Women’s Six Nations: Scotland captain Rachel Malcolm says busy schedule has helped squad
Under the new management of former Ireland coach Philip Doyle, inset, and with impressive away wins against South Africa and Spain, Scotland Women are looking to make a mark on this year’s competition, while keeping their eye on the main prize of qualification for next year’s World Cup in New Zealand.
That convoluted process will have to be negotiated come the autumn, but for now skipper Rachel Malcolm believes the extra games added into the international women’s programme this year stands them in good stead.
“Yes I think it’s the best way to learn, having competitive matches,” said the 28-year-old flanker, who has recovered from a hand injury to lead the team out at Donnybrook in Dublin next Sunday afternoon.
“This season more than ever before the union has supported us to have far more matches than we’ve ever had and I think we’re seeing gradual improvements in the team and individuals and we’re building momentum through the season.”
Malcolm is the older sister of former Glasgow hooker James Malcolm, who is now at London Scottish, and the family firm the famed Malcolm Group are major sponsors of the Warriors.
She welcomes the fresh input that Doyle has provided.
“Philip has a different mentality and ethos than what we’ve had before,” said Malcolm. “The change has been relatively gradual but the girls have been adaptive to what he’s done since he’s come in. The way we play now is very physical while still trying to play that fast rugby we played before.”
Of course, wins are the best way to boost confidence and, in the last three or four years, they have been steadily being posted after a grim period of routine wallopings.
“Oh for sure,” said Malcolm. “There was a large length of time when Scotland Women hadn’t won any games but now we’re scoring tries almost every game we play and getting wins. Which is important but at the moment [the priority] is peaking in September [World Cup qualifiers].
“At the moment we just want to keep pushing on, be more consistent and close the gap with the other teams.”
Scotland have been closing that gap since Shade Munro took over a few years back, with some wins on the board, but Doyle, who has led the Irish to a championship, takes over in the wake of a 2019 whitewash. Five defeats was not good but belies a genuine belief that this Scotland Women’s team has potential.
“I think it’s a mixture of things. Organisation is a massive thing,” said Malcolm. “As a squad our understanding has improved massively in terms of the game. Also the strength and depth is starting to build.
“Now when we get an injury it’s not panic stations. We have players who can come in and do a brilliant job. But physically we are improving as well.”
Fitness was a noticeable factor in the 36-12 win over Spain in Almeria last Sunday. The Spanish denied the Scots a place at the last World Cup in a tight two-legged play-off and responded to an early Scottish onslaught. But this time, the Scots outlasted their opponents and ran away with it.
“We’ve got a brilliant team in terms of strength and conditioning side of things,” explained the captain. “We like to play fast rugby and you need to be fit to do that. As you saw last weekend in Spain we are getting there, though we still have big improvements to make.
“We have realistic aims for the year as a whole but we’re just looking forward to improving as a team and closing that gap.”
For Malcolm, who is a lecturer in sports science at Nottingham Trent University and plays for Loughborough Lightning in the English Tyrrells Premiership, the opportunity to lead her home nation in a Six Nations is a special moment, but one she views with clarity of focus.
“It doesn’t change much in how I play and carry myself, to be a standard-setter and lead by example rather being someone who has to pick the girls up. Within our squad we have leaders around me. It’s an easy job for me,” she said.