The past 14 months have been difficult for everyone – and Scotland Women have felt that keenly. Their Women’s Six Nations 2020 match in Italy was among the first major sporting events postponed as a result of the spread of COVID-19, while the players have had to deal with the disappointment of subsequent postponements. 

Nelson, equally at home at fly-half or in the midfield, is looking forward to getting back on the pitch and wearing the thistle. “We are ready to go,” Nelson put it bluntly in an interview with World Rugby. 

“It’s been a long time coming with the Six Nations [originally planned to coincide with the men’s championship] getting postponed, we were definitely ready, so the excitement has just been building since then.”

The 26-year-old is one of five Loughborough Lightning players in Bryan Easson’s squad for the championship, and she admits she has been fortunate to have played in this season’s Premier 15s going into the Six Nations.  

“It has been great,” she said of her outings for Loughborough. “We’ve been really fortunate that Scottish Rugby have really backed us and provided us with a lot of time in camp, so we were together for about a month earlier this year in the build-up to the Six Nations, so we’re in a really good place.

“Equally, the girls who are up here in Scotland haven’t been playing games but they’ve been training two or three times a week so they are also in a really good place, so it’s just exciting to all finally come together and get going on Saturday.”

Building confidence 

The championship opener in Doncaster will be Scotland’s first match since their 13-13 draw with France to conclude last season’s Six Nations, and Nelson believes the squad can take a lot of encouragement from that performance. 

“I think we take a lot of confidence from it,” she said. 

“We’ve been the same core squad for the last three or four years now and we’ve always known we have the ability to challenge these world class teams like France and England, but we’ve maybe fallen away in the final 20 or 30 minutes, and certain aspects have let us down.  

“But, that was a full 80-minute performance against France so we have to take so much confidence from that and know that we can do it.  

“It’s a very similar squad, we’ve had a couple of injuries and a couple of new faces come in, so hopefully we can keep building.”

Captain Rachel Malcolm has spoken about Scotland perhaps being daunted by the prospect of facing England first up in previous years, but not this time around with a new approach from head coach Easson and the players meaning they are concentrating on their own preparation and not worrying about their opposition.

“I’m not daunted, I’m just excited for the opportunity,” Nelson said. “I think the pressure is on them, not us, and to have the opportunity to go and just focus totally on ourselves – in the past I think we have put too much emphasis on them, so we’ve been focusing on our processes. We’re really excited for Saturday.”

New formats, new tournaments, new beginnings

The Women’s Six Nations is taking on a new format this year, with each team playing two matches over three weekends, before all six teams compete in a finals weekend on April 24.

And Nelson believes a standalone women’s tournament is a step in the right direction: “I think it gives us so much more media attention and the emphasis is purely on the women’s tournament.

“Already in camp we’ve got more cameras round and there’s a lot more excitement about it, so we’re fully embracing the new format.”

Looking to the future, Nelson is also excited by World Rugby’s announcement of the WXV tournament, set to begin in 2023. 

“It’s really exciting and it gives us the opportunity to play teams we would maybe only play once in a four-year cycle, so from that point of view to have that level of exposure once a year is going to be huge.

“It puts more focus on the Six Nations because that’s how you’ll qualify for each tier, so it adds a bit more fire to the Six Nations, which is good, and that opportunity to play teams like New Zealand, Canada and USA is great for the women’s game.”

For now though, all sights are firmly focused on the Women’s Six Nations as Scotland look to continue their recent upturn in fortunes.