Women’s 6N: Ten talking points from Scotland’s campaign

The progress has been evident if uneven in a tournament that saw two wins and three defeats.

Scotland's Alex Stewart in action against England. Debutant Fi McIntosh looks on. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk
Scotland's Alex Stewart in action against England. Debutant Fi McIntosh looks on. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

SCOTLAND’s RESULTS:

  • Wales 20 Scotland 22
  • Scotland 5 France 15
  • Scotland 0 England 46
  • Italy 10 Scotland 17
  • Ireland 15 Scotland 12

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1. Onwards and upwards

Scotland finished this year’s Championship in fourth place following two wins and three defeats, the same as last year. They ended up with nine points compared to ten in 2023, so judging solely by that statistic they could be said to have declined marginally. 

However, unlike last year when Italy and Ireland were beaten in Edinburgh, both of this year’s wins came on the road – in Cardiff for the first time since 2004 and in Italy for the first time this century. Teams can talk all they want about events long gone being irrelevant, but the fact is that to win at a ground where no-one in your squad has experienced victory before is to overcome a significant psychological barrier. And in that sense, this year’s campaign saw a distinct, albeit modest, improvement. The question now is how the squad can maintain, and ideally accelerate, that improvement.

2. Changing of the guard

Several senior players were absent from some or all of Scotland’s five games. Jade Konkel missed out on the whole Championship because of injury. Sarah Bonar’s injury against Wales ruled her out of the rest of the campaign. Lana Skeldon was twice out through injury, Emma Wassell missed two matches following the death of her mother, and Chloe Rollie only started two matches – she was on the bench in rounds one and two as she made her way back from injury, and then was suspended for the Ireland game following her red card against Italy.

As head coach Bryan Easson said last week: “In the past if you had seen the losses of these players there would have been real panic”. Not any more, because the squad’s strength in depth has grown considerably.  

Konkel, 30, returned to action at the weekend for Harlequins, so hopefully she will be back in the national squad for WXV2 in the autumn. Nonetheless, this campaign saw the first signs of a new generation coming through to augment and in time replace the first generation of professionals who have served the team so well over the past decade. 

3. The case for the defence

In 2023, Scotland conceded 178 points over their five games: this year it was 104. The 15-5 loss to France was responsible for roughly half of that massive improvement: last year’s result was a 55-0 defeat. 

In short, the defence has made great strides under assistant coach Tyrone Holmes, not only because of improved individual performances, but primarily because the system is working so well and everyone knows her role within it inside out.

 

 

4. Blunted attack 

Last year Scotland scored 94 points; this year it was only 54. They scored eight tries this time: two by Elis Martin and one each from Coreen Grant, Rhona Lloyd, Lana Skeldon, Emma Orr, Chloe Rollie and Lisa Thomson. There was perhaps an over-reliance on the maul as a likely source of points, leading too often to a penalty being sent to touch when an attempt at goal was more likely to yield points. This was exemplified in the final minutes of the 15-12 loss in Belfast, when three points would have produced the draw needed for a third-place finish and qualification for next year’s  Rugby World Cup in England.

5. Unqualified success

Speaking of the World Cup, qualification has surely only been deferred rather than denied. The authorities do not want to admit it, but unless there is a very late and very unusual change in the qualification criteria, Scotland will qualify simply by taking part in WXV2: there are six World Cup places available for the best teams who have yet to qualify, and there will be at least six teams in the two top tiers who have already qualified. 

6. Meryl Smith can be the creative hub of the team

Smith started off as a stand-off but is now a 10/12, according to Easson. The Bristol Bears back describes herself as a utility player, and has turned out for her club at full-back – the position in which she started three of Scotland’s games. She began at 12 against England, and was replaced for the second half by Lisa Thomson, and she got no time at all at 10.

‘Utility’ players are too often under-utilised, and Smith is surely a case at point. The 22-year-old is the most creative member of the squad and has the talent to become the pivotal figure in the back division for the next decade – as long as she is given the chance to settle in at stand-off. 

 

 

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7. The Celtic Challenge was the ideal rehearsal for the Six Nations

The progression from amateur club rugby in the autumn to the semi-pro tournament after the turn of the year and then on to the Championship itself makes a lot of sense, both for those players who are not with an English club, and for those who are, but who need the game time with Glasgow or Edinburgh. In future years, the Challenge is expected to expand from its current regular season of five games to one of ten, something which should further help the transition into the international game for promising young players. 

8. Alex Stewart was born to play Test rugby

The Corstorphine Cougars openside was a standout performer in the Celtic Challenge, and then made an assured and hugely impressive step up to the international game. Over the decades, even some of the best players in the game have needed a season or two to acclimatise to the rigours of Test rugby, but the 19-year-old looked like a natural from the first minute of her international career.

9. Ireland’s rapid rise can inspire others

No-hopers last year, when they won the Wooden Spoon, the Irish rose this year to become best of the rest behind England and France. The ebullience and energy of new head coach Scott Bemand has been in large part responsible for that rise, helping them become better across the board. In a competition where four teams are pretty much on the same level, a modest improvement can go a long way.

10. England are still quite good

Before we praise Ireland too much, let’s not forget that they lost 88-10 to England, who remain some way ahead of the other five nations. They beat Scotland 46-0 in difficult conditions despite having Amy Cokayne sent off, leading Easson to say: “Today was poor – it wasn’t us”. 

It was surely not Scotland at their best, but results between the two teams since the turn of the century suggest it was certainly not an atypical performance either. And while the Irish example suggests that it would not take much for Easson’s team to become more consistent and then win more games, the harsh reality is that they are still very far away from being competitive against England, whom they last defeated in 1999. 


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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.

1 Comment

  1. I think that’s a pretty fair assessment. There isn’t much between Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Italy. I think they are all capable of beating each other on their day. So two wins on the road and a single score defeat is a decent return.

    Not sure I agree with taking that penalty against Ireland. Easy to say they should have kicked it after the event, but Nelson hasn’t been infallible off the tee. Going for the maul may actually have been the percentage play.

    Plenty of room for growth in this team. With all the attacking flair in the backs, I think you have to say they were a bit underused in this campaign.

    Onwards and upwards.

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