Source: INPHO

Scotland Pick

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It’s almost a pity that Bryan Easson should announce his Six Nations squad so soon after Scott Bemand did the same for ireland. The one news item tends to mask the other.

And the news from Edinburgh is very similar: here seven uncapped players rather than eight; here a number of players who attracted attention in the Celtic Challenge, just like their Irish cousins.

The squad:

Leah Bartlett (Leicester T), Christine Belisle (Loughborough L), Sarah Bonar (Harlequins), Elliann Clarke (Bristol B), Lisa Cockburn (Leicester T ), Eva Donaldson (Leicester T), Evie Gallagher (Bristol B), Merryn Gunderson (Corstorphine Cougars/Edinburgh), Rachel Malcolm (Loughborough L), Elis Martin (Leicester T), Fiona McIntosh (Saracens), Rachel McLachlan (Sale S), Louise McMillan (Saracens), Lana Skeldon (Bristol B), Alex Stewart (Corstorphine Cougars/Edinburgh), Emma Wassell (Loughborough L), Molly Wright (Sale S), Anne Young (Sale S) (18)

Cieron Bell (University of Edinburgh/Edinburgh), Beth Blacklock (Saracens), Leia Brebner-Holden (Gloucester-Hartpury/Cheltenham Tigers), Shona Campbell (GB 7s), Nicole Flynn (University of Edinburgh/Edinburgh), Coreen Grant (Saracens), Caity Mattinson (Gloucester-Hartpury), Mairi McDonald (Exeter C), Francesca McGhie (Leicester T), Rhona Lloyd (GB 7s/Bordelais), Helen Nelson (Loughborough L), Emma Orr (Heriot’s Blues/Edinburgh), Lisa Thomson (GB 7s), Chloe Rollie (Loughborough L), Meryl Smith (Bristol B), Megan Varley (Bristol B) (16)

One obvious point of difference from the Irish is the large number of Scots now attached to English PWR clubs; nothing new in that. But it is a worry that so many of them find themselves in clubs near the foot of the table: three at Sale, five at Tigers. At least they show four others representing Saracens and two the current leaders, Gloucester-Hartpury, even if neither is a first-choice there.

Three GB 7s players are included, Lisa Thomson, Rhona Lloyd and Shona Campbell; they add important strength to the back line.

Of the newcomers, four figured in the Edinburgh Rugby squad, reflecting their positive showing in the CC. The pity is that members of the Glasgow Warriors couldn’t put in an equally convincing performance. Since Scottish Rugby is effectively reduced to these two big cities, that represents a sizeable failure.

Only 34?

In sharp contrast to his Irish and Welsh counterparts, Easson names only 34 players. You can argue all sorts of reasons for that limited number, but my fear is that he doesn’t find large numbers of players of the right quality vying for inclusion. This may be called an extended training squad, but it’s not extended very far beyond an actual match-day team of 23. Only very few are likely to be omitted when the final 6N squad is announced.

Let’s hope that some of the four injured players will regain fitness in time for part, at least, of the championship. They include Jade Konkel, Jenny Maxwell, Liz Musgrove and Evie Wills. Konkel is the obvious worry.

Thumbs up or thumbs down?

The upside is the confidence the national team extracted from their showing in WXV3, where they finished top of the pole. Whether that will prove sufficient to improve on their 2023 position of fourth remains to be seen. The 2024 fixture card doesn’t work in their favour. Their two home matches bring them England and France. The Scots had no answer to the French last year.

In essence that means they need to gain three away wins, an unlikely outcome.

The top points and try scorer then was their hooker, Lana Skeldon. The crying need is for increased scoring power from the backs. With young incisive runners like Coreen Grant, Emma Orr and Francesca McGhie appearing on the scene, there must be high hopes of more profitable returns than in the past. Much will depend on the No 10, presumably Helen Nelson, getting her line moving aggressively forward.

This is the one area of the field where Easson has a surplus of promise. How does he fit it all into one back-line? With those 7s players competing for places, the pressure switches back to the pack. They must prove they can provide front-foot ball for the full eighty minutes.

The lack of real size and power up front has been an ongoing concern for far too long. The effort the pack has to put in to counter its opposition normally means it runs out of puff too early in proceedings.

Our optimism must be cautious.

Opening fixture:

Saturday 23 March, v Wales, Cardiff Arms Park; KO 16.45

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