The Courier & Advertiser (Perth and Perthshire Edition)
No excuses as Scots suffer heavy defeat
complete refusal to entertain excuses and an unforgiving critical eye of their own performance showed how much the Scotland women’s rugby team truly believed they were on the cusp of something this Six Nations.
Coach Bryan Easson and captain Helen Nelson didn’t hold back in the wake of the 41-20 defeat to Italy at Scotstoun, a game they’d clearly identified as a potential breakthrough to real progress.
“Wasn’t good enough”, “harsh words at full-time”, “we didn’t switch on”, “shooting ourselves in the foot”, “tentative”, “naïve” and those were only the words that got publicly shared.
There’s plenty of things they could have clung to – the reality of a massive gap in resources, the absence of three pivotal players, one injured, two unavailable, for example, but Easson was having none of that.
“Players of that experience are a presence on the field,” said Easson, of the absent Jade Konkel, Rachel Malcolm and Hannah Smith. “But what we’ve got is the opportunity for other players to come in and get better.
“Other players need to step forward as well. When you go into World Cups and so on, there is always going to be injuries and suspensions.
“Italy didn’t have one of their best ball-carriers available today, so I’m definitely not using that as an excuse.”
Perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered – Italy clearly looked the better team throughout, and played to their strengths. It was almost cheering in modern times to see a team clearly aware that they had no kicking game and opting just to do without it.
They ran absolutely everything at Scotland, with an excellent offloading and handling game that opened up the home defence.
They also trusted their defence to contain their hosts and force them to kick, thereby producing
Scotland did have a chance as half-time approached and the clock started to tick into the red. Nelson’s penalty pegged Italy back to 12-10, which was not remotely a fair reflection on the play.
But unforgivably the Scots failed to secure a routine restart, and Italy pounced on the ball, quickly creating a converted try in added time. Another try – Italy’s fourth, scored by teenage full-back Vittoria Minuzzi – came straight after the break and the game was gone.
“It is little moments like that that are the most frustrating,” said Nelson. “We are two points behind, we are back in the game. Then we make an error and they capitalised on that.
“Things like that we can cut out of our game and it would make a big difference.”
The team won’t make the excuse of their lost playmakers, but it has to have been a factor. Konkel, on a sabbatical training to join the London Fire counterattack
Service, made 25 carries in the October 13-13 draw with France – a full-time team who will play for the championship with England next week. She, Malcolm and Smith accounted for nearly a third of Scotland’s tackles made in that game.
For a squad of such scant resources, that’s an enormous deficit to make up.
Nelson was forced to do the majority of carrying herself from inside centre. There were stalwart efforts by Evie Gallagher, in her first start, and Lana Skeldon.
The Scots’ lineout, so impressively drilled against England, was less effective in the swirling Scotstoun winds.
The Scots have some players coming through – Christine Beleisle has looked a real find in these two games. But there’s a longer way to go than they’d hoped after that France game.
They have a game left, one which they really have to win against Wales next week to get the momentum going again.