Despite occupying rooms on the 46th floor of their hotel in Dubai, none of Scotland’s players or coaches have their heads in the clouds.

Scotland arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday fully focused on the job in hand – securing qualification for their first Rugby World Cup in 12 years.

A place in Pool A alongside host New Zealand, Australia and Wales await the winner of the Final Qualification Tournament, with Scotland due to play either Kazakhstan or Colombia, this weekend’s semi-finalists.

As top seeds, Scotland are expected to book the last ticket to New Zealand regardless of who they face. But Scotland captain Rachel Malcolm insists no-one is getting head of themselves.

“The phrase that Bryan (Easson, head coach) and I use is ‘keep a lid on it’,” she said, referencing the expectation.

“What we have been through as a squad in the last six years has been pretty unbelievable in terms of the ups but probably more so the downs and the struggles that we have gone through, the changes we have gone through, but probably most importantly the improvements we have gone through.

“Those improvements have led to a new level of belief across the whole squad, both individually and as a team, and I really do feel we couldn’t be going into these qualifiers in a better position, both in terms of the depth within the squad and also our belief in what we can achieve.

“From that point of view, we are really excited and more than ready for the challenge ahead of us.”

A tough time

If successful in their bid, emotions will no doubt be running high – because former team-mate Siobhan Cattigan wasn’t there to share the moment with them as well as a realisation of what has been achieved.

Cattigan tragically passed away at the end of November, aged just 26.

“Obviously, it’s been a really, really tough time,” said Malcolm.

“Siobhan was an incredible person both as a player and off the pitch.

“As a player, she was someone that played with her heart, she always gave 110 per cent whether it was training or a game and she really kind of represented what Scotland is all about.

“Off the pitch, she was a really kind and caring person and someone that was always there for her team-mates.

“She is obviously a massive loss to us, and our thoughts are completely with her family.

“As a team, we have tried as best we can to be there for one another. It is probably the toughest thing we have come across and as individuals and as team-mates, we have just tried to stick by each other and give each other the support which we’ve all needed.

“The biggest motivation for us is to finish the journey that Siobhan started with us.”

Until her death, Cattigan had been an integral member of a Scotland squad that has shown considerable improvement in the last few years.

She was a member of the Scotland squad that won a historic series in South Africa in 2019, played in the 13-13 draw with France in 2020 which further underlined the team’s progress, and was a member of the squad that went to Italy and surprised everyone at the RWC 2021 Europe Qualifier in Parma.

A second-place finish behind hosts Italy – thanks to a last-gasp win against Ireland – saw Scotland book their place in the Final Qualification Tournament alongside Kazakhstan and Colombia, and the team is now just one win away from making it to New Zealand.

Scotland have not competed at a Rugby World Cup since 2010 and Malcolm, a 23-cap international, admits the chance to play at that level would be a dream come true.

“Every time we pull on a Scotland shirt it means everything to us as players and we always want to do the best we absolutely can in that shirt,” said Malcolm, who plays her club rugby south of the border in England for Loughborough Lightning.

“But to do that on the world stage is something we have always dreamed of as wee girls coming through.

“The opportunity to play on the world stage gives us the chance to inspire the next generation, as a squad it is something we are hugely passionate about.”

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