Women’s Six Nations: Wales v Scotland preview

visitors forced into late change to bench but in excellent fettle after run of six wins

Scotland's Helen Nelson tries to get out of the clutches of Wales prop Sisilia Tuipulotu during last year's Six Nations match between the sides.
Scotland's Helen Nelson tries to get out of the clutches of Wales prop Sisilia Tuipulotu during last year's Six Nations match between the sides. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

THIS is where it starts to get real for Scotland. They made serious progress last year to put together a run of six victories, and if they beat Wales this afternoon they will have established their best ever winning run of seven. But while they have rightly been praised for that run of results, especially as it ended a demoralising sequence of 12 defeats, the fact is that five of those six wins came against teams – Ireland, Spain, the USA, Japan and South Africa – who are currently below them in the world rankings. And the sixth was at home to Italy, who stand a place above them in seventh.

Wales are just one rung further up the rankings, but they have an outstanding record against Scotland, having one 15 of the last 17 meetings between the teams. And they are especially formidable on home soil.

So today’s Six Nations meeting at Cardiff Arms Park should provide an accurate picture of exactly how far Scotland have progressed over the past year. Their increasing strength in depth is obvious. Their collective strength of character has been much in evidence too, ever since they bounced back from a 55-0 defeat by France in last year’s Championship to defeat the Italians just six days later. But this afternoon they will surely need to display even more mental fortitude to withstand the challenge of a Welsh side who never admit defeat.

Win today and they will at least go into the following two home games, against France then England, in a very positive frame of mind. Lose and they will be facing up to the very real prospect of losing their opening three games of the Championship.

So mature game management will be vital for Bryan Easson’s side, in which respect it is reassuring to see three playmakers together in the starting line-up in Helen Nelson, Lisa Thomson and Meryl Smith. The latter is at full-back, but the head coach has hinted that she will on occasion step forward to be first receiver – where, as she showed in creating Rhona Lloyd’s memorable try against Spain, she can be devastatingly effective.

The visitors were forced into a change on the bench yesterday when openside flanker Rachel McLachlan was ruled out by a niggling injury, but the introduction of lock forward Eva Donaldson merely gives a different complexion to the replacements list rather than an inferior one. Donaldson was immense off the bench against Italy, playing a crucial part in securing the victory. And, although she and McLachlan play different positions, the fact that the versatile Louise McMillan is already among the replacements means there is no imbalance: every area of the team is still covered. 

For Wales, former England Under-20s captain Jenny Hesketh makes her debut at full-back for the home team, while winger Nel Metcalfe plays her first Six Nations match Scrum-half Sian Jones is also in line for a debut after being named on the bench.

GB Sevens winger Jasmine Joyce is back in the home ranks, and she, Hesketh and Metcalfe can be expected to stretch the Scots defence, especially on the counter-attack. Probably the main threat, however, will come up front in the shape of tighthead prop Sisilia Tuipulotu, who was named player of the match in her team’s 34-22 victory in last year’s game in Edinburgh.

“We know what Wales are going to bring,” Scotland lock Sarah Bonar said yesterday. “They’ve got physicality in abundance, they’ve got a threat from 1 to 15, and on the bench as well. We have got a game plan that we’re going to stick to and we’re looking forward to putting a performance together.”

Bonar is experienced enough to know that improved results bring heightened expectations, but she insisted the team would not be distracted by such external elements. “We’re aware of what’s out there, but we’ve just been really focusing on what we can do, what our plays are, and looking forward to the challenge ahead.

“As a team we’ve discussed what we want out of this Six Nations. We’re looking to build on the back of WXV2 and put together some winning performances. It’s now a really good stepping stone to play against the best in the world, so we’re really excited for the challenge ahead.”

England, who begin their campaign away to Italy tomorrow (Sunday), have won the last five Championships and are hot favourites to win this year too. But Bonar reckons the other teams are getting closer. “The Red Roses are a formidable team, they’ve got strength in depth, but other nations are closing that gap, for sure,” she said.

England and France – who are at home to Ireland this afternoon – have already qualified for next year’s Rugby World Cup. The side that finishes highest out of the other four will also book their place.

Easson believes that his own team, along with the other three, are showing signs of catching up on the big two. But he is realistic enough to acknowledge that there is still some way to go before all six of the contenders will be competing on something akin to a level playing field.

“I don’t benchmark ourselves against France and England just yet,” he said. “They are in the top three in the world for a reason and they are probably five, six, seven years ahead in terms of professionalism. I think professionalism will take another two or three years to really grab hold. We’re seeing shoots of that now, but those teams are probably five or six years ahead. 

“We do benchmark performances, so you can see the difference in our performances against those teams. It’s great for a team like Scotland who are progressing to play against the best in the world because that pushes you on to the next level. It’s exciting to play against those teams.

“Do we talk about those teams? No. Do we worry about ourselves? Yes. 

“Do we want to progress in terms of our performances? Yes. The big target for this Six Nations would be to continue moving the performances in the same direction that we’ve seen for the last six or seven games.”  

Wales (v Scotland at Cardiff Arms Park, Saturday 4.45pm, live on BBC 2 and the iPlayer)): Jenny Hesketh; Jasmine Joyce, Hannah Jones, Kerin Lake, Nel Metcalfe; Lleucu George, Keira Bevan; Gwenllian Pyrs, Kelsey Jones, Sisilia Tuipulotu, Natalia John, Abbie Fleming, Alisha Butchers, Alex Callender, Bethan Lewis. Replacements: Carys Phillips, Abbey Constable, Donna Rose, Georgia Evans, Kate Williams, Sian Jones, Niamh Terry, Carys Cox.

Scotland: Meryl Smith; Rhona Lloyd, Emma Orr, Lisa Thomson, Coreen Grant; Helen Nelson, Caity Mattinson; Leah Bartlett, Lana Skeldon, Christine Belisle, Emma Wassell, Sarah Bonar, Rachel Malcolm, Alex Stewart, Evie Gallagher. Replacements: Elis Martin, Molly Wright, Elliann Clarke, Eva Donaldson, Louise McMillan, Mairi McDonald, Shona Campbell, Chloe Rollie.

Referee: Clara Munarini (Italy).

About Stuart Bathgate 1387 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.

5 Comments

    • But we’ve scored two brilliant tries and Helen Nelson has kicked brilliantly. A win against a team higher in the world rankings

  1. The team have had an outstanding run of success, beating Italy one place above them in world rankings and the 3 teams directly below them in world rankings, let’s not belittle that run of results. Wales two places above them should win on form but victory tomorrow would be massive as the team strives to continue to improve. Good luck ladies.

    • Not to mention that one of the reasons those teams are below Scotland is because Scotland beat them. Scotland were 11th at the start of this run, below USA, Ireland and Japan.

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