As “invites” go, facing the might of New Zealand and England in their first two matches may seem of the less hospitable kind, but Scotland Women’s Sevens coach Scott Forrest wouldn’t have it any other way as he leads his squad to mingle with the elite in Biarritz this weekend.
Still smarting from their agonising last-hurdle fall in Hong Kong back in April as they bid to gain promotion to the elite HSBC world series next year, losing the qualifying final to Brazil, the Scots will get a chance to test themselves against the best when they play in the elite circuit finale on France’s Atlantic coast.
“Having New Zealand in the group is exactly what I wanted,” said former Scotland Sevens star Forrest, who captained the men’s team at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi. “To go to an event like this we want to play against the best in the world.”
Nine of the 12 players travelling to Biarritz this week were in the Hong Kong squad who came so close, with Helen Nelson, who has recently helped her French club Montpellier defend their domestic title, continuing to captain the squad.
Meryl Smith of Murrayfield Wanderers and Darlington’s Evie Tonkin could win their first sevens caps.
Eilidh Sinclair, the 18-times capped Scotland full-back, also returns to the squad aiming for a fourth sevens cap after spending time in Australia, playing sevens for University of Tasmania and then Queensland Reds in the Super W 15-a-side competition (the women’s equivalent of Super Rugby), where she finished as a runner-up. Australia has been a fantastic experience for the 23-year-old former Murrayfield Wanderers and University of Edinburgh student from Auchterarder, who has enjoyed being coached by Luke Burgess, the former Wallaby scrum-half who earned 37 caps between 2008 and 2011.
“I think the experience was invaluable,” said Sinclair, who admits to getting up at “crazy hours” to follow her international mates’ progress in both sevens-a-side and 15s while on the other side of the world.
“I have got to learn from a number of top quality people including former Wallabies and I have been coached by assistant international coaches, so I have a lot more knowledge about the game and look at things differently now.”
As the Scots women head to France it was obvious to ask Sinclair if the squad were following and being inspired by their footballing counterparts’ historic exploits at their World Cup. It is a journey that Scotland’s female rugby players, who have found themselves coming so close but not quite reaching the biggest stage, hope to replicate.
Speaking to Sinclair yesterday morning, however, the question comes with a complication. “I have recorded the game [against England] and don’t know the score yet, please don’t tell me,” she pleads.
“I think all of the Scotland rugby girls have been keeping a close eye on it and it is always important to support Scots in other sports too. We are right behind them and hope they do well.”
For his part, Forrest is certainly looking forward to gaining the benefits of Sinclair’s positive Australian experience this weekend.
“We spoke about it before Hong Kong and if Eilidh had been free of a few injury problems then she would have been involved,” said the coach. “It is great to have her back in.”
As well as standings-leaders New Zealand, the Scots will also face the sixth and seventh-ranked England and Russia in their pool stage.
In that April qualifying tournament the Scots came through their pool before beating Papua New Guinea and Japan then losing to Brazil in the final.
“Hong Kong was obviously disappointing in the end and it was frustrating not to play our best rugby in the final against a good Brazil side, but the players gave it everything out there,” said Forrest.
Forrest added: “Rugby Europe is the main qualifier. If we finish in the top three outwith the five core World Series European teams then that will get us to Hong Kong [elite series qualifying] again while finishing top of those three will get us to the European leg of the World Series again. Our main aim is to get back to Hong Kong.”