GARY HEATLY @ Estadio Nacional Complutense
SCOTLAND were left to rue defensive errors in the second half of this Test, but head coach Shade Munro has vowed that his players will be better for this tough experience going into the upcoming Six Nations.
Scotland went into the match after November losses to Italy (38-0) and Canada (28-25), and after 47 minutes of this one in the Estadio Central they were 17-10 up. However, Spain had a purple patch in the middle of the second half and scored three tries, which left Scotland with too much ground to make up.
In the first half Scotland looked after the ball well and were well served by ball-carriers like hooker Lana Skeldon, second-row Nicola Howat and No 8 Siobhan Cattigan. Sophie Anderson also came off the bench in the second half and made her full debut, making an impact with a couple of big carries.
They lost their shape defensively in the second period, though, leaving them with plenty food for thought ahead of the Six Nations opener with Italy at Scotstoun on February 1. “It was a well-contested game and we played some good stuff, but really what cost us was too many defensive errors and Spain managed to get momentum and score tries in the second half,” Munro said. “That is what we have to get better at, defensively being more switched on for 80 minutes.
“With the Six Nations coming up this was a great test for us to have. We wanted to carry hard and we did that to an extent, but it was too inconsistent in the second half and we need to work on that.
“When we get ahead we also need to learn that that is not ‘job done’ and in fact you have to re-set and imagine it is 0-0 again. That is all part of the learning curve that this team are on.
“We took the foot off the gas a bit and, to their credit, Spain upped the tempo and began playing with intensity and we weren’t able to get back to the levels of the first half until it was too late. Teams will have periods where they do well and are attacking and you have to learn to weather the storm. We have to reflect on this result, work on things as a group and get ready for the Six Nations.”
Captain Lisa Thomson said: “We need to work individually and as a team everybody needs to review the game and be hard on themselves. There were a few individual errors from everyone.”
This weekend’s Tennent’s Premiership match reports –
Watsonians v Currie Chieftains: narrow win nudges visitors closer to play-offs
Melrose v Heriot’s: capital side too sharp for understrength hosts
Boroughmuir v Stirling County: pack power prevails over half-hearted hosts
Hawick v Ayr: leaders too powerful for error-prone Borderers
Glasgow Hawks v Edinburgh Accies: hosts take big step towards safety
Back-row Louise McMillan went off in the first half with an arm injury that is to be assessed while the likes of Rachel Malcolm, Sarah Bonar, Rhona Lloyd and Sarah Law will come back into contention for the Six Nations. “There are two, three, four players who could come back in for the Six Nations,” Munro said.
“We preferred some of them to continue their return to fitness with their clubs this week, while Sarah Law was here in Madrid with us [as 24th player]. Sarah will be playing for Edinburgh University on Wednesday and it is a boost for us that she could be available for the Six Nations. She has worked really hard after various operations on her ankle.”
Spain No 8 Maria Losada went over for the opening try in the sixth minute. Stand-off Helen Nelson missed a penalty, but in the 24th minute, after Cattigan and Skeldon had gone close, Nelson crashed over for a try which she converted herself.
Just past the half-hour mark, Scotland scored a cracking team try, keeping the ball alive for more than 20 phases. They showed great patience, and after winger Lauren Harris had gone close on the right, they recycled the ball left and centre Hannah Smith scored. Spain scored their second unconverted try just before the break, with winger Maria Garcia going over.
That left Scotland two points clear, and they stretched their lead after 47 minutes through Smith. When Spain turned the ball over on their own line the danger looked to be over, but after full-back Chloe Rollie caught the exit kick she fed skipper Lisa Thomson, who in turn put Smith in for the unconverted effort.
Then came a quarter-of-an-hour spell in which Spain dominated, scoring three tries, two of them converted, to take control of the contest. With the Scots scrum coming under increasing pressure, tighthead prop Laura Delgado got the first from close range, then Patricia Garcia took a quick tap penalty to go over. Garcia converted both those tries, and although she failed to add two more points after she had scored her own second, that still made it 29-17 with little more than 10 minutes left.
Scotland were a bit shell-shocked by those scores, but they rallied well, and in the final minute a good move down the line was finished off by Rollie and converted well by Skeldon. With just five points in it, there was time for one more play, but Munro’s side conceded a penalty while trying to run the ball out of their own half, allowing Spain to kick it dead and end the match.
Spain: I Echebarria; L Erbina, S Hurtado, M Bravo, M Garcia; P Garcia, A Fernandez (C); S Jaurena, M Rodriguez, L Delgado, A Puig, M Brust, M Salinas, M Calvo, M Losada. Subs: J Vinueza, I Macias, M Estelles, L Alameda, O Fresneda, A Vinuesa, I Algar, L Diaz.
Scotland: C Rollie; L Harris, H Smith, L Thomson (C), A Sergeant; H Nelson, M Grieve; L Cockburn, L Skeldon, M Kennedy, E Wassell, N Howat, L McMillan, R McLachlan, S Cattigan. Subs: J Rettie, L Minty, M Forsyth, S Anderson, L Winter, J Maxwell, L Martin, A Evans.
Referee: A Groizeleau (France).
Spain: Tries: Losada, M Garcia, Delgado, P Garcia 2. Cons: P Garcia 2.
Scotland: Tries: Nelson, Smith 2, Rollie. Cons: Nelson, Skeldon.
Scoring sequence (Spain first): 5-0, 5-5, 5-7, 5-12, 10-12 half-time, 10-17, 15-17, 17-17, 22-17, 24-17, 29-17, 29-22, 29-24.
Player of the match: From a Scotland point of view Hannah Smith scored two tries on her return from an injury lay-off while Lana Skeldon and Nicola Howat carried well, but the award goes to Spain stand-off Patricia Garcia for her game management and promptings to get her side back from 17-10 down.
Talking point: This Scotland team can play good rugby, of that there is no doubt, and this performance was solid for 47 minutes at a tough venue. However, they switch off all too often and let opponents get on the front foot and there will be a lot of work done on defence ahead of the Italy game.
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