It may look the same – 52-10 is about the dispiriting par for these contests in the last decade – but there is still the feeling that Scotland’s women are moving forward even after defeat to England in Doncaster.
England’s power, depth and skill – player of the match Poppy Cleall is a simply brilliant talent – were always likely to prove too much for this Scottish team, most of whom hadn’t had a competitive match since October.
A first half when the Scots felt they sat off the English – possibly too much respect, or possibly that lack of match readiness – left them with a mountain to climb.
They had a fair go at climbing it by having the best of the third quarter and Hannah Smith’s excellent try was if anything an insufficient reward for their superiority in that 20-minute spell.
Bench depth and match-fitness takes it toll
But once England’s yellow cards had been played off, Molly Wright had been shown a red card for a high hit and the depth on the home side’s bench was brought to bear, it proved overwhelming.
Head coach Bryan Easson said the entire team had been crestfallen at their first half performance, where they’d been off the pace.
“The first game for a few months was always going to be difficult – we were under no illusions that it was going to be a tough ask,” he said.
“We’d built up pretty well coming into the game, which we’d been pleased about. But until you play rugby at this level it’s going to take you time to understand the systems and structures.”
Stern words were exchanged at half-time and that had an effect directly after the break.
“We felt we’d just sat back and waited to see what England were going to bring to us, so we were quite strong with our words,” added Easson. “In the second half we put England under more pressure and allowed us to have more ball.”
Scots now focus on Italy game
The Scots can look forward with confidence to their second game, against Italy at Scotstoun, in two weeks’ time.
“We’ll take positives from the game rather than look at the first half,” added Easson. “We’re going to look at that first half as getting back on the horse again, and now we’re on it.
“I said to them ‘You can hold your heads high regarding your second-half performance’.”
The Scots setpiece was encouragingly good, holding the much bigger England pack at the scrum and effective in the lineout on both throws. But England’s big runners – their centres are as big as Scotland’s locks – and pace outside was crucial.
Malcolm’s early injury a blow
The Scots also had inspirational skipper Rachel Malcolm on one leg for the entire first half. She attempted to soldier on after suffering a jarring knee knock at the first kick-off, but stayed in at the break.
“Rachel being Rachel, she’s got the heart of a lion, she wants to be on the pitch,” said Easson. “But as the game went on she felt that she couldn’t give anything.
“She’s emotional, understandably so. Losing a player like Rachel, the leader, in a game like that is difficult to deal with. But I thought when she went off everybody stepped up to the mark.”
Vice captain Helen Nelson said Malcolm’s bravery “pretty much sums her up”.
‘She’s an absolute trooper’
“She’s all about the team and leads from the front, she’s an absolute trooper. Hopefully she can rest up and we hope it’s not bad. She’s a massive person for the team and the girls really respect her.”
Nelson agreed that lack of competitive match practice for so many Scots had proved crucial.
“We were the best prepared we’ve ever been to play against England, but we haven’t played since October,” she said.
“There’s always going to be things that come out in a game that don’t naturally occur in training. That was maybe the reason why our first 40 was a little bit of a struggle.
“I think we can go back and work on those things that we picked up in the first half. Add the positives from the second half, we’ll be in a really good place for Italy.”