SCOTLAND are still in with a chance of qualifying for next year’s Rugby World Cup after just getting the better of Spain in an end-to-end encounter in Spain. All four teams in the tournament are now level on five points, meaning Bryan Easson’s team will finish in the top two if they beat Ireland in their final game on Saturday. Ireland beat hosts Italy earlier in the day.
It was touch and go all the way to the end, with Spain running a penalty in front of the Scots posts inside the final minute. There would have been no time left for a reply if the Spanish had scored a converted try, but in the end the offence conceded a penalty.
“It was huge,” head coach Easson said of that last-gasp stand at the death. “Both sides started to tire in the last twenty. The way we dug in defensively was pleasing, and in the last 20 minutes the discipline in defence got us exactly where we wanted to be.
“Courage would be a great word to describe them,” he continued. “I don’t think I have (seen a more courageous performance ) and I said that in the changing room to them. That is one of their strengths.
“We knew that was a game we had to win. We were a bit more direct and we deserved our win. It was desperate at the end, it was tough, but their work rate and determination to see the game out was excellent.”
Scotland’s four tries meant they got a full haul of five points from the fixture – a pleasing contrast to their first fixture against Italy, a heavy defeat from which they emerged with nothing. However, as in the Italian game, Scotland got off to a desperately poor start. Conceding a scrum straight from kick-off was bad enough. But then from phase one off the set piece, Spanish centre Amaia Erbina simply blasted through the middle of the defence to score by the posts. Scrum-half Patricia Garcia added the conversion and Spain had as many points as they had managed in the whole of their previous game against Ireland.
Problems on their own throw at the lineout hampered Scotland’s initial efforts to get back on terms, but they grew in confidence towards the midway point of the half, and turned pressure into points when Rhona Lloyd scored in the right corner from a looping pass by Hannah Smith. The score was referred to the TMO for a suspected forward pass, but replays showed Smith had sent the ball backwards.
Helen Nelson’s failure to convert meant Scotland still trailed by two, but that changed straight from kick-off. Lisa Thomson collected, beat one defender then passed to Megan Gaffney, and the winger was fast enough and elusive enough to do the rest from halfway. Nelson added the two points this time to give Scotland a five-point lead.
Spain retained the advantage in the set-piece, however, and they hit back when hooker Margarita Rodriguez finished off from a lineout maul. Another Garcia conversion restored their lead.
That lead was extended after half an hour when left-winger Maria Garcia finished off on the right from an Erbena offload, with the conversion being missed this time. Again Scotland fought back, and they claimed their own third try right on half-time, when, after heavy pressure from the pack, Jenny Maxwell passed from the base of the ruck to Nelson, who ran in the try with ease. The conversion would have levelled the score at the break, but Nelson sliced the effort to leave her team two points behind.
Paula Requena was sent to the sin bin for an offence in the build-up, meaning Scotland started the second half a woman up. They threatened to cross the try line again, and Lisa Thomson was unlucky to be held up after collecting a Nelson lob, but in the end they had to make do with a penalty, scored by the stand-off.
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Back to 15 players, Spain soon responded through a Patricia Garcia penalty, but then came Scotland’s best spell of the match. Substitute Monica Castelo was yellow-carded after clashing heads with Rachel Malcolm in a tackle, and the Spanish defence became stretched.
With just over an hour played, Scotland sent a kickable pen to touch, the lineout drive went well, and Rachel McLachlan finished off. Nelson added the two points.
There was ample time for Spain to hit back, but the Scottish defence was determined not to concede again. That last-minute stand on their own line was just the final and possibly finest example of an excellent series of defensive sets.
“This is probably the biggest win that I’ve been a part of for various reasons,” Scotland captain Rachel Malcolm said. “To finish the way we did to close out the game shows the character in the squad and we’ve kept ourselves in the fight for a place in the World Cup.”
Asked what it would take to beat the Irish, she added: “Discipline, basics, and a lot of heart again. It will take everyone in the squad nailing it from minute one to minute 80.”
Spain: L Ducher; P Requena (B Dominguez 23), A Erbina, A Argudo, M Garcia; A Fernandez de Corres, P Garcia (L Diaz 69); S Jaurena (I Rico 47), M Rodriguez, L Delgado (captain), A Puig (M Castelo 54), C Castellucci (C Rodera 69), O Fresneda, M Calvo, L Alameda.
Scotland: C Rollie; R Lloyd, H Smith, L Thomson, M Gaffney; H Nelson (S Law 68), J Maxwell; L Bartlett (L Cockburn 50), L Skeldon (M Wright 56), C Belisle, E Wassell, L McMillan (S Cattigan 66), R Malcolm (captain) (E Gallagher 76), R McLachlan, J Konkel.
Referee: A Groizeleau (France).
Spain: Tries: Erbina, Rodriguez, M Garci; Cons: P Garcia 2; Pen: P Garcia.
Scotland: Tries: Lloyd, Gaffney, Nelson, McLachlan; Cons: Nelson 2; Pen: Nelson.
Scoring sequence (Spain first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-5; 7-10; 7-12; 12-12; 14-12; 19-12; 19-17 (h-t) 19-20; 22-20; 22-25; 22-27.
Yellow cards –
Spain: Requena 39mins, Castelo 57mins