Heather Lockhart is the only member of the Scotland squad to have tasted victory in the Women's Six Nations as the perennial wooden-spoonists prepare to kick-off this year's Championship with a home game against Ireland at the Broadwood Stadium in Cumbernauld on Friday.
Since Lucy Millard’s stunning late match-winner against France in Lasswade in 2010, Scotland have endured some tough times but the Hillhead/Jordanhill player believes her side are not far away from turning the corner.
“We are all striving for it (that elusive win), everyone is working so hard and doing loads of fitness and extra skills sessions. We’re really pushing each other on which is good,” Lockhart told World Rugby ahead of being named on the bench for the Ireland match.
An exciting new generation of players and encouraging set of results over the last 12 months has given the long-serving prop cause for optimism. Long gone are the days when Scotland were gunned down without firing a shot in return.
Shade Munro’s side pushed Spain all the way in the recent two-legged Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 play-off, only to miss out 25-15 on aggregate, and in the last Six Nations, they gave Ireland 2017 bound Wales (23-10) and Italy (22-7) a good run for their money too.
“While obviously being disappointed with the result, we have recognised that we are moving in the right direction – from a playing and coaching point of view and the support we are getting from the governing body – and now we just need to kick on from here and beat teams above us in the rankings.
“We have got a really exciting group of backs. Lisa Thomson scored a brilliant try against Italy and Chloe Rollie is an exciting talent too, they’ve both got great feet and hail from the Borders. Rhona Lloyd, who’s at Edinburgh University, has got real gas.
“Now it is just a case of us putting it all together and cutting out the unforced errors and creating those opportunities and taking them. I think we are starting to do that.”
While breaking their Six Nations duck would clearly mark a significant upturn in Scotland's fortunes, Lockhart believes the winds of change first occurred back in 2013.
“There was a review of women’s rugby in Scotland and it was recognised that structures needed to be put in place,” she explained.
“Academies have been established and there is a clear player pathway structure and BT have come on board as a sponsor which is great.
“As a result, all the players have access to extra skills, extra fitness, extra strength and conditioning, nutrition etc. That is all starting to make a difference because we are now getting the back up and support on a more regular basis than had previously been the case.”
Despite Scotland’s barren run, interest in women’s rugby is growing and the structures are in place to make the most of the talent available.
“There are now around 200 girls involved in our Player Development Programme for 16-20-year-olds, which is regionalised, and they’re getting access to everything they need in terms of support. We’ve also got a group of 14-15-year-olds getting weekly coaching sessions in the Academy. It’s good to see that pathway for the girls coming through.”
Lockhart hails the decision to televise all of Scotland’s matches during the Six Nations as “a massive step forward” as the Scottish Rugby Union look to build on recent success stories.
“A girls’ tournament was held on the back pitches at Scotstoun before we played Spain and they all came to watch the game afterwards. I think the crowd was around 3,500 and it was a really good atmosphere. And, for the first time ever back in November, we had a girls’ schools competition on the main pitch at Scotstoun, and that was a real success.”
ON THE VERGE OF HISTORY
On a personal note, Lockhart has Six Nations history within her sights.
It is possible for the 34-year-old sports coach (hockey and tennis) to become the record holder for most appearances in the event.
Currently she sits fourth on the all-time list behind Ireland duo Fiona Coghlan (58) and Lynne Cantwell (57) and Wales' Jenny Davies (55).
However, of the players still actively involved Lockhart leads the way with 54 – ahead of England’s Rochelle Clark on 53.
Capped 84 times overall, Lockhart says she has just as much pride in pulling on the Scottish jersey now as she did back on debut against the USA in 2004.
“When I head out for the national anthems before matches nowadays it still gives me the same buzz as it did a few years back and I am very proud to represent my country and give it my all.”
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