SARAH BONAR has dropped out of the Scotland team for tomorrow’s [Sunday] do-or-die World Cup qualifying clash against Spain in Parma due to work commitments with the RAF. The second-row’s absence was arranged prior to the tournament and she will be back in time to face Ireland in the final match of the campaign next Saturday. In her absence this weekend, head coach Bryan Easson has shifted Louise McMillan forward to the boiler-house, with Rachel McLachlan being promoted from the bench to openside flanker.
“Louise played in the second row during the Six Nations anyway, so we’ve no real concerns with that,” stressed head coach Bryan Easson. “It is an enforced change but we knew it was coming and we are dealing with players we have worked with for a while now, so it has been pretty smooth.”
Scotland lost the opening game of this qualifying tournament, 38-13 to Italy last Monday, but Easson has made no other changes to the team which started that match, and made just two to the bench: promoting Siobhan Cattigan into the space left by McLachlan, and bringing in Abi Evans for her fellow-winger Liz Musgrove. The minor nature of the reshuffle might say something about the lack of strength in depth at the coach’s disposal, although he insists that it is about showing faith in the players who have served the team well in the past.
“The girls have been very good on and off the field this week,” he said. “With a six-day turnaround, we have done a couple of short training sessions this week and then been very honest with each other in how we’ve reviewed the match.
“We’re aware that from 19 minutes and 30 seconds to 27 minutes we compounded errors, we had two line-out overthrows, kicked straight out from the restart, two defensive errors, and from 7-3 inside their 22 and pressing we went to 19-3 in the space of six minutes. So, we know we can fix things and because of the players we have we decided: let’s go again and give the girls a chance to put things right against Spain.”
Spain set the cat amongst the pigeons with a surprise win over Ireland in their opening game, so Scotland know they face a big challenge, despite having beaten these opponents 12-36 in Almeira the last time these two sides met back in January 2020.
“We always knew Spain were going to be a challenge,” said Easson. “They play their own way. It is a very physical kind of one-out game. Their nine is a very influential player for them and they play off her a lot. Their set-piece is good, they scrummed well against the Irish, especially in the first half, and their line-out maul was positive with them being unlucky not to get a penalty-try just before the try they did score.
“So, we know set-piece is going to be difficult and that we are going to have to defend well, but we’ve also highlighted one or two areas where we think we have an edge on them. We’ve worked really hard this week on how important the small battles are throughout the game.
“We played them 18 months ago and we’ve not played an awful lot since, so it is important to look at that. It is the same sort of side, they have the sevens players from that game involved again this week, so we know what to expect and how we broke them down last time.
“We also understand that they are on the back of a victory, and we all know how winning breeds winning. They’ll be feeling confident so we’ve got to make sure that we start well and make right the wrongs from last week.
“I think it will be tight. Spain will be extremely focussed, but so are we,” he concluded. “We know what we need to concentrate on for the 80 minutes, and we know that the game will ebb and flow. They have some game-breakers there and a strong set-piece.
“Spain are like the Italians in that once they get on top of you they can really squeeze you, so we have to concentrate long and hard through every set-piece and every phase.
“We understand that this is a real cup final for us.”
Scotland (v Spain at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma, Sunday 5pm British time): C Rollie; R Lloyd, H Smith, L Thomson, M Gaffney; H Nelson, J Maxwell; L Bartlett, L Skeldon, C Belisle, E Wassell, L McMillan, R McLachlan, R Malcolm (captain), J Konkel. Substitutes: M Wright, L Cockburn, K Dougan, S Cattigan, E Gallagher, M McDonald, S Law, A Evans.