that they could intercept and run away with it.

“So we have to be really methodical about how we approach that. One thing we didn’t do that well last week was break the gain line, so we need to earn the right to play wide and we need to earn the right to keep the ball.”

Having said that, Malcolm suggested there would be no better occasion for Lloyd to prove herself a match-winner than this match, in which she will win her 50th cap. “I don’t think anyone can compete with Rhona’s passion and her drive to play for Scotland. She’s one of the most fiercely proud humans I’ve ever met, and what she has achieved in terms of tries scored, games played, at such a young age is phenomenal.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen her come anything but first in a fitness test for the entirety of my Scotland career. She trains how she plays, she plays with her heart on her sleeve, and I’m super proud to have her on my team. I’ve no doubt that she will get on that ball and do some magic tomorrow.”

Italy (v Scotland at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Saturday 4.45pm BST, live on BBC Scotland): V Ostuni Minuzzi; A Muzzo, A D’Inca, B Rigoni, F Granzotto; V Madia, S Stefan; S Turani, V Vecchini, S Seye, S Tounesi, G Duca, I Arrighetti, F Sgorbini, E Giordano (captain). Replacements: L Gurioli, G Maris, L Gai, V Fedrighi, I Locatelli, B Veronese, S Mannini, B Capomaggi. 

Scotland: C Rollie; R Lloyd, E Orr, L Thomson, F McGhie; H Nelson, C Mattinson; M Wright, L Skeldon, C Belisle, E Donaldson, L McMillan, R Malcolm (captain), A Stewart, E Gallagher. Replacements: E Martin, L Bartlett, E Clarke, F McIntosh, R McLachlan, M McDonald, M Smith, C Grant.

Referee: Maggie Cogger-Orr (Canada).

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.

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