The good news is that Scotland are drawn in Pool B of next year’s women’s World Cup alongside England, Italy and the USA.
The bad news is that they have to beat Spain across a two-legged play-off just to earn their right to travel to Ireland in the first place.
Having lost out to Spain in similar circumstances two years ago when the World Cup was held in France, Scotland skipper Lisa Martin is determined to go one better this time round.
“It’s a hugely important fixture,” she says. “It’s something that we have not had for a long time, actually being in charge of our own destiny in getting to the World Cup. I was at the last qualifying tournament which was a bit of a disappointment, I think just two teams from six got through the qualifiers.
“This is a massive game, not just for the team but for Scottish rugby and I think if we do what we know we can do and win those two games it will be huge for the next generation coming up. We’ll have qualified and got to that World Cup and that will encourage players to stay on for the next four-year cycle. It’s hugely important.”
Martin is one of the very few Scottish women to have experienced World Cup rugby. Two cups back in 2010 (the four year cycle has since been re-established) Martin made her debut off the bench in a game against Ireland and she is obviously keen that some of her less experienced colleagues enjoy the same experience.
It won’t be easy. Spain are not only ranked several places above Scotland in the World Rugby pecking order but they have had a boost thanks to the Olympics.
The Spanish women’s team, aka the Lionesses, qualified for Rio and they pulled out 20 players to train full- time in the build-up to the Olympics. That daily training schedule does wonders for skill levels and most especially for conditioning.
Still Scotland beat Spain almost exactly one year ago, by the handy margin of 34-10, but as Martin explains, the opposition have changed out of all recognition since then.
“Both teams have completely changed in that one year,” says Scotland’s skipper. “I know Spain have brought back their sevens squad and there are only four of the starting XV who we played against last November who are likely to start next week.
“We have changed ourselves, quite a few but we are definitely settled now because of the Six Nations and the warm-up games. It’s going to be a hugely competitive game. Obviously their sevens girls are well versed coming in on the back of Rio so we are under no illusions about how tough it will be but we are definitely up for the challenge.”
With Spain bolstered by all these semi-professional sevens players there is a certain irony in the fact that Scotland’s one full time professional female rugby player is not available. Head coach Shade Munro stated that Jade Konkel, the professional jewel in his crown, had dislocated her shoulder playing sevens and would sit out next Friday’s game at Scotstoun and the return match in Madrid one week later.
Munro insists he has noted a big improvement in his squad despite them being held to nil by Wales in a recent warm-up match.
Scotstoun is the right size of stadium for Friday’s crunch tie and, you could argue, boasts the right type of surface too. The artificial grass should encourage the ball in hand, running rugby that is fast becoming a hallmark of all our national teams. It certainly suits the Scotland skipper who plays on plastic at her home ground every other weekend.
“We are used to playing on artificial surface,” says Martin. “We played at Broadwood Stadium last season throughout the Six Nations. We really enjoyed it, it’s a really fast-paced pitch even if the ball does occasionally have an interesting bounce!
“We want to put on a massive show at Scotstoun and the game being on BBC Alba as well gives us the opportunity to show everyone exactly what Scottish women’s rugby is about. We want to put down a marker to Spain, just to show what we are about as a squad, and go to Madrid with confidence.”
Scotland’s women have beaten Spain on 12 of their 17 matches. That statistic should give the home side an added incentive to win this one, that and the fact that the Scots simply can’t afford to lose it.