GOOD news has been thin on the ground for Scotland this season, as their three losses in the Autumn Tests have been followed by three defeats in the Six Nations. But winger Rhona Lloyd, for one, has grounds to be optimistic ahead of tonight’s match against Wales at Scotstoun.
For one thing, the last outing against France showed a more combative and resilient side of the squad, not only compared to the games against Italy and Ireland which preceded it in the Championship, but also compared to previous heavier losses to the French. And for Lloyd personally there is also a very good reason to be cheerful: she finds herself back in the starting line-up just a few months after a far longer than expected recovery from a shoulder injury made her wonder whether she would be able to play again.
“It was so good to be back,” the 22-year-old said. “When I got injured I was only expecting to be out for four months, and it ended up being 10 months. There were times in the middle that I didn’t know if I would be back for the Six Nations.
“And there was kind of a stage when I didn’t know if I’d be playing rugby again, so to be back and in the squad, and feeling good to be around everybody, it’s really rewarding. It means you can really appreciate what an honour it is to play international rugby when you’ve had an injury like that.
“I had a shoulder operation – it was the second operation on the same shoulder – and it ended up being a lot more complicated than expected. But yeah, to be back in and around the squad now, I appreciate it more than ever.
“It was a case of not knowing if I would recover from it. The shoulder for a while was really bad. There was a while when the physios were not 100 per cent sure what was wrong with it. Players have scares like that; it’s part of the game. Just makes you appreciate being back a lot more.”
Lloyd returned to the bench for the games against Italy and Ireland, then started on the wing in Lille a fortnight ago, scoring one of her team’s tries in a 41-10 defeat. As the score suggests, France, the defending champions, won the game with something to spare, but it was a significant improvement, nonetheless, for a Scotland team that lost the fixture 55-0 the last time the teams met on French soil.
“I think La Rochelle two years ago there was a lot of very new caps,” said the Loughborough Lightning winger. “I think it was my second Six Nations along with Helen Nelson, Lisa Thomson – a lot of the girls that are in the squad now – and it was quite daunting. Whereas this time round it was like we know we’ve done this before and we know that we can play in front of crowds of 10,000.
“It is a big step up if you’re used to playing in front of crowds of two or three thousand to then go to 10,000. You notice the difference – like when you’re calling for the ball and people can’t hear you. Having gone through that experience in La Rochelle we all totally stepped up to it and were so much better prepared, and I know we’ll take that into future games when we’re away and in front of big crowds.
“I absolutely loved playing in France. It’s really loud, it’s a great atmosphere, and that’s the sort of games and crowds that we want to play in front of, and I think last week everybody stepped up in front of the crowd and the atmosphere that was there. It was an incredible experience to be part of and I think France is such an exciting fixture.”
Of course, nothing beats the excitement of actually winning a match, and Scotland know that if they play at the top of their game they can beat Wales this evening. They did so at Cumbernauld in the 2017 Women’s Six Nations, winning 15-14, and they came close to repeating the feat last year too, losing out – again by a single point – in Colwyn Bay.
But playing at the top of their game from first to last is something that has proven elusive so far, and Lloyd knows that if they are to break their duck, they will have to play more consistently from first to last than they have managed in their three games so far in this year’s Championship.“On Friday it’s about being switched on for the full 80 minutes – that was the difference two years ago compared to last year.
“Last year we had a really strong second half, but didn’t perform the way that we wanted to in the first half, which you can’t afford to do in international rugby. Wales will be looking to put in an 80-minute performance too, and we’re totally expecting that. It’s going to be whoever can stay focused and exploit their game plan best on the night.”
Scotland v Wales kicks off at 7.35pm tonight at Scotstoun and is live on BBC Alba.