Teenage back-row Alex Stewart will make her Scotland debut in their Guinness Women’s Six Nations against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.  

The Corstorphine Cougars openside was a stand-out performer for Edinburgh Rugby during the Celtic Challenge and will now make her international bow alongside captain Rachel Malcolm and Evie Gallagher in Scotland’s breakaway trio.  

Head coach Bryan Easson sung the praises of the 19-year-old.  

“She’s good on the floor, her defensive work was exceptional as well and she’s a player that gives us a really good blend in that back-row.  

“She fits in well with Rachel [Malcolm] and Evie [Gallagher] and it’s a really good challenge to Rachel McLachlan as well.” 

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Elsewhere, Easson has handed the number 15 shirt to Bristol Bears’ Meryl Smith, with Chloe Rollie on the bench for the first time in her Scotland career.  

Scotland Rugby News: Meryl Smith will start at fullback in CardiffMeryl Smith will start at fullback in Cardiff (Image: SNS)

He said that was one of a number of difficult selection decisions.  

“It probably is the strongest squad I’ve been involved with,” he said.  

“When you are sitting looking at a bench that has got Shona Campbell, Chloe, Rachel McLachlan, you’ve got some players there that when you want to change the game, you’ve got potential to do that.”  

It is nine years since Rollie made her Scotland debut against France and she has become one of the team’s star players since. Easson explained her recent return from injury was a factor – but not the whole reason – behind the decision.  

“It is a hard decision,” he added. “She has been out for a while and hasn’t played since the middle of January, so she’s not had that opportunity to really show how sharp she is.  

“Meryl has been playing well at Bristol but to have a player of the experience and ability of Chloe shows that strength that we’ve now got.  

“Whether Chloe was injured or not, it would have been a discussion around performance anyway, so it’s a real positive." 

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Up front, Scotland are without Jade Konkel through injury, and Easson does not expect to see her back before the end of the championship.  

“She’s had a syndesmosis injury and she’s running, but she’s still feeling a bit of discomfort,” he said. 

Easson added: “It’s disappointing someone like Jade is out, but she understands there’s a bigger picture with WXV and World Cups ahead, so she needs to get her recovery right.”  

Scotland travel to Cardiff off the back of six consecutive wins, including the WXV2 triumph in South Africa last October.  

Easson said that upturn in results has been a boost to the group.  

He added: “It's a really good thing that you come into a camp buzzing from a really good experience of the end of the Six Nations, the Spanish Test, and then the WXV.

Scotland Rugby News: Scotland Women head coach Bryan EassonScotland Women head coach Bryan Easson (Image: SNS)

"It's a good experience, and you obviously use a lot from those experiences, but it's about us moving forward.” 

While most of his players are in the second year of professional contracts, Easson knows the true impact of those will take some time to be fully felt and admitted France and England remain “five or six years” ahead of Scotland.  

He said: "I think professionalism will take another two or three years to really grab hold. We’re seeing shoots of that now, but those teams are probably five or six years ahead.  

“We do benchmark performances, so you can see the difference in our performances against those teams. It’s great for a team like Scotland who are progressing to play against the best in the world because that pushes you on to the next level. It’s exciting to play against those teams. 

“The big target for this Six Nations would be to continue moving the performances in the same direction that we’ve seen for the last six or seven games.”  

Scotland Women team to play Wales: Meryl Smith, Rhona Lloyd, Emma Orr, Lisa Thomson, Coreen Grant, Helen Nelson, Caity Mattinson; Leah Bartlett, Lana Skeldon, Christine Belisle, Emma Wassell, Sarah Bonar, Rachel Malcolm (captain), Alex Stewart, Evie Gallagher 
Replacements: Elis Martin, Molly Wright, Elliann Clarke, Louise McMillan, Rachel McLachlan, Mairi McDonald - Exeter Chiefs, Shona Campbell, Chloe Rollie