By Emily Roberts
Scotland hope to end a long wait for a test victory when they face Spain at Scotstoun Stadium on Friday and take a step towards securing qualification for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 at the same time.
The two sides will face each other home away to decide the final European qualifier for the showpiece of the women’s game with the victor on aggregate to join defending champions England, USA and Italy in Pool B next August.
Scotland’s last test victory was in April 2013 against Sweden as their bid to qualify for the 2014 edition in France came up short, but they have showed real improvement under coach Shade Munro in 2016 and he is hopeful that will continue against Spain.
“The national team haven’t won a competitive game for a while,” admitted Munro. “I think it’s really important that we perform to the best of our ability.
“We’ve certainly put a lot of focus into this World Cup qualifier. Preparation building up to it, we’ve had extra camps, we’ve had competitive fixtures against teams. We’re definitely more prepared than we’ve been in the past.
Two different sides
“We’re well aware of the challenge that Spain are going to give us. Spain are ranked ninth in the world and we’re 13th. I’m not meaning that to sound like an excuse but it highlights the challenge in front of us.
“Now we beat Spain a year ago in a friendly but the team doesn’t really resemble the one that we’re going to be playing. The players who have come in have been involved in Olympic preparation so they’re a much better side than the one we faced a year ago, but I would say we’re a better side as well.”
Munro and his assistant coach Graham Young went to watch Spain and the teams competing in the Rugby Europe Women’s Championship last month to do their homework and were impressed by what they saw.
“We watched quite a lot of the teams in that Rugby Europe competition, it’s quite evident that the standard of women’s rugby across Europe has increased. Certainly when you mix and speak with the coaches, highlighting how much qualification for the Olympic Games has boosted the women’s game. There’s huge investments going in from a lot of countries for the women’s game.
“We watched Spain play and they won the final fairly comfortably and they were very aggressive, very quick, very fit and very well organised so it’s going to be a challenge but I would say we’re all of those things as well.”
Lisa Martin will captain Scotland from inside-centre and is hoping that the hard work they have been putting in will come to fruition with a good performance and result to take into the second leg in Madrid on 26 November.
A massive opportunity
“We will focus on one game at a time, we can’t control anything that happens in a week’s time until this game is gone, so we focus entirely on Friday night, getting the scores we need to get, getting that good advantage into Madrid. It’s all about Friday night, we’re not looking past that yet.”
That said, the carrot of knowing who Scotland will face if they can overcome Spain is a motivator for Martin and the rest of the squad.
“I think we use that as a bit of a drive. To know that the pool is waiting for us if we were to qualify and to win these games, the opportunity to play England and Italy again, and to play the USA would be huge. I think it’s helped give us a bit of a kick on and more of a focus.”
For second-row Emma Wassell (pictured above), qualification for WRWC 2017 has been in her mind since she made her Scotland debut three years ago.
“Since I started I’ve known that this has been coming up and it’s something that’s very much in reach. This is a massive opportunity for us as a squad. We’ve really been building towards this, to qualify for the World Cup means a lot to every single one of us.
“Women’s rugby is growing massively within Scotland and I think this qualification is just another step for the exposure of women’s playing rugby in Scotland. I think if we were to qualify for the World Cup that would be huge for women’s rugby in Scotland.”
Photos credit: Scottish Rugby/SNS Group