THE last time Scotland’s women qualified for the World Cup, Rachel Malcolm was a teenage hockey player with little to no interest in rugby. A dozen years later, the 31-year-old has been confirmed as captain of the 32-man squad that travel to New Zealand for next month’s tournament.
But if you think such a timescale suggests the back row attacker has made a slow and steady climb to the top, think again. It wasn’t actually until late 2015 that she started playing rugby, first for Lichfield 2nds after developing a taste for the sport playing touchdown. Only then did the rapid rise begin: in the summer of 2016 she was called up for her first camp in Scotland, she made her debut at the end of that year, and the rest, as they say, belongs to history.
“If I look back to 2010, it wasn’t even in my wildest dreams,” Malcolm said after being named to head coach Bryan Easson’s squad yesterday. “It’s a really special moment. Being part of the team has been the best experience of my life: going to a World Cup is truly an honor and having the opportunity to lead the team is beyond my wildest dreams.
“Up to this point in my career, the highlight was probably that game in Italy. [last year’s World Cup qualifier against Ireland], because everything was against us to qualify at that time. But I think going to a World Cup in New Zealand with a group of women who have worked tirelessly for the last six, ten, 12 years will definitely be the pinnacle.
By the end of 2015, Malcolm’s younger brother James had joined Glasgow, so she knew a bit more about the sport. But by her own admission, she also had a lot to learn once she decided to give it a shot.
“My whole family is very rugby oriented – I guess I had a bit of resentment towards that growing up, because I played hockey and had my own thing, and I liked having my own thing. But it was probably James who inspired me a bit to try the game, because his career was going extremely well and I was extremely proud of everything he achieved.
“That’s when I started getting interested in rugby and started watching it a lot more. I got into it, I guess. I caught the bug.
“I went to Lichfield Ladies, which at the time was one of the best teams in England. I hadn’t realized it at all, as someone who didn’t even know what a ruck at this stage.I participated in my first rugby session and I was totally hooked.
“I remember the first day, they were like, ‘Front over there, back over there’ and I stood in the middle and said ‘I don’t know what that is.’ They just said ‘over there’ which I’m glad for sure – I think they saw me running then and realized I was never going to be in the back.
Malcolm, one of the team’s 16 forwards, will have Helen Nelson, one of 16 backs, as vice-captain. Scrum-half Jenny Maxwell and prop Lisa Cockburn are still on their way back from injury, but otherwise the group of 32 is largely made up of the players who have been the backbone of the team for several seasons. . Emma Wassell is the most experienced at Test level with 57 appearances, while Lana Skeldon, Jade Konkel-Roberts, Sarah Law and Chloe Rollie have also totaled half a century or more in caps. At the other end of the experience spectrum, Elliann Clarke and Coreen Grant only have one cap each.
Elis Martin, who made his debut in the recent friendly against the United States, is among the players who just missed out on selection. Rachel McLachlan, who was replaced by Martin after injuring her elbow in that 21-17 loss at DAM Health Stadium, has been declared fit to play.
Scotland squad for the Rugby World Cup:
Backs: S Campbell (Edinburgh United), M Gaffney (Loughborough), C Grant (Saracens), S Law (Sale), R Lloyd (Les Lionnes du Stade Bordelais), C Mattinson (Worcester), M McDonald (Hillhead Jordanhill), E Musgrove (Watsonians), H Nelson (Vice-Captain, Loughborough), E Orr (Biggar), C Rollie, E Sinclair (both Exeter), H Smith (Watsonians), M Smith (Edinburgh United), L Thomson ( Sale) , E Wills (Hillhead Jordanhill).
Forwards: L Bartlett (Loughborough), C Belisle (Loughborough), S Bonar (Harlequins), E Clarke (Edinburgh Univ), K Dougan (Gloucester-Hartpury), E Gallagher (Worcester), J Konkel-Roberts (Harlequins), R Malcolm (Captain, Loughborough), R McLachlan (Sale), L McMillan (Saracens), L O’Donnell, L Skeldon (both Worcester), J Rettie (Saracens), E Wassell (Loughborough), M Wright (Sale), A Young (from Heriot).
Pool A matches: Scotland – Wales (Sunday 9 October), Scotland – Australia (Saturday 15), Scotland – New Zealand (Saturday 22).