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TikTok Women’s Six Nations – Scotland v Ireland talking points

Scotland Women celebrate - pic © Peter Watt
Scotland's Women celebrate a record win - pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports

An accomplished 36-10 defeat of Ireland gave Scotland the best possible finish to the 2023 Women’s Six Nations, securing fourth place for the first time since 2017 and their biggest victory in the Six Nations in twenty years. It also secured them a place in Tier 2 of the new WXV competition that was launched today and will take place in the autumn.

But most importantly, this was a game where both backs and forwards shone, and where both attack and defence worked well, especially in the impressive, five-try, second-half performance.

Power of resilience

The first half of the game would not have been the positive start that Scotland wanted to carry the momentum from their performance the week before. This was in large part due to a committed Irish performance – similar to the one that had made it hard for England to score for long periods the previous week.

Ireland slowed down Scottish ball, charged down kicks and won turnovers to minimise the opportunities for Scotland to build fluency in attack.  Ireland had kicked the most metres in the tournament leading into the game, but kept ball in hand and focussed a lot more on possession. But Scotland defended patiently and smartly and held Ireland out, bar an early penalty, never letting Ireland get on top. In other games, not getting many opportunities and no scores for 39 minutes might have led to Scotland forcing the game too much and heads going down. But the resilience they developed in the hard times is becoming one of their superpowers.

Although a couple of promising attacks were stopped in the second quarter, the team were patient and used their most consistent weapon, the line out maul, in the final minute of the half. A first try for Meryl Smith resulted and Scotland went in ahead at the break. In the past, Scotland might have got frustrated when Ireland equalised quickly after the second Scotland try. Instead, they scored again almost immediately, and after that, they barely looked back as they dominated the final quarter in convincing fashion.

Scotland Women scrum down - pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports
Scotland’s pack prepare for a scrum – pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports

Scotland bring their all-round game

Last week was all about the forwards, but in the second half we finally saw Scotland bring all the pieces of their game together. We’ve seen glimpses of different aspects throughout the tournament and here they combined into their most complete performance as a team.

The rolling maul was once again a key try provider, as were patient pick and goes on the line. The forwards carried both tirelessly and effectively to create spaces and the backs picked them off with linebreaks to give Scotland great field position.

There was more deception in the attack with varied passing and really good dummy lines. The discipline improved markedly in the second half too, meaning Ireland rarely had an easy out to relieve pressure.

There is still definitely more to come from this attack, as the different 10-12-13 combinations have more time together, but if Scotland can play consistently with the accuracy and confidence they showed in the second half, then they should have a very successful WXV tournament.

Youngsters break through

This was a game where everyone played well, and many of the more established players, in particular Jade Konkel-Roberts, Rachel Malcolm, Lana Skeldon and Chloe Rollie, showed their class – with the latter three all scoring tries.

But this was also a game where slightly less-experienced and younger players also shone.

Leah Bartlett, still only 24, has been excellent all tournament and once again carried brilliantly and took her try well. Evie Gallagher has been phenomenal this tournament and her carrying frequently got Scotland out of trouble or onto the front foot, and her defence and breakdown work was fantastic, she must also have been a contender for player of the match. Emma Orr made some important carries and tackles and distributed well – her work rate is incredible and even when she’s not doing anything eye-catching, she’s constantly contributing.

But this was also the game that Meryl Smith and Fran McGhie truly broke through at this level. McGhie brought the attacking breaks and defensive solidity that have been a feature of her short career and topped it off with a well-deserved first Scotland try. And what a try.

Fran McGhie - pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports
Fran McGhie – pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports

Watching it afterwards, it was actually better than it seemed from my seat across the other side of the stadium. The amount of space she creates for herself and her ability to cut inside without dropping her pace is just awesome.

Player of the match Meryl Smith seemed to be everywhere – dominant tackles, jackals and most importantly, being a creative force in attack. Her try came off a good running line that gave her enough momentum to score. Bartlett’s try came from a brilliant line break and running angle from Smith. She always tested the defence ball in hand. And the variety to her passes (including one kick pass), as well as the zip on that, helped create a lot of go-forward in the attack where it might have stalled or become predictable.

Smith graduates from university in a few weeks, and you’d have to assume that there are a fair few Premier 15 teams who would welcome her into their squad next season.

Investment brings reward

This match also demonstrated the benefits of the SRU’s greater attention to and investment in women’s rugby over the last year or so.

McGhie and Smith seem to have benefited from the opportunities that came from the Celtic Challenge and the stepping stone it provided, as did the likes of forwards Elliann Clarke and Eva Donaldson who were able to make an impact at the end.

The greater optimism around the women’s game led to a record attendance at the Dam and an absolutely brilliant atmosphere. Meanwhile, Scotland seemed much fitter and able to raise their performance as the match went on, whilst Ireland faded. Fewer of the Irish team are full time and the contrasting lack of support from the IRFU showed in that final result.

Scotland had only beaten Ireland once in their last 15 W6N matches, and hadn’t beaten the Irish at home since 2005. Yet given the second half, and the final score, if you’d asked someone to guess which team had been the recent dominant force, I doubt many would have said Ireland.

Hopefully more contracts and support will follow for this Scotland team, and we’ll see players like McGhie, Donaldson and Beth Blacklock given the opportunity to take one up. We don’t have any details of exactly what is next for Scotland but with a successful end to the tournament, they can build with confidence towards the WXV in October.

1 Response

  1. Great to see women’s sport in general getting a much higher profile and the W6N being available to watch live on BBC. The Scotland women’s team really seemed to have taken some big strides forward in this year’s competition; a long way to catch up with England and France which is to be expected at this stage but looked better as the tournament progressed. Winning and winning well against Ireland is a great confidence boost so hope they keep the belief and great team spirit that was obvious to see

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