THE same 23 players who were edged out 10-5 by Spain at Scotstoun last Friday night have been entrusted with hunting down that narrow lead in the return leg in Madrid on Saturday lunchtime. With qualification for next year’s World Cup in Ireland at stake, this may well be the most important game in the team’s history, and head coach Shade Munro has challenged his players to embrace the pressure.


“I think the mentality in the past has been: ‘Let’s perform and give it our best’. But now we’ve got to start mentioning winning. We’re in a World Cup qualifier and we’ve got to go and win it,” he said.

“We pretty much picked the team straight after the game on Friday night. Obviously there was thought that went into it, but we felt we’d go for the exact same 23: there was no reason to change it. They had performed well and done what we asked them to do, so we thought we’d just carry on the development with that team.”

“We’ve had three sessions this week working on things that maybe didn’t go so well and other areas where we want to exploit the Spanish.”

Munro explained that he was particularly encouraged by the dominance of his team’s pack in last week’s encounter, and he is hoping for something similar in the return match.

“The possession and territory stats were up last week, and historically that’s not been the case with our team – they’ve found themselves playing a lot in their own half and not getting many opportunities to play in the finishing zone – so we’re planning on the same tactic for getting out of our own half. We’ve got a couple of different things we might try,” he said.

“Winning their lineout and putting them under pressure at scrum time takes away a huge area that they require for their backline to be able to attack. It’s trying to get our forwards to put them under as much pressure as possible, so we can deny their backline as much ball as possible. We’re looking at disrupting their ball in the same way again.”

But the former Scotland second-row does not want to focus on that to the exclusion of an exciting back three made up of Chloe Rollie, Megan Gaffney and Rhona Lloyd – who had few opportunities to show their pace with the ball in hand  last week, apart from through kick-returns.

“We’re not experienced at this level, and the inside backs aren’t experienced at getting the ball wider quicker. It’s still difficult, especially when they’re under pressure. That’s an area we’ve been working on: the back three are good strike players and we want to get them involved,” he explained

“We will get opportunities to be in their half and score, so a lot of time this week has been spent on attack. We still panic a wee bit – try to score immediately rather than being a bit more patient – so we’ve been working on that the last couple of sessions.”

The Spanish are four places ahead of Scotland in the official world rankings and will have home advantage on Saturday. They will expect to be cheered on by a large and partisan crowd, so this is going to be a huge challenge of the rugby ability and mental toughness of the Scots.

“We might have caught them [Spain] cold last week, coming to Scotstoun on a cold night with a slippery ball. So I think they’ll expect to do better at home. Whether that leads to complacency on their part, I don’t know,” speculated Munro.

“I think they’ll initially put us under pressure and then look to open up – that’s what they did against Holland in the final of the Rugby Europe championship – and I expect them to be better in the set piece, so we’ve got to be smarter there as well.”

“I was very proud of the team last week. From where Scotland Women have been to where they are now, it was a huge performance. There was great effort from our first caps. Louise McMillan was brilliant and Rachel Malcolm and Sarah Bonar made an impact when they came off the bench.

“The positive is that we competed against a team ranked four places above us. The team wasn’t happy with losing but they were encouraged by their performance. The players are confident and upbeat – it’s only half-time in this tie. We still have something to play for when we go over there and we are certainly going to give it our best shot.”

Scotland Women team to play Spain Women at Universitary Stadium, Madrid on Saturday 26 November (kick-off 1pm local / 12 noon GMT)  –

15. Chloe Rollie* (Murrayfield Wanderers) – 11 caps
14. Megan Gaffney (Edinburgh University) – 19 caps
13. Lisa Thomson* (Edinburgh University) – 6 caps
12. Lisa Martin* CAPTAIN (Murrayfield Wanderers) – 31 caps
11. Rhona Lloyd* (Edinburgh University) – 6 caps
10. Helen Nelson* (Murrayfield Wanderers) – 3 caps
9. Sarah Law* (Murrayfield Wanderers/Edinburgh University) – 23 caps
1. Heather Lockhart (Hillhead Jordanhill) – 83 caps
2. Lana Skeldon (HillHead Jordanhill) – 16 caps
3. Tracy Balmer (Worcester) – 37 caps
4. Emma Wassell* (Murrayfield Wanderers) – 17 caps
5. Deborah McCormack (Aylesford Bulls) – 17 caps
6. Jemma Forsyth (Hillhead Jordanhill) – 16 caps
7. Louise McMillan* (Hillhead Jordanhill) – 1 cap
8. Karen Dunbar* (RHC Cougars) – 15 caps
Replacements –

16. Lucy Park* (Murrayfield Wanderers) – uncapped
17. Lindsey Smith (Hillhead Jordanhill) – 31 caps
18. Katie Dougan (Edinburgh University) – 3 caps
19. Sarah Bonar (Lichfield) – 1 cap
20. Rachel Malcolm (Lichfield) – 1 cap
21. Lyndsay O’Donnell (Worcester) – 10 caps
22. Jenny Maxwell (Lichfield) – 9 caps
23. Eilidh Sinclair* (Murrayfield Wanderers) – 12 caps
* BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy Stage 2 player 2016/17
Not available due to injury: Jade Konkel, Mhairi Grieve, Siobhan McMillan
Image: Craig Watson –
About David Barnes 3963 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.