SEVEN women are in with a chance of making their Scotland debuts against Italy on Sunday after being named in a 25-strong squad for the Test in Calvisano. With some of his best players not yet ready to resume playing after recovering from injury, head coach Shade Munro sees this first cap international of the season as a chance to expand his options as he plans for the competitive season.
Lisa Cockburn, Rachel McLachlan, Lucy Winter, Caitlin Sedgeworth, Mairi Forsyth, Bryony Nelson and Annabel Sergeant are the newcomers. While some can be expected to drop out of the squad once the more experienced players return, Munro has welcomed the heightened competition in a playing group which he believes will have to keep improving faster than their rivals if they are to make in impact in the Six Nations Championship.
“There are a few unavailable through injury, such as Jade Konkel, Deborah McCormack and Rachel Malcolm,” Munro said yesterday after announcing his squad. “But they are all at this camp and staying involved and training to be fit, and some may be ready for the game against Canada [at the end of this month], some may not.
“That allows others to come in. Lisa Cockburn, who plays for DMP Sharks, was identified through the Scottish Qualified system and that has been a real bonus. She has been playing well for DMP Sharks and is a good loosehead prop – certainly an area where we need to improve is our scrum.
“Rachel McLachlan is a Futures player and is in the under-20s. She’s an ex-judo player who’s only played rugby for a couple of years. She has huge potential – she’s a natural openside type who’s not afraid to put her body on the line, and she played particularly well in our training match against Ireland last week.
“Annabel Sergeant has been in New Zealand for the last three years, playing rugby and working. She’s back in Scotland now – she’s a wing or full-back. Lucy Winter is a seven or a six, and can also play No 8 – she’s quite a robust player. Caitlin Sedgeworth is a nine. Mairi Forsyth is a tighthead prop – she’s the sister of Scotland cap Jemma Forsyth, who’s recovering from shoulder injury. And Bryony Nelson is a winger, and she’s Helen Nelson’s sister.”
With that match against Canada at Scotstoun to come in a few weeks and then a game away to Spain in January, Scotland have a solid programme of preparation for the Six Nations this season – something that was not always the case, according to Munro, in previous years. “When I first started, at this time of year we played the Fire Brigade and the Police. Then there was one friendly international, then proper friendlies. Nw these are Test matches. Canada will be a really big fixture for us. This gets the players ready better for the Six Nations and helps us progress.”
Given the recent results between the two teams, Sunday’s match will be a good yardstick of his squad’s progress, the coach believes. “Three years ago they were much better than us. In a year we changed and beat them at home, then in the Six Nations earlier this year they were better than us in the mud. Their passing and attacking wide was much better.
“We need to improve more than everyone else. We respect Italy. It’s a Test match, not a training match, but we want to impose our rugby on the Italians and it should be an entertaining game.”
The starting line-up and eight replacements will be announced on Saturday.
Scotland squad (v Italy in Padua on Sunday) –
Backs: Abi Evans (Hillhead Jordanhill), Mhairi Grieve (Firwood Waterloo), Lauren Harris (Bristol), Lisa Martin (Lille), Jenny Maxwell (Loughborough Lightning), Bryony Nelson (Watsonians), Helen Nelson (Montpellier), Chloe Rollie (Lille), Caitlin Sedgeworth (Durham University/Darlington Mowden Park), Annabel Sergeant (unattached), Lisa Thomson (Darlington Mowden Park ).
Forwards: Sarah Bonar (Loughborough Lightning), Lisa Cockburn (Darlington Mowden Park RFC), Siobhan Cattigan (Stirling County), Katie Dougan (Gloucester-Hartpury), Mairi Forsyth (Stirling County), Nicola Howat (Edinburgh University), Megan Kennedy (Stirling County), Rachel McLachlan (West of Scotland), Louise McMillan, Siobhan McMillan (both Hillhead/Jordanhill), Jodie Rettie (Saracens), Lana Skeldon (Watsonians), Emma Wassell (unattached), Lucy Winter (Edinburgh University).