Scotland captain Rachel Malcolm and head coach Bryan Easson have both stated that the upcoming TikTok Women’s Six Nations marks the start of a new era for the national team, the former calling it a “fresh start”.
Having worked so hard to get the country to their first World Cup in 12 years - doing so with a victory over Colombia in Dubai early last year - Scotland then lost their next nine Tests.
Scottish Rugby reacted by increasing funding in the women’s game and awarding 28 professional contracts which started late last year and run until November this year.
Twenty-six of the contracted players have been named in a 36-strong squad for the Six Nations which begins with a tough test away to England on March 25th at Kingston Park in Newcastle.
And with World Rugby’s new WXV event due to start later this year and a World Cup in 2025 in England to qualify for, Malcolm, Easson and co have drawn a line in the sand and are excitedly looking to the future.
“Last year’s results were frustrating, this is a fresh start - the vibe just now is really good, we have to build on that energy,” Malcolm, the 31-year-old Loughborough Lightning back-row, told TRU.
“We have proven that we are good enough to compete, now we have to find a way to win and putting more points on the board is the way forward with that.
“Our defence has been really strong over the last two seasons, [defence coach] Tyrone Holmes has made a massive difference there, but we need to look at how we put teams under more pressure when we attack.
“If you look at nine defeats, then it tells a pretty morbid story but I think when you actually look at the performances it gives you hope and we now have to turn that hope into belief and we have to find a way - whether that is tactically or psychologically - to turn that around.
“I’m generally really excited going into this Six Nations. We’ve got a number of new faces in terms of players and coaches, too, so it does feel like a bit of a fresh start and we are excited to get going.”
As Malcolm states, within the squad getting ready for the tournament, there are a number of new faces.
The seven uncapped players involved are second-row/back-row Fiona Cooper of Wasps, centre Beth Blacklock of Harlequins, back-rowers Erinn Foley of Hillhead Jordanhill and Emma Turner of Corstorphine Cougars, University of Edinburgh duo Rhea Clarke (scrum-half) and Holly McIntyre (centre) and winger Francesca McGhie of Watsonians.
And, with more experience under their belts now, Malcolm also expects the players in their early 20s - or late teens in Emma Orr’s case - who have already been capped and have been around the group for a while to step things up going forward.
That batch includes Evie Gallagher, Meryl Smith and Anne Young.
Back-row Gallagher, 22, agonisingly missed out on the World Cup in New Zealand at the last minute when she suffered a lower limb injury.
The University of Worcester Warriors’ player is back fit and looking to add to her 13 caps, Malcolm saying: “Evie is back, she has played the last two games for Worcester and she is looking great and in better shape than I have ever seen her.
“She is probably the player I am most excited to see over the next few weeks. She has always been a very dynamic ball carrier, a good tackler, a good turnover specialist, but now she just looks like she has an extra gear.
“I think missing out on the World Cup was heart-breaking for her and you can tell that she is champing at the bit to make up for lost time.
“The young group, in general, are really doing so, so well. They are just so much more confident now. They are really putting their hands up in training and they are challenging for positions and I think we’ll see a lot of them this season.
"For example, for Meryl getting leadership experience with the Thistles [in the recent inaugural Celtic Challenge] has been incredible for her development.
“She has been training really well and is a very exciting player coming through. She has been in the squad for a wee while now and she is doing really well.
“And Anne has probably been in the squad the longest out of the young group of players and has potentially not had as many opportunities as she would have liked, but she works incredibly hard.
“She has been playing this season at Sale Sharks and I think that Premier 15s experience in terms of training and playing has pushed her game to the next level. She is adding an extra layer of depth to our front-row.”
Smith, whom Malcolm mentions, is a 21-year-old playmaker from the University of Edinburgh with four caps while Young is a loosehead prop with two caps who turns 23 on Friday.
Heading into the tournament, attack coach Chris Laidlaw and forwards coach Martin Haag have joined Bryan Easson and Tyrone Holmes.
Laidlaw is the son of former Scotland and British & Irish Lions scrum-half Roy Laidlaw and has worked with young female and male players north of the border in recent years.
Former Bath and England player Haag is a more experienced coach and Malcolm thinks they bring important skills to the table.
“Chris is quite a new, young coach, he brings so much energy and is a real student of the game,” Malcolm, who was talking at the Six Nations launch in London, explained.
“He is really excited about attack and he has brought in some new ideas which everyone has really bought into and we are excited to go out and show that in a match and stress ourselves in that area.
Exciting few weeks ahead ???????????????? https://t.co/NPjo5BMqIP— Chris Laidlaw (@laidlaw9) March 13, 2023
“I think, ultimately, we have to put ourselves in more stressful situations attack-wise to put defences under pressure and challenge them a bit more.
“And Martin is a lovely guy, he is a real people person. He has put in a lot of time to get to know people in the group and he is a firm believer that happy people make better rugby players.
“He has a similar kind of attacking ethos to Chris and they kind of bounce off each other really well. They have brought a new energy to things.”
The TikTok Women's Six Nations begins next weekend and with Scotland now offering full-time contracts to some of their players, it only adds to the strength of the championships.
England have led the way on this front since 2019 and have dominated the Six Nations over this period, and Red Rose Alex Matthews feels the growing professionalism of the other countries makes for a healthy competition: "All these nations have become professional. In a couple of years time, this year maybe, they are going to be at the same standard so how can we [England] keep pushing on and being better?"
"This is going to be the best Six Nations yet with everyone having those opportunities to better themselves."