SCOTLAND stand-off Helen Nelson has insisted that her team are in a good place as they prepare to get their Women’s Six Nations campaign off to the toughest possible start this afternoon against England. 

The Scots have lost heavily to the current title-holders in recent years, and in fact have not won a match in the Championship at all since 2018. But, while they will be underdogs for today’s game at Castle Park, Doncaster, they have rightly taken considerable heart from their last outing, a 13-13 draw with France back in October, believing that it shows they are capable on their day of competing with anyone. 

“We took a huge amount of confidence from that,” said Nelson, whose team have been drawn in Pool A along with Italy as well as England in the tournament’s new, shorter format. “I think in the past we’ve struggled in those kinds of matches against your Englands and Frances to believe in ourselves, so we’re just going to take all that belief and all that work that we’ve put in during the last few months, and hopefully have a good game. 

“We’re really excited, to be honest. We’ve focussed a lot on ourselves this week, and we’re in a really good place for Saturday.” 

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Nelson and a number of other members of the Scotland squad play their club rugby in England, and that regular, first-hand knowledge of today’s opponents  has to help when it comes to believing they are beatable. In that regard, the battle between the playmaker and her opposite number Helena Rowland should be particularly intriguing, as they not only both play for Loughborough Lightning, they share a house along with Scotland winger Rhona Lloyd, who is currently out injured, and two other players, New Zealander Lizzie Goulden and Canadian DaLeaka Menin.

At least on paper, Nelson should have the upper hand in the battle of wits with Rowland, as she plays at inside centre for Loughborough so has had the best possible insight into how the Englishwoman plays at 10. Of course, in reality a stand-off’s performance depends to a large extent on the quality of the possession they receive from their forwards, and the Scotland pack will be without two key performers in Jade Konkel and Sarah Bonar, both of whom are taking a break from rugby at present to concentrate on new jobs. 

“We had a bit of chat about it last week, saying it would be good fun if we are playing 10 against each other,” Nelson said. “I play outside of Helena at 12 when we’re at Lightning and we’ve got a really good partnership, so I’m excited to go up against her and have a bit of banter on the pitch about it.” 

At 21, Rowland is very much still learning her trade, while the 26-year-old Nelson has been around at international level since 2016. But although the England player is still a rookie, her older team-mate knows she is composed beyond her years.

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“She is [inexperienced], but we have a laugh in the house about how she’s the mature one out of all of us. She’s got a mature head on her.

“I would say we’re quite similar in terms of both appearing calm on the pitch. We might not be on the inside, but outwardly we both appear quite calm.”

The Scotland squad could at best be termed semi-professional, while England are fully pro, and that divide was sharply exposed at Murrayfield last year when the visitors won 53-0. When such a gulf exists between two teams it invariably takes far more than a year for the losers to learn how to bridge it, and realistically Scotland will have done well today if they restrict the margin of defeat to around 30 points.

However, as Nelson insisted, a lot has changed since that defeat a year ago, and the emphasis going into this match has been less on what went wrong then, and more on what has gone right since.     

“We won’t focus on it too much. We’ve looked a lot at the France game and the improvements we can make from that. England played France a couple of times in the autumn as well, and we’ll analyse those games too.”

Scotland have a fallow week after this match, before playing Italy at Scotstoun a fortnight later. They will then have a play-off on Saturday 24th against the team from Pool B - either France, Ireland or Wales from Pool B - which finishes in the same position as them.