SARAH Bonar is back in the Scotland team for Friday night’s Six Nations Championship match against England, the only change by head coach Shade Munro to his starting line-up. The Aberdeen-born forward, a late withdrawal from the side to face France because of injury, is alongside Jade Konkel in the back row as Munro seeks maximum defensive solidity against opponents to whom Scotland lost 64-0 last year.
No 8 Konkel started at prop in the 18-17 defeat by Wales at the start of the month, and only moved to the back row to face the French after Bonar, usually a lock, was forced to withdraw. The coaching team’s aim in playing Konkel up front and centre Hannah Smith in the back row, among other positional switches, was to have all of the squad’s best ball-players on the pitch at once. Now, however, that experiment is over, at least for the time being.
“Sarah’s fit, she’s passed all her fitness tests, she comes back in – there was no hassle there, really,” Munro said. “The decision we had to make was whether we move Jade back to prop.
“Jade was very effective at No 8 against France – she’s certainly effective in a retreating scrum, which can sometimes happen against the likes of France and England. We’ve gone for Siobhan McMillan at prop and Jade at 8, with Sarah and Rachel Malcolm either side of her in the back row.
“Hannah is on the bench as a back. We’ve run the experiment of her being a back-row player, which she actually did pretty well – she’s not let anybody down there. She has a preference for playing at centre.”
Lapses of concentration proved costly at Scotstoun against the French, although Munro was encouraged by the improvement in defensive solidity. He will demand further improvement against England, while being realistic enough to know that his squad will be stretched to the limit by opponents who, at No 2 in the world, are 10 places above them in the rankings.
“It’s pretty much the same approach as against France. The question now is can they replicate what they did in that game against England – and can they replicate it for longer?”
“England are arguably a better team than France. They play a wide, expansive game. They get the go-forward then look to play a wide game after that, and they’ve got the skill level to do it.
“We need to try to stop their go-forward. The physicality side of it will be huge, and the organisation in defence comes next.
“Against France, the team defended really well for a number of phases, but they couldn’t sustain it. Our challenge will be to stop them getting quick ball, stop them getting go-forward, and then stop them going wide.
“In the French game we were leading 3-0 until about 34 minutes, and then they scored two tries. We lost two tries in the last 10 minutes of the second half too. The tries themselves were relatively poor in terms of the way they were defended, but that comes from being physically tired.
“So this game is about replicating those 34 minutes for the whole of the first half, and managing to do it throughout the second half too. They need to step it up a level from what they did against France. If they contain England, or stop them scoring, for the whole of the first half, and if they then only manage to sustain it to 60 minutes, then at least we’ll know where we are fitness-wise. It’s as good a measure as any.”
The one change on the Scotland bench sees scrum-half Mhairi Grieve replace Jenny Maxwell. England coach Simon Middleton, meanwhile, has made five personnel changes and three positional alterations in his side, reflecting the strength in depth available to him. Captain Sarah Hunter has been ruled out by a minor calf injury, so Katy Daley-Mclean takes over the leadership role. Daley-Mclean, like Scotland skipper Lisa Martin, plays for DMP Sharks.
Scotland and England teams for Friday
Scotland (v England at Scotstoun, Friday, kick-off 7.05pm): C Rollie (Lille); E Musgrove (Edinburgh Uni), L Thomson (Lille), H Nelson (Murrayfield Wanderers), R Lloyd (Edinburgh Uni); L Martin (DMP Sharks), S Law (Edinburgh Uni/Murrayfield Wanderers); S McMillan (Hillhead/Jordanhill), L Skeldon (Watsonians), M Kennedy (Stirling County), E Wassel (Murrayfield Wanderers), D McCormack (Harlequins), S Bonar, R Malcolm (both Loughborough Lightning), J Konkel (Lille). Substitutes: J Rettie (Thurrock), M Lowish (Loughborough Lightning), L Smith (Hillhead/Jordanhill), S Cattigan (Stirling County/Stirling Uni), L McMillan (Hillhead/Jordanhill), M Grieve (Firwood Waterloo), H Smith (Hillhead/Jordanhill), L Harris (Edinburgh Uni).
England: E Kildunne (Gloucester-Hartpury); D Waterman (Wasps), L Tuima (Bristol), L Cattell (Saracens), C Pearce (Loughborough Lightning); K Daley-Mclean (DMP Sharks), L Riley; V Cornborough (both Harlequins), A Cokayne (Wasps), S Bern (Gloucester), A Scott (Harlequins), T Taylor (DMP Sharks), R Burnfield (Richmond), I Noel-Smith (Bristol), P Cleall (Saracens). Substitutes: L Davies (Worcester Valkyries), R Clark, J Lucas (both Wasps), C O’Donnell (Loughborough Lightning), M Packer (Saracens), C Mattinson, A Reed (both Bristol), K Smith (Gloucester-Hartpury).