Scotland ready to take final step
One final match. That’s all that stands between Scotland Women and the biggest stage in international rugby later on today.
It’s a simple equation for Bryan Easson’s squad this afternoon; a win over Colombia – the surprise package of qualification – in Dubai will punch their ticket to the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand this year, a tournament that has not featured Scottish interest since 2010.
For this team, however, it’s the biggest step yet in their collective rugby journey.
Throughout that journey, Warrior – the official magazine of Glasgow Warriors – has followed the team’s progress, bringing you the stories behind the players you see on the field. As they prepare for the biggest match in Scottish women’s rugby for a decade, hear from some of the stars that will be running out in the dark blue jersey later on today…
You won’t want to miss Issue 11 of Warrior – out now! ?
— Glasgow Warriors (@GlasgowWarriors) February 19, 2022
Ask any player for the key to the success of a team, and you can guarantee that creating the right environment both on and off the pitch will be at the top of the list.
Scotland prop Belisle – who started her international career in the back-row before making the switch – is no exception.
“Our culture is outstanding as a team,” she said.
“It’s exactly as it looks from the outside. It’s easy on social media for things to appear perfectly manicured and make it look like everyone’s best pals, but that’s genuinely the case with this group. We all love each other’s company and get along so well, and that makes everything so much easier.
“That also translates onto the pitch, because it doesn’t matter who starts or who’s on the bench, you’re going to go all out for those girls.
“We genuinely care about one another and trust one another, because you know everyone will do the same for you.”
Glasgow born and bred, back-five forward McMillan knows all about the near misses in recent history, having made her senior Scotland debut in a World Cup qualifying defeat to Spain in 2016.
Yet it’s an occasion that still holds special resonance for the 24-year-old despite the result, as she looks to go one step better six years on.
“I won my first cap in Glasgow at Scotstoun, so it’s a special memory for me,” said McMillan.
“I was incredibly lucky to play my first test there – to be from Glasgow and to train at Scotstoun quite a lot, it was a really cool moment for me to have all my family and friends there for my debut. It’s a very special memory.”
It’s not just on the field that flanker McLachlan has been busy during the World Cup qualification window; as if challenging for a spot on the sport’s biggest stage wasn’t enough, the 22-year-old former judoka has also been completing a healthcare placement as part of her degree.
“It’s been different for sure,” she said.
“There are a lot more safety precautions and PPE in hospitals than before, but it’s the same work at the end of the day. We just need to be a bit more considerate around it.
“Right now, a heavier day would involve getting up at 6am and in the gym for 6.45, then going to placement at 8.45. I’ll be on shift until 4.30pm, and then it’s a case of if it’s an evening off or not – currently I’m travelling to Edinburgh on Thursdays for a session.
“We’ll also get a bit of skills work done in the morning after the gym, too, before everyone goes off to their jobs or whatever their day involves. It’s good, though – I enjoy training in the mornings!”
“It can be difficult training on your own, but that was the goal that kept us going through lockdown – knowing the World Cup is on the horizon is a huge motivator.”
One of the most experienced figures in the squad, Nelson’s ability to play at both fly-half and centre has been a valuable weapon in Scotland’s arsenal.
Pulling on the dark blue jersey is a feat that fills her with pride each and every time she’s selected, as she now helps to shape the next generation of Scotland stars.
“As a kid I always dreamt of playing for Scotland,” said Nelson.
“Growing up and playing for Lochaber, we had Rachel Whyte playing for Scotland at the time. That was such a cool thing for me, having someone local playing for Scotland.
“She was this superstar that I looked up to, but I just played for the fun and enjoyment at first. I didn’t realise the opportunities that were available to me until much later on.
“We’re not only improving as a team but as individuals – there are so many girls putting their hands up for selection all the time now, which is such a good thing for us.”
Of course, Scotland supporters will need no reminder as to how their team reached this final qualification stage. With the scores tied at 18-18 against Ireland in Parma, Sarah Law’s conversion with the last kick of the game sent Easson’s side to Dubai, and the players into delirium.
“The whole atmosphere around the squad leading into that Ireland game was something else, really,” said back-rower Evie Gallagher.
“We were obviously pretty down after the first match [a defeat to Italy] and then we’d shown what we can do in the win over Spain, so it was pretty serious – we knew we needed to win.
“To score in the last play and then for Slaw [Sarah Law] to kick that conversion as we’re all lined up watching her, that was the moment that all the emotion came out. That’s the ‘most together’ the squad has felt since I’ve been involved, I’d say – we’re such a tight-knit group. It was an insane feeling. That’s what playing for Scotland is all about.”
At the heart of it all stands the captain. A leader for whom more than one team-mate has said they would run through a brick wall, and someone who has been to this stage before.
Yet for Rachel Malcolm, now is the time for Scotland to make their mark.
“Women’s rugby in Scotland is really picking up, I’d say, both in terms of girls picking up the sport and people coming out to watch the team,” she said.
“We feel that as players and, win or lose, we always feel the support of everyone at Scotstoun and wherever we play.
“Whenever you’ve got a thistle on your chest, you’re always aiming to get the win for them.”