Claire Cruikshank is a couple of weeks into an incredibly busy six months, and she is determined to make the most of every minute with Scotland on the road to Rugby World Cup 2021.

Cruikshank, who will work with Bryan Easson and his staff as part of the RWC 2021 Coaching Internship Programme, has already spent time in the Scotland camp during the Women’s Six Nations.

Having built successful programmes at both the University of Edinburgh and with Sweden women, she brings a wealth of experience to the role but is excited by the opportunity she now has to acquire new skills.

“It’s a great opportunity to go into an elite environment and learn from some great coaches and just continue to develop,” Cruikshank told World Rugby.

“For me, it’s all about learning and what things can I take away? How can I use the support structures around Scottish Rugby, World Rugby, the programme?

“[I want to] learn from some of the other coaches, the fantastic coaches that are on the internship around the world and just come out of this programme as a better coach, as a better people manager, as a better person… the whole holistic approach to coaching.

“So, for me it’s all about learning and taking every opportunity I can get. It's going to be a busy six months but it's all about getting stuck in now and then hopefully in six months’ time I've got a great experience from it.

“I'd hate to sit here in six months’ time and say I didn't take that opportunity, or I didn't really get stuck in. I want to grab everything.

“So, I'll be working extremely hard to take every opportunity that comes my way. And if that means I have to sacrifice a few things in my own personal life over the next six months, I think it's going to be well worth it.”

Building towards RWC 2021

Both the University of Edinburgh, where Cruikshank is Head of Performance Women’s Rugby, and the Svenska Rugby Forbundet have been supportive of her internship.

The transition to the senior Scotland set-up, meanwhile, has been made smoother by her existing relationship with Easson and several players in the squad.

Current University of Edinburgh players Shona Campbell, Eva Donaldson and Meryl Smith have all featured during the Women’s Six Nations 2022, while Cruikshank has worked with many more as students or in the Scotland age-grade teams.

“I know the majority of the squad having coached them in some capacity,” she said. “So, that's been really, really good because it [meant] when I went in, I knew people.

“So, it was a lot easier to slip in rather than have to kind of get to know people, especially when they're so focused on playing. You don't want to disrupt them.”

On her conversations with Easson, Cruikshank added: “[They’ve been] really open, he wants to help me develop and he wants me to add value in some way. So, that's really exciting.”

Although results in the Women’s Six Nations have not gone how Easson and the players would have hoped, it is certainly an exciting time to be involved with the squad.

Scotland were the 12th and final team to book their ticket to New Zealand, beating Colombia in the RWC 2021 Final Qualification Tournament in Dubai in February.

“If you look at certain aspects of all the games, there are real positives to take,” Cruikshank said.

“That second half against France, a 5-0 victory against France, the third best team in the world, shows that it’s there, it's now just putting it together consistently. I do think come World Cup time the squad will be in a much better place.

“Again, looking from the outside until now, they've been getting better and better every time they've played and they're on a real journey and in six months' time, hopefully that'll be continuing.”

“It should be brilliant”

Participating in Rugby World Cup as a coach with Scotland will be a poignant experience for Cruikshank, whose playing career was ended by an ACL injury picked up during a training session at RWC 2006.

The incident cost Cruikshank her RWC debut but it was while recuperating back in Edinburgh that she took her first steps in coaching.

“Probably the exciting thing and the interesting thing will be to see how it's changed and developed since 2006,” she said.

“It's a long time ago, so the World Cup is now a much bigger entity and the standard and just the crowds and things that hopefully will be out in New Zealand, it should be brilliant.”

Travelling to New Zealand will also give Cruikshank the chance to catch up with family. Her sister lives in Mount Maunganui and she has not been able to meet her four-year-old niece in person due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“From a slightly personal perspective, my sister lives in New Zealand,” she said. “She's married to a New Zealander; my niece and nephew are out there as well.

“So, I'll have some family out there so that's really nice as well, to go out there and hopefully get to see them a little bit.”