A couple of years after she played in the last of her three Rugby World Cups and retired from international rugby in 2006, Paula Chalmers emigrated to Sydney to work for her brother-in-law’s firm of financial advisors.

With the outdoor lifestyle, warm climate and everything else that Australia has to offer, it is a decision the former scrum-half and captain does not regret in the slightest.

And now, later this year, living in the southern hemisphere could come with an added benefit – the chance to see her native Scotland play in their first Rugby World Cup tournament in 12 years.

“It would be a nice birthday present if they are able to get there, I might treat myself to a trip to New Zealand, especially if some of the other girls from the past decide to go out to the tournament,” said Chalmers, who turns 50 in June, four months before the Rugby World Cup gets underway.

“It would be nice to catch up with some of them, and it’s only a three-hour flight away so it’s a lot more doable than if I was in Scotland still.”

Whether RWC 2021 involves Scotland or not depends on the outcome of the Final Qualification Tournament in February in Dubai, when Bryan Easson’s team will take on either Kazakhstan or Colombia in a one-off game to decide who claims the final ticket to New Zealand.

Given Scotland’s recent upturn in form and higher World Rugby Women’s Ranking, they will be favourites to take their place in Pool A with hosts New Zealand, Australia and Wales.

“It’s the ultimate in 15s, you don’t get any bigger stage than the Rugby World Cup,” said the three-time participant. 

“Now, it’s all televised, there will be big crowds, especially in New Zealand, which is a phenomenal place to play rugby.

“If they can’t get themselves up to beat Kazakhstan or Colombia in a one-off game with the Rugby World Cup dangled in front of them, they’ll never get up for rugby, it’s just the biggest prize.

“Not that they would want to say their achievement is getting to the World Cup, but it would be a massive achievement if they did that because it has been such a long time.”

Strike power

From the little rugby that she has seen, Chalmers likes the way the current team is shaping up.

“The players coming through now look like a good group of girls and are playing a nice brand of rugby. The full-back (Chloe Rollie) seems to set things alight for them, she is a very exciting player.

“If they can get the ball out there, they have got the strike power to score some tries.”

Chalmers made over 70 appearances for Scotland – more than her elder brother, fly-half Craig Chalmers – and competed in her first Rugby World Cup in the Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam-winning year of 1998.

She was in the squad again for Rugby World Cup 2002 and bowed out in Edmonton in 2006, contributing 27 points as Scotland finished sixth after losing out on a place in the semi-finals to hosts Canada on points difference.

It was during that tournament that Scotland played in their only previous encounter against Kazakhstan, winning 32-17.

“It was the second game of the World Cup and I know that with the way the pools were set up (a cross-pool fixture format), only one team went through. We’d beaten Spain with a bonus point and we needed to do the same against Kazakhstan to stay in contention.

“There was a lot of pressure going into the game to score tries and it was hot, I remember that, and they were a very hard, physical team but we stuck to our task, chipped away and chipped away and managed to break them down and got the four tries we needed.

“It was quite a very physical encounter.”

Scotland appeared in one more tournament in 2010 but have spent the last 12 years in the Rugby World Cup wilderness.

Chalmers is delighted to see Scotland are on the brink of ending that long wait and the evolution of the women’s game in general.

“It’s amazing to see how it has progressed. From what I have seen and read, it’s almost professional now and the girls playing are athletes and extremely fit and the skill levels are obviously much higher than in my day,” she said. 

“It is impressive to see, and it has been a long time coming. But I enjoyed my time, it was what it was.”

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