Scotland close to full strength for World Cup shoot-out with Colombia

Head coach Bryan Easson opts for maximum experience as favourites aim to claim last place in this year's finals

Jade Konkel
Jade Konkel-Roberts is at No 8 in the Scotland team to play Wales. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

SCOTLAND coach Bryan Easson has named his most experienced squad available for tomorrow’s final Rugby World Cup play-off against Colombia – the team’s most important game for a decade, and a tie in which patience and composure should be half the battle.

Hannah Smith is suspended and Sarah Bonar has not recovered fully following surgery on an ankle injury, but otherwise the team is at full strength. Every member of the back division has at least 30 caps, and although only four forwards come into that category, the other four include captain Rachel Malcolm, whose leadership has played such an important role in getting the team this far. It is a similar situation on the bench, where Eva Donaldson and Caity Mattinson are potential debutants – although Mattinson has experience of playing Test rugby some years ago with England.

Scotland are in the very unfamiliar position of being favourites for this game, and that status undoubtedly brings a certain pressure with it. But, after hard-fought victories over Spain and Ireland in European qualifying, Easson’s team have shown they can now live with pressure in relative comfort. Defence was key as they held off a late Spanish onslaught, while attack was the winning factor against Ireland, and if they are able to play a balanced game in which their all-round strengths are in evidence, Scotland should win this one with something to spare.


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“It was quite an easy decision for me to make, to be honest,” Easson said earlier today after naming his matchday 23. “When you look at a game like this, experienced heads help when the team is under a bit more pressure than we have been before. We’ve been in those tight situations, namely against Spain and Ireland in Italy, so we have coped with that. So it’s nothing new, but the more experience you have, the better.

“Picking the experienced group gives us the focus that we require. We have looked at the opposition less so than we would normally do, we haven’t had a lot of footage, so we’ve focused on ourselves. And to have the experienced players there makes it a whole lot easier. They can use their experience with the youngsters and that calmer experience helps and they can use their voices.”

After their failure to get to the last two World Cup finals, Scotland know that qualifying for this autumn’s event in New Zealand would represent a massive step forward for them as a team. Those victories over Spain and Ireland earlier this season were significant advances; now they need to do another similarly professional job – though hopefully one in which the outcome is decided well before full-time.

“We’re not going to deny what it would mean to everybody,” Easson added. “This group, a lot of them played the qualifiers in 2013, a lot played qualifiers in 2016, so some of them have been waiting nine years and have been working very hard for this. They have been on a long journey and to get to a World Cup, and a World Cup in New Zealand at that, would be the ultimate for everyone here.”

 

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Scotland are ninth in the current world rankings while Colombia are up to 25th following their win over Kazakhstan in last week’s play-off semi-final. That is a substantial gulf, but the South Americans have shown that they are a rapidly improving team. They won that last match despite having No 8 Maribel Mestra sent off after quarter of an hour for a shoulder to an opponent’s head, and by taking the game to Kazakhstan in the closing minutes they demonstrated a high level of fitness and excellent morale.

But having said that, Scotland know this fixture is about doing themselves justice, and the emphasis since they arrived in Dubai early last week has been firmly on ensuring they play their own best game rather than focusing too much on negating the strengths of their opponents. “We’ve made a conscious decision that we really have to look at what we need to do to cross the line,” Easson added. “There has been a lot of detail on that and we have worked hard on the processes – the outcome should take care of itself.”

The winners will go through to Pool A in the finals alongside hosts New Zealand, Australia and Wales. The match will be shown live on BBC Alba and on World Rugby’s YouTube channel.

Scotland (v Colombia, tomorrow 3pm in Dubai): C Rollie; R Lloyd, L Thomson, H Nelson, M Gaffney; S Law, J Maxwell; L Bartlett, L Skeldon, C Belisle, E Wassell, L McMillan, R Malcolm (captain), R McLachlan, J Konkel. Substitutes: M Wright, L Cockburn, K Dougan, E Donaldson, E Gallagher, C Mattinson. E Wills, S Campbell.


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About Stuart Bathgate 1213 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.

9 Comments

  1. Have to say was expecting another tense one but players and coaches got the important stuff right. Excellent set piece belligerent in contact and great support lines. Very emotional at the end and a great tribute to Shib. Well done ladies great to have a RWC to look forward to.

  2. Looking forward to this. What a great opportunity.

    Does anyone know why/how Hannah Smith is suspended? Can’t find any reference to a red card or citing anywhere!

  3. difficult to know how good the Columbians are, but seem to be no mugs. So spot on, need to go hard, go fast and go early

    • difficult to know how good the Columbians are, but seem to be no mugs. So spot on, need to go hard, go fast and go early

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