Skipper Rachel Malcolm insists a renewed sense of belief can fire Scotland up the Women’s Six Nations ranks, ahead of their Championship opener away to double defending champions England.
The 29-year-old was part of the side that impressively pegged back 2018 Grand Slam winners France to claim a 13-13 draw at Scotstoun last October, following defeats to Ireland and the Red Roses in their other two outings.
Since then a lack of on-field action has afforded Bryan Easson’s charges time to work on the finer details behind the scenes, while Malcom is confident the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has improved her team’s mental toughness.
And now, with a trip to Doncaster to come on Saturday ahead of a home clash against Italy, the Loughborough Lightning flanker insists Scotland will be focused on utilising their own game plan and challenging towards the top of the Pool A ranks before a final classification game.
“All of the teams involved in the Six Nations have had upsets in the last year, whether that was due to games being cancelled, postponed or whatever,” she said.
“It’s a process we’ve gone through as a team, and the attitude from all the players and management has been fantastic. I think we’re in a really good place now in terms of our togetherness.
“Our mindset has completely shifted now. We used to focus far too much on our opposition, but now we’ve got a huge amount of belief in the squad we’ve built.
“In previous years I might have thought it was a daunting start against England but this year that’s just not the way we’re thinking. We are very excited to come up against one of the world’s best teams, and do our absolute best for Scotland.
“A lot of the girls based in Scotland haven’t played since October, and they’re champing at the bit to get going. We’ve trained an awful lot so we’re excited to get out on the grass, and hopefully we can progress with each game we play.
“We will definitely be taking the Championship one game at a time. The biggest thing for us is that we want to compete consistently with the top teams in the tournament. I think in previous years we haven’t done that so that will be a key aim for us.”
Scotland’s 31-strong squad features uncapped quartet Evie Gallagher, Shona Campbell, Coreen Grant and Evie Wills, while star back-rower Jade Konkel was a notable absentee following her decision to take a break from rugby while training to become a firefighter.
And while Malcolm insists the side’s strength in depth will serve them well throughout the Championship, she is also excited to be part of Easson’s first campaign as full-time boss, following his December appointment.
She added: “Jade Konkel is an asset to any team on and off the pitch, and we are super supportive of what she’s doing in her life at the moment. Nothing really changes for us – we have players who have had to step up and have done so.
“That’s really important for the development of Scottish rugby moving forwards and I’m really excited to see those players step up into those positions over the course of the Championship.
“It’s been a really smooth process with Bryan stepping into the head coach role and he’s been brilliant. His understanding of players is world class and he’s got a very player-centred approach to things.
“He really plays to the strengths of the squad on the pitch, I have a really good relationship with him, and I’m really confident he is the right person for the job.”