SCOTLAND captain Rachel Malcolm has been ruled out of the rest of the Six Nations by injury and will be replaced as skipper by vice-captain Helen Nelson for Saturday’s game against Italy at Scotstoun.

Blindside flanker Malcolm injured her knee in the first minute of the game against England ten days ago, but played on until half-time. Evie Gallagher, who made her debut off the bench in the 52-10 defeat, is set to take over in the back row, while Nicola Howat has also been called into the squad.

“Unfortunately, I can confirm that Rachel Malcolm is out for the rest of the competition,” assistant coach Ross Miller said yesterday. “Losing your captain at any point is not great for any team. Not having her presence around camp is a big miss: she’s an experienced player, vocal and a big member of the team, so it is a loss.

“But we have a robust group of players, and they will work hard to continue to improve in her absence. That’s the biggest positive we have: the players are a hard-working group. She will be a miss, but we won’t be held back by that.”

The initial fear after the Pool A game in Doncaster was that Malcolm would be sidelined for some time, but Miller explained that the prognosis was now more optimistic. “It’s not as serious as we first thought, so that’s a real positive,” he said. “We hope to have her back soon.” 

If Scotland beat the Italians they will go through to a third-place play-off exactly a week later against the losers of Saturday’s other fixture, the Pool B match between Ireland and France. The winners of that game will contest the final against England, who secured top place in Pool A by beating Italy 67-3 three days ago.

“I was really entertained by the game,” Miller said of that match, in which a much-changed England team eventually overran the home side. “I thought the Italians did really well in the first 20 minutes: their defence was excellent and their ball-retention was really good.”

As the opening quarter was the poorest part of Scotland’s performance against England, the coaching staff are sure to focus on getting off to a brighter start this time round. Defeat by the Italians would consign Scotland to a Wooden Spoon play-off against Wales, who have finished bottom of Pool B after losing to both the French and Irish.