IN this column I will be looking ahead to what 2022 could hold for our women players, but let’s start with two excellent pieces of news for Scottish rugby.
The selection of Mike Adamson as referee for two Guinness Six Nations matches proves that the former Scotland 7s player is on his way to the top of the refereeing ranks. After a long spell when we had no Scottish male referees for Six Nations matches – I think it was 19 years in all – Adamson made the breakthrough last year as the man in the middle at Twickenham for the England v Italy match.
I personally felt he came of age and showed that he is a serious refereeing talent with his performance in the Autumn Test between Wales and Australia. He showed real courage in his decisions, not least because he was prepared to change them when alerted to foul play. I don’t think the Wallabies and their supporters will be big fans of Adamson, but he called all the big decisions correctly, especially the sending off of Australia’s Rob Valentini inside 15 minutes after a Glasgow kiss delivered at speed left Welsh second row Adam Beard sprawled and bleeding on the pitch.
Adamson is now reaping the reward of deciding to continue in the game after retiring from playing, and his empathy for players and willingness to let the game flow, not to mention his speed across the pitch, will surely see him emulate the great Jim Fleming in time.
The other piece of good news is the selection of Charlotte Gilmour of Strathallan School for a rugby scholarship at Harvard University in the USA. It’s one of the world’s premier academic institutions and Charlotte will not get the chance of a stellar education – she has a love of engineering – combined with the opportunity to play top class college rugby. She is just 17 and has already been a part of the Scottish Futures set up, so we can only hope that she will return to her native land and break into the full women’s squad in time, and let’s hope there are many more like her.
As promised last week it is the women’s game that I want to send best wishes to. Last year ended in tragedy with the death of Scotland international Siobhan Cattigan, and I just hope our Scotland women squad members redouble their efforts in her memory.
No one is expecting miracles of the women’s national team, but they do have the chance of earning themselves the proverbial shot at glory with the World Cup’s Final Qualification Tournament in Dubai next month. Scotland are ranked above their likely opponents, and I believe they can and will win through to the Finals themselves.
It doesn’t matter that this qualification tournament is a repechage. As tournament director Alison Hughes said: “A first for a women’s edition of a Rugby World Cup the tournament offers teams a second opportunity to qualify for the pinnacle event and we anticipate a thrilling contest between competing teams in Dubai in February.”
No one will mind if you qualify for the Finals in October by the back door, and I thought Scotland got a mighty boost to their confidence with the 36-12 win over Japan in Edinburgh in November, so good luck to them for that jaunt to Dubai and for the Six Nation which begins with the match against England at the DAM Health Stadium on March 26.
Incidentally all the women’s Six Nations matches will be available in some format on the BBC, and that will be welcome not just for marketing purpose but because more people will be able to see what an athletic and entertaining sport women’s rugby is.
As for growing the women’s game, I go back to September and SRU chief executive Mark Dodson and Chairman John Jeffrey’s welcome remarks after the AGM.
Jeffrey promised: “It is important that we resource as much as we can to the women ahead of that final qualifier in January. They are going to have take another three weeks off [work] to go to the tournament and they are going to build up to the tournament as well. It is a huge, huge ask for these girls.”
That will help greatly because the Scottish squad is neither full-time nor fully professional, and the exciting Evie Willis, for example, is a trainee nurse and prop Anne Young who made her debut against Japan is a student at Edinburgh University.
Scotland will eventually see professional women players as the norm but it will be a while yet. As Mark Dodson said: “It is not like women’s soccer where, now that big clubs are involved and money is coming in, women are choosing that career over careers they had before. Rugby is not there yet.
“If we feel it is the right thing to do and the girls are the right age, then this is the type of thing we will take forward.”
Dodson appealed for every club in the land to support the women’s game and I would add this – do so or be left behind.