IF YOU had any sympathy for the Scottish men’s team after their struggles in Dublin then spare a thought instead for their female counterparts.
The Irish women hold the Grand Slam from last season and they swept the Scottish ladies aside with impunity, scoring 11 tries to none, the first of which came after just three minutes. The final score of 59-0 was a record against the Scots who were, as the old joke has it, lucky to get nil.
This afternoon the Scots play England at Aberdeen’s Rubislaw ground and despite the fact that England have made a raft of changes to the side that lost to France on the opening weekend, the chances of a home win are about as likely as Alex Salmond voting Tory.
The Scottish women’s rugby family is a perilously small one, with adult, female players numbered in the hundreds (about eight according to the International Rugby Board) rather than the thousands. The game is fully amateur, so there are no kilted Kiwis or tartan Tasmanians to boost numbers and quality, just the odd player from south of the Border to bolster the national ranks.
There was a open debate last year about making the women’s game in Europe a two-tiered event to prevent some of the glaring mismatches from ruining the Six Nations “brand”. That proposal was unanimously defeated – at least for the moment.
Had it happened there was no doubt that Scotland would have been a second-tier nation after winning just three Championship matches in the last seven years, two against Italy and a spirited victory over France in 2010, a year in which the Scots also notched a draw against the Italians.
In an eerie mirror of the men’s game, the Scottish women last won the championship way back in 1998 (one year ahead of the men’s success in 1999), since when the pickings have been slim.
There are several players in the women’s squad who have never won a Six Nations match but at least the veteran Heather Lockhart can boast a couple of scalps on her mantelpiece. The Scotland prop will win her 68th cap today after first turning out for Scotland back in 2007.
At the risk of earning an ungentlemanly conduct charge for saying it, Lockhart is 41 years old, which is an indictment of the lack of young challengers coming through the ranks but also a testament to the veteran’s sheer enthusiasm for the game.
“I suppose my story is typical of the older generation, although things are changing now,” says Lockhart.
“I played rugby just briefly when I was in my twenties but I then gave up because I was doing other sports.
“Then I took the game up again in my thirties so I haven’t actually played that much – only a normal career, if you like – and I really, really love the sport.
“I love being part of a team and all the camaraderie that goes with it.”
The other sports Lockhart refers to are hockey, where she is a junior international, and tennis, where she is a full Scottish international, playing in the four nations competition. She remains a full-time tennis coach for Glasgow Life, which must be handy when she needs to do a little extra gym work.
In fact, the whole of the Scotland team might need a little extra work before facing the perennial favourites England this afternoon. Like their male counterparts, England’s women lost to France and the Scots will have their work cut out just to be competitive against a team looking to get back on track.
“Opening with a 59-0 defeat in Ireland was not what we set out to do and it was not what we had worked hard all summer for,” says Lockhart. “Sunday’s match is a home one – get down to Rubislaw and support us please – so that has to be a positive for us.
“As in any match, the most important thing is that we fulfil our gameplan in both defence and attack. We have to hold on to the ball for longer and make it hard for them. England have a point to prove.
“The fact is that we played in the European Championships in the summer, which doubled up as a World Cup qualifier, and we just missed out to Samoa. But we beat Holland and we ran in something like nine tries against Sweden, so the girls can see what is possible if you put the work in.”
• The match will be streamed live on the SRU website at www.scottishrugby.org.uk