JADE Konkel-Roberts and Megan Gaffney are back in Scotland’s starting line-up for the opening game of the Rugby World Cup against Wales on Sunday – the only changes from the side that began the warm-up match against the USA.
Konkel-Roberts, who was on the bench for that game, returns to the back row in place of Evie Gallagher, who dropped out of the squad because of injury before the journey to New Zealand. Gaffney is named on the left wing, with Hannah Smith moving from there to outside centre, where she replaces the injured Emma Orr.
“We’ve got a really good squad of 32 and everybody had an opportunity to put their hand up and a realistic chance to play,” head coach Bryan Easson said. “But Jade and Megan are both experienced players with high cap numbers, and when you go into a tournament with high expectation on everybody, experience will count. And it’s really pleasing to be able to pick a team with experience from 1 to 15.”
Rachel McLachlan was also unavailable for selection because of injury, but both she and Orr should be back for the next Pool A match. “Both Emma and Rachel McLachlan have got small niggles,” Easson added. “They both just miss out, but will probably both train on Sunday just before the game, and both will be available for the next game against Australia.”
A dozen years on from their last participation in a Rugby World Cup, the squad are “extremely excited”, according to the coach. “We’ve got a really good group of people, of players who are desperate to perform on the world stage. They’ve had a long journey – a lot of them were involved against Spain in the last qualifiers when they unfortunately didn’t qualify. That hurt, and I think this is a real good opportunity for this group of players.
“There’s a lot of caps within this group – over 700 within the squad of 32, and over 550 caps in the starting 15. But none of them have ever played in a World Cup before, so just the excitement of being able to play on the stage, to be in New Zealand for a World Cup, brings that little bit extra.
“We’ve worked really hard, however, this week, to keep a lid on it. The game’s not won yesterday or today, it’s Sunday. We’re in quite a good place – we’re not talking about pressure, we’re just going to go out there and enjoy ourselves and put in a performance. It’s more performance goals than outcome goals, to be honest. We believe that if we perform well enough, the outcomes will take care of themselves.”
Scotland’s performance was lacking in several crucial respects when they last played Wales, in Cardiff in this year’s Six Nations, and the outcome was a 24-19 defeat. The Welsh bench had a crucial role to play in that match, and Wales coach Ioan Cunningham hinted at a similar plan this time.
“One thing we are clear on is that it’s about the matchday 23 and not just the 15 who start on Sunday,” he said. “It’s about how we can impact the game in different ways. We feel the starting 15 we have gone with, plus the replacements we have named are more than capable of getting the result that we need.
“Scotland are a very decent side and it will be a different game now. You can look back at that game in the Six Nations, but both sides have changed since that game. It is who adapts and reacts best on the day and who reacts to the occasion.
“We hope to hit the ground running and try to capitalise on the chances we make. It’s about taking every chance that comes our way. There are no second chances in what is effectively knock-out rugby.”
Scotland (v Wales at the Northland Events Centre, Sunday 5.45am UK time, 5.45pm local): C Rollie; R Lloyd, H Smith, L Thomson, M Gaffney; H Nelson, C Mattinson; M Wright, L Skeldon, C Belisle, E Wassell, S Bonar, R Malcolm (captain), L McMillan, Konkel-Roberts. Substitutes: J Rettie, L Bartlett, E Clarke, L O’Donnell, E Sinclair, M McDonald, M Smith, S Campbell.
Wales: K Powell; J Joyce, M Webb, H Jones (captain), L Neumann; E Snowsill, F Lewis; C Hope, C Phillips, D Rose, N John, G Evans, A Butchers, A Callender, S Harries. Substitutes: K Jones, C Thomas, C Hale, S Lillicrap, B Lewis, K Bevan, R Wilkins, L Norkett.