Scotland depart for the Final Qualification Tournament in Dubai a week on Sunday with a group of 30 players tasked with securing the 12th and final ticket to Rugby World Cup 2021.
As the top-ranked team, Scotland will play in the final match of the tournament, on Friday, 25 February, against the winner of the Kazakhstan versus Colombia semi-final, which takes place six days earlier.
The Final Qualification Tournament was originally going to be a four-team event but Samoa had to withdraw due to COVID-19 restrictions, while Kazakhstan's place was confirmed after Hong Kong dropped out of their Asian regional play-off for the same reasons.
Scotland are a record ninth place in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini. Kazakhstan are six places below them in 15th with Colombia currently ranked 26th.
But Scotland head coach Bryan Easson says nothing will be taken for granted as they bid to end their country’s 12-year wait to compete at a Rugby World Cup.
“It didn’t matter who we were going to play against, whether it was five teams or three teams, we were going to concentrate on ourselves anyway,” he said.
“We have been able to source some good analysis on both Kazakhstan and Colombia, we are aware of what we have to face but we have really concentrated hard on progressing our performance from the first lot of qualifiers in Italy to then the Japan game (a 36-12 win in November) and moving forward.
“Our key message is let’s focus on the processes rather than the outcome. If we get the processes right, the outcome will take care of itself.”
The road to New Zealand
Scotland have made it this far after finishing runners-up behind Italy at the RWC 2021 Europe Qualifier in September.
Wins over Spain and Ireland continued the upward curve of a team that has no previous Rugby World Cup experience.
Scotland have not participated at the highest level since 2010 but are now just one game away from putting that right.
Easson says to be in touching distance of the big prize is the culmination of a lot of hard work collectively and individually.
“A lot of these players have been on a longer journey than others. Some were involved in 2013 when, unfortunately, they didn’t qualify for the Rugby World Cup, and a chunk of them were involved against Spain in 2017 when, again, they didn’t qualify for the Rugby World Cup so they’ve been working together for a long time.
“We’ve worked really hard over the last 18 months to two years and let’s not forget we had to beat top countries to get to where we are at the moment. We had to beat Ireland, we had to beat Spain and to then put in a performance against Japan as well.
“We had to put in these performances to get where we are. So it is not just about Scotland playing Kazakhstan or Colombia, it has been about the long process and us progressing as a group.
“Whoever we play will get our utmost respect and we will put in a performance to make ourselves proud and make sure we get over that final hurdle.”
Doing it the hard way
As if getting to Rugby World Cup 2021 wasn’t reward enough, the final qualifiers will be placed in Pool A with tournament hosts and defending champions New Zealand, Australia and more familiar foes in Wales.
“We have got a great group if we qualify, haven’t we! Let’s not do it the hard way, let’s get New Zealand and Australia in the group,” Easson said, jokingly.
“I am a planner, I like to understand where I am going and how we are going to do things properly. You do have your mind on certain things but it would be daft for me to look at any further than this qualifier.”
Easson has named three uncapped players in the squad: University of Edinburgh duo Meryl Smith and Eva Donaldson, as well as Worcester Warriors’ Caity Mattinson.
Mattinson, who was born in Inverness, made seven international appearances for England between 2017 and 2018, with the scrum-half qualifying to play for Scotland through World Rugby’s new eligibility rule that came into effect at the start of the year.
University of Edinburgh’s Anne Young and Shona Campbell are also named in the squad after making their international debuts in Scotland’s November test against Japan.
There is plenty by way of experience in the rest of the squad, with no fewer than 10 of the group having won at least 30 caps, as Scotland draw upon continuity of selection for the final leg of their Rugby World Cup 2021 journey.
It has also been confirmed that Gordon Henderson and Tyrone Holmes will assist Easson, as members of the coaching team.
Scotland squad for RWC 2021 Final Qualification Tournament:
Forwards: Leah Bartlett (Loughborough Lightning, 11 caps), Christine Belisle (Loughborough Lightning, 11 caps), Sarah Bonar (Harlequins, 25 caps), Lisa Cockburn (Worcester Warriors, 22 caps), Katie Dougan (Gloucester Hartpury, 14 caps), Eva Donaldson (Edinburgh University, uncapped, Evie Gallagher (Stirling County, seven caps), Jade Konkel (Harlequins, 48 caps), Rachel Malcolm (Loughborough Lightning, 23 caps, captain), Rachel McLachlan (Sale Sharks, 23 caps), Louise McMillan (Hillhead Jordanhill, 30 caps), Lyndsay O’Donnell (Worcester Warriors, 15 caps), Lana Skeldon (Worcester Warriors, 47 caps), Emma Wassell (Loughborough Lightning, 51 caps), Molly Wright (Sale Sharks, nine caps), Anne Young (Edinburgh University, one cap).
Backs: Shona Campbell (Edinburgh University, one cap), Megan Gaffney (Loughborough Lightning, 38 caps), Coreen Grant (Saracens, one cap), Sarah Law (Sale Sharks, 47 caps), Rhona Lloyd (Les Lioness du Stade Bordelaise, 32 caps), Caity Mattinson (Worcester Warriors, uncapped), Jenny Maxwell (Loughborough Lightning, 35 caps), Mairi McDonald (Hillhead Jordanhill, seven caps), Liz Musgrove (Unattached, 10 caps), Helen Nelson (Loughborough Lightning, 36 caps), Chloe Rollie (Exeter Chiefs, 44 caps), Meryl Smith (Edinburgh University, uncapped), Lisa Thomson (Sale Sharks, 39 caps), Evie Wills (Hillhead Jordanhill, two caps).