SHE COMES from good rugby stock. Her father, Walter, played district level for Glasgow back in the day, and her two brothers, Donald and James, have both represented Scotland at age-grade level, with the latter currently a member of the Glasgow Warriors squad. But it didn’t really occur to Rachel Malcolm to give the sport a try until the summer of 2015, when she got involved in a touch-rugby league in Nottingham and caught the eye of somebody who player from nearby Lichfield Ladies – one of the leading clubs in the English Women’s Premiership.
“Hockey was always my main sport. I played for Scotland at under-18 and under-21 levels and then continued to play at Loughborough University. If I am honest I didn’t have a lot of interest in rugby when I was younger because I was very driven with my hockey and that was my focus,” she explains.
“But in more recent years, with James playing at a high level, I started to take more of an interest and then I started to play at Lichfield in 2015-16 season. I just went along to pre-season and thought: ‘This is brilliant’.”
“It is a great club and I was very lucky because the first rugby session I had I was surround by people with England caps and our coaching staff is brilliant. That has certainly helped me progress at the rate I have done – having people around to give you advice and tips is great.”
Just eighteen months after first picking up a rugby ball in anger, and after two appearances off the bench during Scotland’s disappointing World Cup qualification play-off double-header against Spain in November, Malcolm will make her first start for Scotland Women in their Six Nations opener against Ireland at Broadwood Stadium on Friday night.
“I think hockey helped me when moving to rugby in a number of ways. I have worked quite closely with strength and conditioning coaches through my hockey career and that has stood me in good stead especially with this Scotland squad because we are trying to play quite a fast game,” says the 25-year-old, who is an academic associate at Nottingham Trent University, combining lecturing in Sports Science with studying for a PHD in environmental physiology.
“Team based sports are all similar and being involved in hockey has helped me with communication, working with other people, reading the game,” she adds, before conceding that it has not been a completely seamless transition.
“I have been working a lot on my catching moving as obviously there is no stick there,” she smiles.
As if making her first international start was not a big enough challenge in its own right, Malcolm will be at hooker on Friday night – having only played that position a handful of times before.
“I mainly play back-row at the club because the hooker there is Amy Cokayne, who is the England hooker,” she explains.
“Recently I have started to switch around between back-row and hooker, while injury [a stress fracture] put me out of action for a couple of months, so game time in this position has been limited – but we have done a lot of work in camp on scrummaging and everyone is helping me every step of the way.”
“I like to play quite an attacking game so having a player who can play as another back-row in the front-row can only help the team.”
The whole family will be in attendance at Broadwood on Friday and for Walter it will surely be an added bonus that the match is being played so close to home.
“Dad travels 300 miles at the weekend to come and watch me play. One weekend recently he watched James play on the Friday night and then came down to watch my game the next day in Lichfield,” says a clearly grateful daughter.
“I am very excited. I dreamt of it, but did not imagine it would happen so quickly. To represent my country on the biggest stage is something I always wanted to do.”
Scotland have not beaten Ireland in a women’s international since a non-cap match in 2010, and not in a full international since the 2006 World Cup in Canada. The girls in blue have endured some painful hammerings along the way, and while the 45-12 defeat at the end of last year’s Six Nations was a step in the right direction, it demonstrated that they are still have considerable ground to make up on the top teams in European rugby.
Scotland Women team to play Ireland Women at Broadwood Stadium, Cumbernauld on Friday 3rd February (kick-off 6.35pm) –
15. Chloe Rollie* (Murrayfield Wanderers) – 12 caps
14. Megan Gaffney (Edinburgh University) – 20 caps
13. Lisa Thomson* (Edinburgh University) – 7 caps
12. Lisa Martin* CAPTAIN (Murrayfield Wanderers) – 32 caps
11. Rhona Lloyd* (Edinburgh University) – 7 caps
10. Helen Nelson* (Murrayfield Wanderers) – 4 caps
9. Sarah Law* (Murrayfield Wanderers/Edinburgh University) – 25 caps
1. Tracy Balmer (Worcester) – 38 caps
2. Rachel Malcolm (Lichfield) – 2 caps
3. Lindsey Smith (Hillhead Jordanhill) – 32 caps
4. Emma Wassell* (Murrayfield Wanderers) – 18 caps
5. Deborah McCormack (Aylesford Bulls) – 18 caps
6. Karen Dunbar* (RHC Cougars) – 16 caps
7. Louise McMillan* (Hillhead Jordanhill) – 2 caps
8. Jade Konkel** (Hillhead Jordanhill) – 23 caps
16. Lucy Park* (Murrayfield Wanderers) – 1 cap
17. Heather Lockhart (Hillhead Jordanhill) – 84 caps
18. Katie Dougan (Edinburgh University) – 4 caps
19. Sarah Bonar (Lichfield) – 2 caps
20. Jemma Forsyth (Hillhead Jordanhill) – 17 caps
21. Jenny Maxwell (Lichfield) – 10 caps
22. Lauren Harris (Melrose) – 17 caps
23. Eilidh Sinclair* (Murrayfield Wanderers) – 13 caps
* BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy Stage 2 player 2016/17
** BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy Stage 3 player 2016/17
Image courtesy: Scottish Rugby/SNS Group