RACHEL Malcolm, like every other player in the country, is waiting patiently to be given the green light to play again. All being well, however, the Scotland captain hopes that she and her team-mates will still find time to fulfil their fixture list for the year, ideally by playing their outstanding Six Nations games in the run-up to the Rugby World Cup regional qualifying tournament.
Scotland have so far only played two of their Championship matches, losing narrowly in Ireland then more heavily at home to England. Their game in Italy was called off when the coronavirus lockdown began in that country, their home fixture with France was postponed after an unidentified member of the squad tested positive for the virus, and then their match in Wales also failed to go ahead as all sport ground to a halt.
In an already crowded calendar it will be a big ask to play those three remaining games and World Cup qualifying by the end of the year. But Malcolm believes that, health and safety permitting of course, it could be the best arrangement to get the sport back on track.
“We’re just waiting, like everyone else, to hear from World Rugby,” she said earlier today. “Scottish Rugby have assured us they’ll make sure, for our welfare as much as anything else, that we’ll have ample time for preparation we require. Obviously that will require some rugby in the build-up.
“I would imagine that there will be Tests, but it will all be dependent on what the government and sporting guidelines are and how it all fits in the calendar. I think the aim is to play all of the matches. Six Nations is obviously a big one in terms of preparation towards those qualifiers, so if we could get them in prior that would be really good build-up.
“But it may be they come after. We just don’t know.”
Scotland are due to play Ireland, Italy and a fourth team yet to be decided in regional qualifying in the autumn. Spain, the Netherlands and Russia are the three non-Six Nations teams competing in a mini-league of their own for the right to go through and play the Scots, Irish and Italians.
The news that a Scotland player had tested positive came as a shock, given the fact that there were few known cases in this country at the time. Malcolm revealed that the squad were surprised rather than scared when they learned of the diagnosis.
“It was probably surprise more than anything, because at that that point it was not as widespread as it is now. We were supported by Dr Andrew Murray, who is one of the most well renowned doctors in sport, so we knew we were being supported as well as we could be. We were surprised and looking out for the welfare of our player, but she was well throughout: that was the main thing.”
With the player in question having quickly recovered, Malcolm believes that the squad have learned from, and been strengthened by, their experience of a season that has been disrupted like no other they have known. “The team were probably in the strongest place we have been in in terms of togetherness,” she said. “On the pitch things were starting to gel, so it was a really unfortunate time in terms of not getting a huge amount of rugby after that.
“We had been faced with challenge after challenge and it got to the time when it was a bit comical but what actually happened was that as a squad we became so much tighter, including the management as well. The way that we dealt with those challenges was unbelievable. I have never felt so proud to be part of Scottish rugby as I was during that time because of how we dealt with it and how we came through it stronger.
“Though we didn’t get an opportunity to show it on the pitch, what we were doing on the pitch was getting better and better throughout the Six Nations. It was an important part of what is to come in the next couple of seasons to go through that, as probably no other international team has ever gone through and come out the other end stronger and more gelled than ever.”