A BACK-ROW player at prop, a centre at 6 and a lock at No 8. If at first glance this seems like madness, rest assured there is actually method behind it.
Jade Konkel is the No 8 who is playing at loosehead for Scotland in the non-cap international against Spain on Sunday, Hannah Smith is the midfield back who will be on the blindside, and Sarah Bonar switches from the second row to the back. All three changes are part of Scotland coach Shade Munro’s plan to get his fastest, most dynamic players all on the field at the same time.
It is not a complete experiment, as Konkel has already played in the front row in Scotland’s two previous uncapped matches this season – against Spain in Madrid last November then against Wales in a closed-doors match. All being well, Munro plans to persist with the changes in the Six Nations Championship, which kicks off with the game against Wales in Colwyn Bay on Friday, 2 February.
“We’ve got to be able to get as many of the best players on the pitch as possible,” Munro said yesterday after announcing his team for Sunday. “Jade certainly has the physique and the mentality to play prop.
“This will be Jade’s third game in a row at prop, so it’s not so much an experiment, it’s with a view to actually doing it [in the Championship]. We played Wales in a friendly here and she played prop, and there were aspects of her game that needed work. She needs to play again at a higher level to put those right, so it will be about how she copes with that.
“She’s still the same player; she’s still the ball-carrier that we need. She just doesn’t carry from No 8. She’s still involved in the lineouts in the role she had before. Nothing changes for her, really. I want her playing like a back-row player when she’s playing prop.”
Konkel could end up playing in the back row later on during Sunday’s match, as Munro aims to give his replacement props a run out while keeping his most influential players on the pitch. But, whatever positional changes occur during the match, the aim will be the same: for Scotland to keep up a relentless tempo designed to exhaust their opponents.
“If she was destroying the girl in the front row, and the back rows were playing well, let her get the experience in the front row,” Munro added. “I know what she can do in the back row. But I would envisage making that move to get the other props on, rather than taking Jade off.
“We are trying to do things as fast as we possibly can. We may never play the fastest rugby in Europe, but we’re going to do everything we possibly can to do that. Physicality-wise, the size of the team we’ve got, that obviously suits, rather than playing a pick-and-go kind of game. You don’t want to play that anyway.”
Scotland know Spain well by now, and although they won the friendly two months ago, the most significant recent meeting of the sides was the two-leg World Cup play-off at the end of 2016, when Munro’s team lost by just five points at home then again in the away leg. They recovered from that disappointment to win twice in last year’s Six Nations, and the coach expects this latest meeting to be an accurate gauge of his team’s progress since.
“While it’s not a full Test, it’s the competitive rugby that we need to develop a wider pool of players. We’ve beaten them a couple of times and they’ve beaten us a couple of times, but their wins were the World Cup qualifier, when they were at full strength. They’ve picked a full-strength team this time too, they’re ranked 10th in the world, we’re 12th, so it’s ideal preparation. Wales, Italy and Ireland are all just sitting above Spain, but you could argue that Spain are better than Italy – they beat them at the World Cup.
“And, while it’s not a full Test, it’s the competitive rugby that we need to develop a wider pool of players. The whole programme this season has been building towards the Spain game, and it’s the last opportunity before the Six Nations for people to cement their place.
“I’m looking for the team to be better than they were last year. I’m telling them that we need to be improving faster than the other teams in the Six Nations.”
Scotland (v Spain at Scotstoun, Sunday 1pm): C Rollie (Lille); H Musgrove (Edinburgh University), L Thomson (Lille), L Martin (DMP Sharks), R Lloyd (Edin Uni); H Nelson (Murrayfield Wanderers), J Maxwell (Loughborough Lightning); J Konkel (Lille), R Malcolm (Loughborough Lightning), M Kennedy (Stirling County), E Wassell (Murrayfield Wanderers), D McCormack (Harlequins), H Smith (Hillhead/Jordanhill), L McMillan (Hillhead/Jordanhill), S Bonar (Loughborough Lightning). Substitutes: L Skeldon (Watsonians), S McMillan (Hillhead/Jordanhill), L Smith (Hillhead/Jordanhill), M Lowish (Loughborough Lightning), S Cattigan (Stirling County/Stirling Uni), J Rettie (Thurrock), S Law (Edinburgh Uni/Murrayfield Wanderers), L: Harris (Edinburgh Uni).