SCOTLAND captain Lisa Martin is back in the side to play Ireland on Sunday after an eye problem ruled her out of the England match, and hopes to lead the team to their first away win in the Six Nations Championship since 2006.
After winning twice at home last year, Scotland have three defeats from three outings in this year’s tournament, having lost in Wales by a point before going down to more substantial defeats at the hands of France and England at Scotstoun. But Martin, who will resume at stand-off at Donnybrook, has seen definite signs of progress in those three games, and believes if Scotland can cut out some basic errors they have a chance of breaking their duck.
Since wins in both Ireland and Spain a dozen years ago, Scotland have avoided defeat on the road only once, when they drew with Italy back in 2010. They lost 45-12 the last time they met Ireland in Dublin, in 2016, but last year at home gace evidence of their progress when only losing 22-15 to a last-minute score.
“It was one of those games that really kicked us on for the rest of the Six Nations,” Martin said of that 2017 defeat. “The feeling in the changing room afterwards was a little bit odd, because obviously we were really excited and really happy to be in the game to that point, but there was also disappointment and frustration because we lost it in the way we did that.
“But like I say, that kicked us on to show that we are one of those teams that are going to win games. Both teams now are completely different – new players, new coaches, new systems, especially on Ireland’s side – but we’re very similar in terms of the way that we play and the set-ups that we have. I think it’s going to be an exciting game to be part of again at Donnybrook.”
Martin’s return at stand-off has led head coach Shade Munro to reshuffle his back division, with Helen Nelson moving from 10 to 12 and Hannah Smith going out to the wing. Rhona Lloyd drops down to the bench to accommodate Smith, while Jenny Maxwell joins her among the substitutes after missing out on the 43-8 defeat by England a fortnight ago.
“I think we’ve had some really positive feedback in terms of physicality, which is the big thing we’ve been looking towards in this Six Nations,” Martin continued when asked to assess the campaign so far. “That came to the forefront against France, and against England as well in parts.
“It’s just little mistakes. These high-quality teams that we’re coming up against are going to be clinical with any opportunity that they get, they put away. It’s a tough lesson that we have to learn.
“There was still that frustration because of those little mistakes that were just really telling. For example against France, if we’d gone in 10 minutes earlier, that scoreline would have made us massively happy, but it was just those little switched-off bits that killed us. That’s something that we will be working on, in terms of making it a full 40, a full 80.
“But these performances have been good. If you looked at that last year and said this is what the scoreline’s going to be, people would have jumped at the chance and said ‘That’s a great score’. But we expect better of ourselves, and we expect certain standards that we need to meet – and that we’re going to meet against Ireland.”
Head coach Shade Munro will use last year’s narrow defeat to remind his players how close they came to winning against Ireland last year, but also refer to the 2016 outing to let them know how badly things can go wrong if they are not at the top of their game. “It was a very close game last year, whereas the previous year it wasn’t at Donnybrook,” Munro said. “So there will be quiet reminders of both games and what needs to be done.
“It’s not so much a score to settle, but we have progressed since then. Almost winning last year, we’re hopefully going to give it our best shot. An away win has eluded us for so many years, so hopefully we can put that right. At our best, we have a chance of winning, definitely.”
Scotland (against Ireland at Donnybrook, Sunday 1pm): Chloe Rollie (Lille); Liz Musgrove (Edinburgh Uni), Lisa Thomson (Lille), Helen Nelson (Murrayfield Wanderers), Hannah Smith (Hillhead/Jordanhill); Lisa Martin (DMP Sharks), Sarah Law (Edin Uni/Murrayfield Wanderers); Siobhan McMillan (Hillhead/Jordanhill), Lana Skeldon (Watsonians), Megan Kennedy (Stirling Co), Emma Wassell (Murrayfield Wanderers), Deborah McCormack (Harlequins), Sarah Bonar, Rachel Malcolm (both Loughborough), Jade Konkel (Lille). Substitutes: Jodie Rettie (Thurrock), Katie Dougan (Edinburgh Uni/RHC Cougars), Lindsey Smith (Hillhead/Jordanhill), Siobhan Cattigan (Stirling Co/Stirling Uni), Louise McMillan (Hillhead/Jordanhill), Jenny Maxwell (Loughborough), Lauren Harris, Rhona Lloyd (both Edinburgh Uni).