Scotland Women’s head coach Shade Munro has challenged the new faces in his squad to perform well this weekend against Italy in order to give him a selection headache ahead of the Six Nations.
The side take on the Italians in Calvisano on Sunday (1.45pm local time) and Munro has named six uncapped players, plus the returning Annabel Sergeant, in his extended travelling squad of 25.
That will be cut down to 23 on Saturday and with the likes of Jade Konkel, Rachel Malcolm, Debs McCormack and Hannah Smith all out injured, it gives opportunities to others.
Wing/full-back Sergeant has played for Scotland before and is back after a stint in New Zealand while the new players to look out for are back-rows Rachel McLachlan and Lucy Winter, loosehead prop Lisa Cockburn, tighthead prop Mairi Forsyth, scrum-half Caitlin Sedgeworth and winger Bryony Nelson.
“This is a good opportunity for the new players to play at this level and we have a big home match with Canada later this month too,” Munro said.
“There are a few unavailable through injury and I want the others to show me what they are capable of as we aim to hit the ground running.
“We respect Italy. It is a Test match, not a training match and we want to impose our rugby on the Italians so it should be an entertaining game.
“Playing Italy away again for us is good. When you play a Test match you want to win it, you need to win.”
Front-row has long been an area that Munro has been keen to strengthen for the Scots and in Darlington Mowden Park Sharks’ Cockburn, he believes he has found someone who can compete for the number one jersey.
He said: “Lisa was identified through the ‘Scottish Qualified’ system and that has been a real bonus. She has been playing well for DMP Sharks. She is a good loosehead prop and certainly an area where we need to improve is our scrum.
“Another who has impressed is hooker Jodie Rettie. She was at Thurrock playing 10 and had times at back-row and hooker, then she moved to Saracens - one of the best teams in England - and has been playing hooker/back-row and starting quite regularly at hooker so it gives us more strength in that position along with Lana Skeldon and Rachel Malcolm when she comes back from injury.”
Scotland lost against Italy in the Six Nations back in March 26-12 and they are ranked 11th in the world rankings with their hosts seventh.
As a result, they will start as underdogs on Sunday, but there is no doubt the team has come on leaps and bounds in the last couple of years with young players like back-row Louise McMillan and centre Lisa Thomson leading from the front.
“When I first started in this role a few years ago, we played the fire brigade and the police at this time of year,” Munro explained.
“And then there was one friendly international, then proper friendlies and now these Test matches against Italy and Canada.
“This one and Canada will be really big fixtures for us. They will get the players ready for the Six Nations and help us progress.”
The finalised squad and captain to take on Italy will be named on Saturday.
Sarah Bonar (Loughborough Lightning)
Lisa Cockburn (Darlington Mowden Park RFC)
Siobhan Cattigan (Stirling County)
Katie Dougan (Gloucester-Hartpury)
Mairi Forsyth (Stirling County)
Nicola Howat (Edinburgh University)
Megan Kennedy (Stirling County)
Rachel McLachlan (West of Scotland)
Louise McMillan (Hillhead/Jordanhill)
Siobhan McMillan (Hillhead/Jordanhill)
Jodie Rettie (Saracens)
Lana Skeldon (Watsonians)
Emma Wassell (Unattached)
Lucy Winter (Edinburgh University)
Abi Evans (Hillhead/Jordanhill)
Mhairi Grieve (Firwood Waterloo)
Lauren Harris (Bristol Women)
Lisa Martin (Lille Metropole Rugby Club Villeneuvios)
Jenny Maxwell (Loughborough Lightning)
Bryony Nelson (Watsonians)
Helen Nelson (Montpellier)
Chloe Rollie (Lille Metropole Rugby Club Villeneuvios)
Caitlin Sedgeworth (Durham University/Darlington Mowden Park RFC)
Annabel Sergeant (Unattached)
Lisa Thomson (Darlington Mowden Park RFC)