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TikTok Women’s Six Nations 2023: England v Scotland preview

Rachel Malcolm
Scotland captain Rachel Malcolm - pic © Six Nations Rugby Used with permission

Kick off: 16:45, Saturday 25 March
Venue: Kingston Park, Newcastle
Broadcast: BBC Two and BBC iPlayer

Scotland go into a tough opening Women’s Six Nations with a few well-known players missing but are still able to field an experienced forwards pack and half back pairing.  They will have to face the tournament favourites without Jade Konkel-Roberts, Emma Wassell, Sarah Bonar, Jenny Maxwell and Molly Wright who are all injured, while Rhona Lloyd, Lisa Thomson and Shona Campbell remain with the GB7s squad.

But those absences do give chances to others. 

If all loose forwards were available, I honestly don’t know how coach Bryan Easson would have narrowed down the starters.  Louise McMillan has been in excellent form for Saracens, making the Premier 15s team of the week on multiple occasions and she’s joined in the second row by Lyndsay O’Donnell who is currently on loan to Bristol, filling in for England star Abbie Ward, who is pregnant. Evie Gallagher starts after missing the World Cup through injury – she had a stellar 2022 Six Nations and it’s so great to see her back. Rachel McLachlan is also back from injury and has been tearing it up for Sale, and the pair line up with captain fantastic Rachel Malcolm. Expect all three to run up big carrying and tackling numbers, as well as being potent jackal threats. 

The starting front row is Scotland’s first choice trio of Leah Bartlett, Lana Skeldon and Christine Belisle, and on the bench are a pair of promising young props in Elliann Clarke and Anne Young and the more experienced Jodie Rettie at hooker, who has been playing well for Saracens and scoring buckets of tries to boot.  

Also on the bench for the forwards are Eva Donaldson who shone for the Scottish Thistles in the Celtic Challenge with some incredibly pacy line breaks and consistently excellent line out work, plus utility player Eilidh Sinclair, who has been playing in the back 3 for Exeter but has played both back row and wing for Scotland.

The starting backs boast a mixture of youth and experience. Half backs Caity Mattinson and Helen Nelson and full back Chloe Rollie bring the experience. Outside them we get an exciting view of the future. Meryl Smith was just wonderful running the back line in the last two Thistles games, and I am so excited to see how new attack coach Chris Laidlaw will make use of this dual playmaker selection. Emma Orr is still 19, but does have a few more international minutes under her belt. Her defence has been unbelievable since graduating to the senior team, but she’s also a fine runner and distributor, so hopefully we can see even more of the attacking side of her game this tournament.  

Coreen Grant has 10 tries for Saracens this season, but remarkably this is only her second XVs cap and first start. If the inside backs can get the ball in her hands in the right end of the field, she is a deadly finisher. The other winger is debutant Francesca McGhie of Watsonians, another 19 year old, who showed just how rapid she is playing for the Thistles.  On the bench, cover comes from squad stalwarts Mairi McDonald at scrum half and Liz Musgrove for back three, alongside Harlequins centre Beth Blacklock who has earned her first Six Nations call up.

England are rightly favourites for the match and have selected a very experienced team – even the only debutant in the starting line up, Mackenzie Carson, has previously played international rugby for Canada.

The main talking point is that this is legendary captain Sarah Hunter’s last game, on her home ground, as she retires as the most capped female player, and most capped England player, of all time. It’s likely to be an emotional game for the Roses (and possibly a few of the Scotland team too, as several, including skipper Malcolm, play alongside her at Loughborough).

The other big talking point is the half backs. Over the last couple of years, either Zoe Harrison or Helena Rowland has generally started at stand off for England but both are missing through injury, as is Emily Scarratt. Holly Aitchison has moved to 10 from inside centre. With Claudia McDonald, Abby Dow and Jess Breach making up a ridiculously good the back three, the best chance of keeping England’s score down is to stop the trio getting the ball.

Scotland may have some success at this if they can put pressure on the less experienced parts of the back line, as centres Amber Reed and Lagi Tuima are also not regular England starters, and Aitchison is away from her usual position.  

My top player to watch in the England side, however, is Sadia Kabeya, moved from openside to blindside flanker – an incredible all round backrower, and maybe the best tackler in the game, as well as one of the best at the breakdown.  With Marlie Packer, Poppy Cleall, Zoe Aldcroft, Sarah Bern and Amy Cokayne also all in that pack – which is pretty close to a first choice World XV standard – it’s going to be a tough assignment.

Last year, Scotland’s result against England was closer than anyone other than France managed. Their set piece held up pretty well and they caused quite a few problems with their attack, but just weren’t quite able to convert that into multiple scores. The dominance of the Red Roses means success might look like something other than winning. If Scotland can show similar resilience at set piece to last year, cause real trouble with their defence and breakdown work, and show how good their attack can be when it clicks, and most importantly, entertain and enjoy the sold out Kingston Park crowd, then that will be a solid achievement for the team and something to build on towards a home game against Wales the following week.

The Teams

England – Abby Dow; Jess Breach, Lagi Tuima, Amber Reed, Claudia MacDonald; Holly Aitchison, Lucy Packer; Mackenzie Carson, Amy Cokayne, Sarah Bern, Zoe Aldcroft, Poppy Cleall, Sadia Kabeya, Marlie Packer, Sarah Hunter
Replacements: Lark Davies, Liz Crake, Kelsey Clifford, Cath O’Donnell, Sarah Beckett, Ella Wyrwas, Tatyana Heard, Emma Sing

Scotland:  Chloe Rollie, Coreen Grant, Emma Orr, Meryl Smith, Francesca McGhie, Helen Nelson, Caity Mattinson; Leah Bartlett, Lana Skeldon, Christine Belisle, Lyndsay O’Donnell, Louise McMillan, Rachel Malcolm, Rachel McLachlan, Evie Gallagher.
Replacements: Jodie Rettie, Anne Young, Elliann Clarke, Eva Donaldson, Eilidh Sinclair, Mairi McDonald, Beth Blacklock, Liz Musgrove

3 Responses

  1. Embarrassing from Scotland, England already with a BP before half time. Absolute joke.

    Going to watch Munster – Glasgow (stupidly on at the same time), hopefully wont see such a poor performance as Scotland and Edinburgh.

    1. It’s a fully-pro team yet again thrashing a mix of spirited and brave amateurs, part-time pros and newly created full-time pros probably paid a pittance.
      It doesn’t make for thrilling viewing.

  2. Watched a bit of this before the Glasgow game. Scotland looked ok in attack. went through a lot of phases and moved the ball ok but coughed it up in the 22. defense then poor, missed tackles, far too easy for England to score.

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