Women’s 6N: three changes to Scotland team to face Ireland

Meryl Smith
Meryl Smith in action against England earlier this month. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

MERYL Smith will replace the suspended Chloe Rollie at full-back in the Scotland team to play Ireland on Saturday – one of three changes to the starting line-up made by Bryan Easson. Coreen Grant takes over on the right wing from the unavailable Rhona Lloyd, and Emma Wassell returns at lock after a two-game absence following the death of her mother.  

Bristol Bears back Smith wore the No 15 jersey for the first two games in this year’s Six Nations, the win against Wales and the loss to France. She then switched to inside centre for the England match but was an unused substitute in the 17-10 win over Italy last week.

Rollie was sent off in the last minute of that match in Parma for a dangerous clean-out, her yellow card was subsequently upgraded to red, and earlier this week she was given a three-match ban. The other games from which she is suspended will both be for her club, Loughborough Lightning.

Grant has also been a starter in the Championship, but surrendered her place on the left wing to Francesca McGhie after the latter recovered from illness. She gets her starting place back as Lloyd, the squad’s current top try-scorer, is on GB Sevens duty.

Wassell resumes her usual place at lock, with Eva Donaldson dropping down to the bench. Uncapped Edinburgh University backs Cieron Bell and Nicole Flynn are also included among the replacements for the match in Belfast.

After pulling out of the England match, Wassell returned to be with the squad for part of the build-up to the Italy game. Head coach Easson said that the timing of that visit – and of her comeback to the playing group – has been left to the second-row forward herself.

“We made it very clear to her that it was her decision,” he said. “There was no pressure on her whatsoever to come in last week or be involved this week. We’ve made it clear it’s person first, player second and we’ll continue that.  She’s a strong woman – a bereavement is tough for anyone to take, but she’s got close people around her and very close friends in this group and I think she wanted to be part of that. 

“In terms of selection, she trained really well this week, so it’s not just a case of  ‘We’ll just select her because’ – she’s in because of her talent. She was a loss. Any player of her pedigree and experience is a loss. The way she trained this week, it was a no-brainer she had to come back. She’s brought energy and she’s been brilliant around the group.”

Although Smith will have the No 15 on her back, she is primarily a 10/12. and Easson hinted that she may be found closer to the breakdown at times against Ireland.  “She is creative and I think it is a real positive to have her in there. Helen [Nelson] has gone really well this Six Nations, but it’s good to have someone else creative at 15 and who can come in at first receiver. To have two first receivers helps.”

Turning to Grant, Easson praised not only her individual contribution as a finisher, but also her leadership qualities within the back three. “She had that finish against the Welsh and she was unlucky with another chance,” he added. “You maybe don’t see it from the sideline, but her communication in defence is phenomenal. She really works for the back three.

“So to have her experience with Fran, who is dangerous, and Meryl, who is creative – Coreen is probably the glue in there in terms of her communication. And one-to-one in attack she’s a danger in herself. There’s a really good blend across the back three this week.”

Scotland (v Ireland at the Kingspan Stadium, Saturday 2.30pm): M Smith; C Grant, E Orr, L Thomson, F McGhie; H Nelson, C Mattinson; M Wright, L Skeldon, C Belisle, E Wassell, L McMillan, R Malcolm (captain), A Stewart, E Gallagher. Replacements: E Martin, L Bartlett, E Clarke, E Donaldson, R McLachlan, M McDonald, C Bell, N Flynn. 

About Stuart Bathgate 1407 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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