The perils of Paula as Scottish girls struggle to get act together

SELF confidence is vital to success in any sport. Without it, teams lose concentration; they make careless errors; they lack consistency. Paula Chalmers, captain of the Scottish Women's rugby team, feels that these, and other bad habits, are creeping into the national team's game.

"We're slow at getting going," she says. "Two weeks ago against the USA we gave them an eight-point head start before coming back. It's not the first time it has happened." The American Eagles swooped to a 13-6 victory over Scotland Women leaving the captain frustrated that the team do not seem to be able to reproduce training ground performances when it counts.

Part of the problem, she concedes, is not having a stable core of first-team players who have the chance to develop an understanding of each other.

"We haven't scored many tries recently. We need to be able to finish properly. To be honest," she says. "We're just not cut-throat enough."

Chalmers, 33, will be asking her team to produce their best rugby for the full 80 minutes when she leads them out against France at Murrayfield this afternoon. "We haven't beaten them for the last three years," she says. "If we don't beat them this time, it'll be an uphill struggle for the rest of the season."

This will be her final season as an international player. She first started playing seriously after returning from a trip to New Zealand in 1994. Scotland had just hosted the second Women's World Cup and, with the encouragement of an old school friend, she went along to train with the women's team at Heriot Watt University, which later became Murrayfield Wanderers. At first, she was more interested in regaining fitness, but later became a regular in the side. She has stayed with the team ever since.

She will win her 68th cap against France, eight more than her better-known sibling, Craig, who won 60 caps for Scotland in the men's game. Her final appearances in Scotland jersey will be at the IRB World Championships in Edmonton, which will be held from August 31-September 17. Scotland are seeded fifth after New Zealand, England, France and the hosts Canada. Scotland are pooled with Canada and Samoa.

"The draw has given us the best chance in years, but a lot depends on our performance in the Six Nations," says Chalmers. That performance will be helped by the fact that the women's team will be playing directly after the men's encounter in front of tens of thousands of spectators. "It's the most wonderful feeling in the world stepping out on to the Murrayfield pitch with the pipes playing and singing the national anthem," she says.

She appreciates the way in which the SRU are trying to promote the women's game in Scotland. "We played before the men at Twickenham. It wasn't so good. There was no atmosphere. Playing in front of 55,000 people makes all the difference."

She hopes that the team will be able to inspire more women to take up the sport. Her awareness, kicking skills and ability to read the game will play a large part in Scotland's overall performance. Chalmers will take some time to catch her breath after Edmonton, but might consider an administrative post at Murrayfield.

One possibility is to work with the Pathways Squad (formerly Under-19s) on the SWRU's Player Development Programme.

"We have the same problem as the men's game," she says. "There are plenty of youngsters in mini-rugby and lots of young teenagers, but there's a drop-off between the ages of 16 and 20. We need to make sure we keep the young people interested."