WXV 2 – Scotland v USA talking points


Scotland Women put the higher-ranked USA women team to the sword in a physical test match with big improvements for the victors from the game against South Africa.

Scotland bring out attack Plan B

Or maybe this is Plan A?  One of the most striking things about this match was how Scotland scored tries in a very different way to the previous match, when the rolling maul was previously the key. 

There would have been a few contributing factors; the Eagles’ discipline was very good so there were fewer attacking lineout opportunities. The USA team were also likely to defend it better – and in fact did manage to sack a couple of lineouts before the maul got going properly. And there may have been some memories of Clara Munarini’s idiosyncratic refereeing of Wales’ maul defence at the last World Cup!

In this match, Scotland were patient and soaked up pressure, not worrying about having too much possession but being clinical and effective with what they did get. The passing looked sharper and allied with pace, they did a good job to flood space with players and giving their back three several excellent opportunities – three tries and very nearly a fourth but for an excellent last-ditch cover tackle, with Rhona Lloyd, Francesca McGhie and Chloe Rollie all adding to their highlights reels and showing just how dangerous they are. 

The driving maul has been effective against the Sakura XV in the past for Scotland, so if they get the opportunity to use it in an attacking position this Friday, they’ll look to make use of it. But this match will have given them even more confidence that they have can take multiple different approaches and still score tries.

Playing smart

One thing that was a constant from last week was that Scotland worked out what their particular strengths were relative to the opposition and then made use of them.

In the first half, the US were playing into the wind and avoided kicking. So Scotland didn’t over-commit at rucks, but just tackled tirelessly and wore the US down and made it slow, frustrating and tiring for them to make progress towards the try line, leading to some handling errors as the pressure built.

The team as a whole defended brilliantly, but particular shoutouts should go to player of the match Evie Gallagher, Rachels Malcolm and McLachlan and Emma Orr.  And the relative strength that Scotland used to their advantage was the excellent kicking from hand of Helen Nelson and Lisa Thomson. The level they have reached since professionalism has been so important– they kick deep so much more consistently since they’ve had more time to work on this.

In the first half, this was perhaps wind-assisted, but they still were getting the metres in the second half and the USA couldn’t match it. It meant they could pin the USA in their own half for much of the match, allowing Scotland to take control of the territory and make it even harder for America to try find a way back into the game.

If there was a clear sign of this, it was when the US fumbled a try opportunity on 62 minutes, and one of the Americans could be heard over the ref mic celebrating “hey, look where we are” – it was their first bit of possession in Scotland’s 22 since half time.

The Scotland performance overall felt complete and assured, and it was this ability to soak up pressure in defence and to play the territory game so well that was the backbone of this dominant performance.

The scrum bounces back

South Africa are some of the best scrummagers in the women’s game (there are some things that women’s and men’s international teams have exactly in common) but it had not shaken Scotland, and in this game they got traction and even dominance against an experienced opposition front row.

The line out also held up well, so it really felt like a positive tick against nearly every main facet of the game – set piece, defence and attack.

Discipline was not great and is a slight area for concern – or rather opportunity for improvement.

At half time, Scotland had conceded 7 penalties to the Eagles’ 1. Some of those conceded in both halves were soft too, but hopefully that makes them all the more fixable. Even though this was Scotland’s best performance of the year, the exciting thing is they can definitely play even better, particularly if they can cut out needless penalties and improve on a couple of shaky exits, the only other slight blemish.

Opportunity for glory awaits

This really was a landmark result for the team, against a team ranked two places higher. Although the USA are on a bit of a downward road from being one of the teams that used to dominate the top of women’s rugby, this was only Scotland’s second-ever win against them.

And although they may have been missing star prop Hope Rogers, this was still a team stacked with names that regularly light up Premiership Women’s Rugby, with the team including the likes of Kate Zackery, Rachel Johnson, Gabby Cantorna, Lotte Clapp and Bulou Mataitoga. 

The Japanese team play with great accuracy and invention so the next match will be really tricky and the result could go either way, but this Scotland team should be confident that they can win, after such a good win against the USA.

With no “final” in this format, even if Scotland can get a bonus point win the top of the table is not quite in their own hands, as a big win for Italy against the US would see the title go to points difference.

Before the tournament, these matches all felt like ones that Scotland could win if they played their best, but against teams who were good enough to beat Scotland if their level dropped (especially the US who would have been slight favourites).

Having executed their game plan so well in the first two games, Scotland now have a genuine chance of silverware – bring on the weekend!

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