THE coming fortnight will bring two matches which have the potential to define the future of women’s rugby in this country. The national team’s home and away encounters against Spain – kicking off at Scotstoun on Friday night and concluding in Madrid eight days later – will decide if the Scotland Women team are involved in next year’s World Cup in Ireland.
While several high profile appointments and increased investment in the national squad in recent seasons suggests that Murrayfield have genuine aspirations of bridging the yawning gap which has developed between Scotland and their leading European rivals during the past ten years, missing out on the game’s showcase event for the second time on the trot would inevitably have serious repercussions on ability to capture the imagination of the next generation of potential players.
The stakes are high but captain Lisa Martin insists that her team is ready to embrace the challenge.
“Nerves are a good thing to have for all the squad as it shows that we all care about the game, but it is about using them in the right way so it is about getting people in the right frame of mind – focusing on things that we can control, like how we are going to go into contact and how we are going to dictate the game,” she says.
“We’ll concentrate on those processes and not results. At the end of the day if we are going to nail the set piece, our open play, and our contact skills, then scores and opportunities are going to come there.”
As a veteran of 30 caps, going back to Scotland’s last World Cup appearance in 2010, when she appeared as a replacement in the heavy defeat to Ireland in the seventh place play-off as a callow 20-year-old, Martin has lived through more than her fair share of trials and tribulations during the last six years as a Scotland player.
But now that she is a member of the BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy along with fifteen other women players at various stages of their rugby development, and is playing under a national coach who has genuine pedigree as the man who was in charge of the pack when the Glasgow Warriors’ claimed the Pro 12 title in 2015, there is plenty cause for optimism about the future.
The last eighteen months has brought a major change in lifestyle and mind-set, but Martin – who juggles her rugby commitments with a day job as performance sports co-ordinator at Edinburgh University – would not have it any other way.
“I feel as close as I can be,” she says, when asked how professionalised her rugby life really is. “All the free time that I have, I dedicate to rugby, whether that be in the gym, speed work, conditioning, skills sessions – we are putting a lot of time into it. You can see out there on the pitch the benefits of this as well.”
“Yes, we are getting a lot more competitive,” she continues. “We had the best lineout in the Six Nations [last year] and that comes from the execution and the time the forwards and coaches have put in.”
“It is about progress now. We have to kick on and build the momentum from the Six Nations. We held France out for 38 minutes in the first half [during the Six Nations] and we totally negated their lineout, which is their biggest weapon, and we took huge pride in that.”
“It is about taking that and turning it into a full performance. We are feeling fitter, better, and [ready to] compete with other nations.”
Image courtesy: Scottish Rugby/SNS Group