AFTER home defeats by Wales and Japan, Scotland needed a morale-boosting victory to take into the Six Nations, and they duly got one in this friendly at Almeria’s Juan Rojas stadium. Their attacking prowess was in evidence in both halves, with Hannah Smith scoring a very early try then adding another late in the first 40, while the close-quarters defence was magnificent in the third quarter, keeping the home team at bay just when they threatened to get back into the game.
There were six tries in all, while captain Helen Nelson added three conversions. There were still some unforced errors and weaknesses in some areas of forward play, but overall head coach Philip Doyle was delighted with a performance which showed character, ambition and a far greater self-confidence than was evident in the team’s two Autumn Tests at Scotstoun.
“You dream about them, to be honest,” he said. “When we went 12-0 up then they pulled it back to 12-12, that was disappointing. But it was also very encouraging that the girls went on to pull out a performance like that. We’ve been working so hard on our game management, and the girls are recognising situations and acting on them now, and the way in which they did that was a very positive thing to get out of this game.
“There are bigger challenges ahead, and we’ve still got a long way to go, but we’ve got to be happy with today. We capped four players, two of them scored tries, and we put in a performance like that. They’ve grown up a little bit in international rugby. It’s all good.”
Scotland got off to the best possible start with a full score inside the opening 90 seconds. Turnover ball led to Megan Gaffney breaking down the left, the winger passed inside to Lisa Thomson, and then Thomson set her fellow-centre Smith free to touch down close to the posts, with Helen Nelson converting.
Gaffney then went from provider to scorer after nine minutes, finishing off after good carries by Jade Konkel and Smith, with the latter providing the scoring pass. Nelson’s conversion attempt fell short, but it was an excellent beginning by Scotland nonetheless, and one which for a time left their opponents reeling.
As the half wore on, however, the home team gradually shrugged off that sluggish start and came back into the game. They narrowed the deficit when winger Uri Barrutieta crossed in the right corner for an unconverted try, and went on to dominate up front for the rest of the half.
Persistent penalties against Scotland eventually led to hooker Lana Skeldon being yellow-carded just before the half-hour. A tap penalty was taken, and No 8 Maria Calvo had the strength to force her way over, with Patricia Garcia converting to bring the scores level.
Substitute hooker Molly Wright came off the bench for her debut when a scrum was called with Skeldon still in the bin, and played her part in stemming the tide with her team still a player down. Scotland then regained the lead with a devastating counter-attack a minute from half-time. Nelson popped up a short pass to Smith just outside their own 22, and the centre burst through a couple of tackles then outpaced the rest of the defence to score behind the posts. Nelson’s conversion re-established a seven-point lead at the break.
Scotland began the second half at a high tempo, and got the reward for their commitment when debutant prop Leah Bartlett touched down after winning the race for a chargedown. Nelson added the two points to make it a 14-point lead.
Spain needed a quick reply, and they thought they had one at the end of a forward drive but were denied when Thomson and Siobhan Cattigan combined to hold the ball up over the line. They were denied again minutes later when Lide Erbina crossed after gathering a loose ball, but the referee had already blown up for an injury to Jenny Maxwell. The scrum-half was carried off, to be replaced by Mairi McDonald for her first cap.
Spain resumed the attack when play restarted, but were held up twice more by a determined and well-organised Scotland defence. Skeldon, responsible for the second stop, was injured in the process and hobbled off.
With the pressure eventually relieved, Smith embarked on another dangerous run to remind the Spanish that Scotland were still an attacking force. The offensive was snuffed out at the expense of a penalty, which went to touch. A maul from the lineout set up a steady platform, and with advantage again being played, Rhona Lloyd went over in the right corner to make the game secure with an unconverted try.
Alex Wallace became the fourth debutant of the afternoon with 13 minutes to go, and Scotland rounded off the game with a sixth try. An excellent penalty to touch by Thomson led to a lineout drive, and Wright finished off the move, with the conversion again going wide.
Especially given they were without two of their most experienced and influential players in Chloe Rollie and Rachel Malcolm, this was an impressively solid performance by Scotland against a team who have often got the better of them in recent years. Those two should be passed fit in time for the Six Nations, and Skeldon is thought to have only suffered soft-tissue damage so should not be out for too long either.
But there is greater concern about Maxwell, who injured a knee. The exact extent of the damage has yet to be made clear, but the scrum-half could be sidelined throughout the tournament. With Mhairi Grieve already unavailable because of work commitments, that leaves the squad understrength in the No 9 position at a time when their greater depth in other areas is becoming apparent.
Spain: I Echebarria; P Requena, S Hurtado, L Erbina, U Barrutieta; A Argudo, P Garcia; I Rico, M Rodriguez, L Delgado, A Puig, L Alameda, M Salinas, P Medin, M Calvo. Substitutes: S Jaurena, I Macias, M Brust, P Gil, C Rodera, L Diaz, E Segarra, I Bueso-Inchausti.
Scotland: E Tonkin; R Lloyd, H Smith, L Thomson, M Gaffney; H Nelson, J Maxwell; L Bartlett, L Skeldon, M Forsyth, E Wassell, S Bonar, S Cattigan, R McLachlan, J Konkel. Substitutes: M Wright, P Muzambe, L Cockburn, C Belisle, L McMillan, M McDonald, S Denholm, A Wallace.
Referee: D Domenjo (France).
Scorers: Spain: Tries: Barrutieta, Calvo. Con: Garcia.
Scotland: Tries: Smith 2, Gaffney, Bartlett, Lloyd, Wright. Cons: Nelson 3.
Scoring sequence (Spain first): 0-5, 0-7, 0-12, 5-12, 10-12, 12-12, 12-17, 12-19 half-time, 12-24, 12-26, 12-31, 12-36.
Yellow card: Scotland: Skeldon 29.