Women’s 6N: Ireland v Scotland preview: late reshuffle for visitors

Third place in the Championship and World Cup qualification are on the line for Bryan Easson's side in Belfast

Leah Bartlett
Leah Bartlett in action against England. The loosehead prop returns to Scotland's starting line-up to face Ireland as part of a front-row reshuffle. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

SCOTLAND have been forced into a late change to their team to face Ireland tomorrow following an unspecified injury to Lana Skeldon. Elis Martin will now start at hooker in place of Skeldon, who was also ruled out of the game against France because of injury.

Molly Wright, who was due to play at loosehead prop, drops out of the starting 15 to become replacement hooker. Leah Bartlett will now begin the game at Belfast’s Kingspan Stadium at loosehead – which she did for the first three matches before giving way to Wright last week – and Lisa Cockburn comes into the 23 as replacement loosehead.

With Chloe Rollie suspended and Jade Konkel and Sarah Bonar missing out through injury, the loss of Skeldon for the final round of this year’s Six Nations deprives Bryan Easson’s squad of yet another of their most experienced players – one, moreover, who plays a very vocal and effective leadership role on the pitch. 

On the plus side, however, Emma Wassell is back after missing the last two games following the death of her mother. And, as Easson said earlier in the week, the depth of the squad is steadily increasing, to the extent that the absence of one or more senior players will not necessarily be as keenly felt as it once was.

“In the past if you had seen the losses of these players there would have been real panic,” the head coach stated. “I have to compliment everyone who’s come in – and the management team – because it has been seamless. There is always adversity in sport, things happen, but everyone has just got on with it.”

And despite that late disruption to the 23, the players should be able to remain sharply focused on the task at hand: securing the win that will not only guarantee a third-place finish in the Championship, but will also qualify Scotland for next year’s WXV1 tournament – and a place in the 2025 Rugby World Cup in England. 

Scotland go into the game two points ahead of Ireland and Italy – who play Wales earlier tomorrow – thanks to their wins in Cardiff and Parma in rounds one and four respectively. That means a draw or even a defeat with bonus points could still be enough for that third place.

And, even if they do not manage what is required in Belfast, they appear all but certain to qualify for the World Cup via WXV2 – the tier to which they would drop with a fourth- or fifth-place Six Nations finish. There are six qualification places up for grabs in the global competition, and, as it appears all but inevitable that half a dozen teams in the top two tiers will already have qualified, it looks like Scotland will simply have to turn up to earn one of those six places – even though neither World Rugby nor Scottish Rugby have so far been willing to say so publicly.  

Not that the players have wasted any time in indulging in such speculation. “I think it’s every player’s dream to go to a World Cup, but as a team we’ve not really focused on it,” winger Francesca MvGhie said. “We’re really just looking forward to this game and ending the campaign the way that we want to and being proud of all of our performances.

“It definitely will be a tough match. Ireland aren’t going to be an easy team to play against: they’re very physical and we’ve just got to bring it to them.” 

Scotland beat Ireland comfortably at home a year ago, when McGhie scored the try of the season. But the home team have improved considerably since, and, having beaten Wales 36-5 a fortnight ago while the Scots only won by two points in Cardiff, they probably go into this game as marginal favourites.
A lot will depend on how they react to last week’s 88-10 humiliation at the hands of England, who play France tomorrow evening in Bordeaux with the Grand Slam at stake. Scotland bounced back from a 46-0 loss to the English to beat Italy a week later – can the hosts do something similar?

Ireland (v Scotland at the Kingspan Stadium, Saturday 2.30pm): M Deely; K Corrigan, E Higgins, E Breen, B Parsons; D O’Brien, A Reilly; L Djougang, N Jones, C Haney, D Wall, S Monaghan (co-captain), A Wafer, E McMahon (co-captain), B Hogan. Replacements: C Moloney, N O’Dowd, S McGruth, F Tuite, S Ikafihifo, M Scuffil-McCabe, A Dalton, K Heffernan.

Scotland: M Smith; C Grant, E Orr, L Thomson, F McGhie; H Nelson, C Mattinson; L Bartlett, E Martin, C Belisle, E Wassell, L McMillan, R Malcolm (captain), A Stewart, E Gallagher. Replacements: M Wright, L Cockburn, E Clarke, E Donaldson, R McLachlan, M McDonald, C Bell, N Flynn. 

Referee: Natarsha Ganley (New Zealand).

About Stuart Bathgate 1415 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.

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