RISING star Evie Gallagher believes that Scotland can get over the “mental block” they have had in recent times whilst playing against bogey team Italy when the two sides meet in Parma this weekend.
Italy are ranked eighth in the world with Scotland currently 10th and, from the outside looking in, with their respective resources and playing squads, the two teams should be pretty evenly matched.
However, since a 14-12 triumph was recorded by Scotland at Broadwood in 2017, Italy have strongly had the upper hand in this fixture and have won the last five meetings: three in the Six Nations, one in an Autumn Test and one in a World Cup qualifier.
Italy have no points from their three games to date in this year’s TikTok Six Nations event and are sixth in the table while Scotland have just one point from three games and are fifth.
With both teams building towards the World Cup in New Zealand in October and November this Saturday night’s clash in the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi has a ‘must win’ feel about it for Bryan Easson’s Scots if the progress we keep hearing about is to really gain traction.
Stirling County’s 21-year-old back-row Gallagher has only been involved in the national team for the last 12 months, but was a standout performer versus Wales and France recently.
Personally, she has lost two games to Italy in her career, but is confident the squad can get an away win on the board in round four of the showpiece event.
“I can only speak for myself and the last two games versus Italy and it is almost a mental frustration thing for me,” the No 6 or No.8 who has transitioned seamlessly to open-side, said. “I wouldn’t say they are a better team than us, they are certainly beatable, but we have a bit of a mental block with them and we just need to absolutely back ourselves with everything we do this weekend rather than worrying about what has happened before.
“Italy are a team who we want to show how good we are against. They have been a team we have wanted to beat for a while now and have had some up and down games against them. They are quite a physical team and we want to prove that we can compete with them.”
Asked whether Scotland “are due Italy one”, Gallagher adds: “I would say so. It has been a long time coming.
“The three games so far in the Six Nations have been frustrating as a whole, but there have been some good points that we are now trying to bring together into one performance.
“It is small, small fixes and that is why it is frustrating because it has just been slight defensive lapses or not finishing chances that has been making it hard for us.”
Gallagher, who turned out for Scotland Sevens while still in her late teens, admits the last year has been a “whirlwind” whilst playing for the XVs side. She made her full debut last April against England off the bench and is set to win cap number 11 this weekend.
In the game she will want to continue to press her claims for a World Cup spot with other back-rowers like Rachel McLachlan, Louise McMillan and Eva Donaldson champing at the bit too from the bench and beyond for game time with skipper Rachel Malcolm and Jade Konkel’s places in the regular starting XV all but assured barring injury.
“It has been a whirlwind, pretty non-stop since I made my debut against England,” Gallagher recounts. “It feels like I haven’t been away from the rugby pitch much and it is crazy to think it has only been a year since I got my first cap.
“It was quite stressful coming off the bench on my debut, I was sitting thinking ‘I am not nervous, I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine’ and then the coaches came to me at half-time and said that Rach [Malcolm] could not continue and I was going on. Everyone was telling me ‘it’s just rugby Evie, it’s just rugby’, but it was the biggest game of my life up to that point! I think I have learnt a lot since then.”
And she has been on that learning curve alongside the likes of Anne Young, 22, Evie Wills, 21, Meryl Smith, 20, Shona Campbell, 20, the aforementioned Donaldson, 20, and 19-year-old Emma Orr.
“It is nice being on the journey with these guys, we are all close friends and a lot of us have been at Edinburgh Uni together at some stage so we are all on the same page,” said Gallagher. “We boost each other up to compete for starting spots which is nice.”
Gallagher is currently a student at the Scottish Rural College and works part-time. She is one of the 13 wider Scotland squad members involved in this Six Nations campaign to date who play for Scottish clubs or universities. 22 others play in England’s top flight and one at a high level in France and, if her stock continues to rise, she may look to go that way herself after the World Cup. And a full-time contract in rugby is the longer-term goal.
“If the opportunity comes to play rugby full-time then that would be great, that is my plan really,” she explains. “But right now I am just focusing on playing as much rugby as I can, that is my main goal. I just want to keep improving and getting better with every game I play.”
The match-day 23 for the trip to Parma is due to be named later today.