Scotland build winning habit in bid to bridge 20-year gap

On the 20th anniversary of Scotland's Grand Slam in the old Women's Home Nations Championship it is dizzying to reflect on the advances made by women's rugby in the subsequent two decades

 Scotland's Jade Konkel is tackled by Wales Sioned Harries
24/02/17 RBS WOMEN'S SIX NATIONS SCOTLAND WOMEN V WALES WOMEN (15-14) BROADWOOD STADIUM - CUMBERNAULD Scotland's Jade Konkel is tackled by Wales Sioned Harries

Scotland found themselves left behind for the bulk of the time that followed the heroics of Donna Kennedy et al, but there is a genuine feeling that they are finally, if not quite at the party, at least knocking at the door and ready to mingle.

A watershed 2017 saw the Scots bounce back from agonisingly missing out on World Cup qualification in a play-off with Spain to record their first major victories in seven years, beating Wales and Italy at home.

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Now heading into his third Six Nations campaign, Shade Munro has guided his squad to obvious year-on-year progression and doesn’t need much time to think when asked what feels different heading into this championship.

“Well, you can now mention the word ‘win’,” said the former Scotland lock and Glasgow forwards coach. “They almost were scared of that initially. So when you finally get over that line, it’s then about winning again, and it’s about can you win again and make it a habit?

“But they’ve got to realise
that they’ve not cracked it. They won two games by a point or two: they could just as easily have lost those two. Ireland, Wales and Italy are improving, so we’ve got to keep improving.”

Last year Scotland produced home wins over the Welsh and Italians. Notching a victory on the road this time would get another monkey off the back and the first chance for that comes in Friday’s opener against Wales in Colwyn Bay.

“It was a big improvement last year, not having won a game for so long – 35 internationals. So that was great,” said Munro. “Coming so close against Ireland last year [in an unlucky defeat] then not really sealing the deal was a good learning curve. Certainly we took that into the other home games against Wales and Italy.

“This season, those games are away. Ireland, Wales and Italy are teams that we’re aiming to compete against, so the challenge this time would be to win an away game.

“It’s not rocket science to work out that we need to improve quicker than the likes of Wales, Ireland, Italy. If we continue to do that, then we’re more likely to beat them.

“So that’s the idea: that we keep working hard, keep training hard, have as much time together as possible. We’ll hopefully achieve that.”

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When asked to reflect on his three years in charge, Munro, pictured, feels that a more competitive and professional environment has been created to cater for what was a never-doubted enthusiasm among the women despite the relentless and demoralising succession of defeats.

“Initially, there were very few get-togethers and no competitive games,” continued the coach. “You were literally just going into the Six Nations off the back of a camp. So obviously bringing in club games against English sides, playing friendly internationals…

“Certainly this year we’ve had two friendly internationals, and we would have had another one against Spain there [which was snowed off at Scotstoun last Sunday].

“We played against Harlequins, we’ve had internal games, we’ve had East v West games, camps, training days – so all of these things are 
an add-on to what we had 
two years ago. That makes a difference, definitely.”

The integration of women into the SRU’s academy system has been another step forward, as has the awarding of professional contracts to the Lille-based trio of Jade Konkel, Lisa Thomson and Chloe Rollie, as well as Sarah Law in Scotland.

“I’ve been over and seen them play in the French league. It’s a very competitive league – there’s no huge disparity between the teams,” explained Munro. “They’re playing with good players, and if you play with good players, against better players, on a weekly basis, you’re going to improve. I can see the improvements they’ve made when they come back into camp. They sometimes don’t see it, but I can see it.”

Munro revealed that star player Konkel may be moved up to tighthead, opening up an extra slot for more dynamism in the back row.

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“At various periods during the Six Nations that is likely to happen,” said Munro. “With injuries and such, we are now in a better place and know what they can do in other
positions. People like Hannah Smith, who is the sister of Matt Smith at Glasgow.

“We’ve also got Rachel Malcolm [sister of Glasgow hooker James], who is coming into the squad. She had an injury last year as well. We have Jade playing in a different position to what is normally used to.”

Asked how Konkel feels about being moved from her preferred back-row role, Munro smiles: “She’s delighted, absolutely delighted.

“She loves it actually. She will play in the front row or second row or back row as long as she maintains her style of play around the park. If that drops off you’re losing her best attributes. She is a dynamic, strong ball-carrier. It’s good to have someone like that in the front row, rather than players who aren’t like that. We’ve got players like that in the back row, so if we can have players like that in the front row as well then obviously that improves the attack and defence.”