Just a few years ago, Scotland were the sick woman of European rugby. Between 2011 and 2016, they finished last in every single tournament.

They had won just 30 matches in their 27 Six Nations tournaments, but eight of those victories had come before the Millenium. While their 2024 Six Nations ended on a downslope after losing to Ireland, their performances in the last two have suggested that the future is very bright for Scottish rugby.

The women’s game in Europe has developed three relatively distinct tiers. England are at the top, and a long way clear, France fill the second tier, and Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales fight it out to be the best of the rest.

Closing the gap to England is a seemingly impossible task, but Scotland showed that France should be in their sights from next year with a narrow 15-5 home loss. Scotland’s recent progress has been promising, but where should their focus be over the next few years?

Build on Defence

Last year, Scotland conceded 28 tries in their five Six Nations matches. That included conceding 58pts against England, 34 against Wales, and 55 against France. This year, that number has dropped by almost half, to 15.

Eight of those came against England and Scotland didn’t conceded more than 20pts in a game against any of their other opponents. That presents them with a brilliant base to build from. No longer do they have a leaky defence which requires them to score boatloads of points just to keep pace.

This isn’t just a lucky run of five games, Scotland had a stout defence during WXV last Autumn where they conceded just five tries during their games against South Africa, USA, and Japan. Scotland need to maintain this level of defensive security.

Scotland Rugby News:

Against France, they kept the score at 5-8 before a converted try after the 80th minute took the French to 15-5. Similarly, against Italy, two converted tries after the hour mark were enough to win the game for Scotland after they’d kept it tight thanks to their suffocating defence. They are staying in games for far longer than they would have without this defence.

There is a note of caution however. Scotland made 748 tackles in the tournament, second only to 862 for Italy. Their tackle success rate was a very commendable 86.5%, but that still meant they missed over 20 tackles per game on average.

For context, England missed just 50 tackles in the entire tournament and France 70. Those are concerning figures if Scotland wish to build on their defence moving forward.

Attacking Spark

One area where Scotland really did struggle was in attack. They scored just eight tries after bagging 15 the year before. Scotland carried for fewer and gained fewer metres than any other side. Lisa Thompson, Emma Orr (the two centres), Evie Gallagher (No.8), and Chloe Rollie (winger) are the only Scottish players to rank in the top 30 by metres carried. Only Thompson ranks in the top 20. Rollie started just two matches.

Scotland did kick a lot, second only to Ireland, averaging just over 21 kicks per game. The problem was that they failed to see much territorial gain from these kicks and so ended up passing possession back to their opponents or trying, and failing, to carry out of their own half.

This wasn’t an issue during WXV, where Scotland scored at least 30pts against every one of their three opponents. Scotland will hope that this was just a blip in what is otherwise a relatively good attacking side.

Had they matched last year’s total of 15, then it’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t have finished not only best of the rest but potentially even have pushed France for second place.

The women’s game is at a delicate point. England are showing no signs of weakness, and are perhaps increasing the gap between themselves and France. Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Italy are all taking their first tentative steps into professionalism, years after perhaps they should.

Realistically, there’s no chance that this generation of players can catch England, but they could close in on France and take some southern hemisphere scalps. Regardless, without investing now, there’s no chance the next generation can close in on England either. Women’s rugby in Scotland is on the rise, as long as it’s nurtured, this positivity can be maintained.