SCOTLAND began the year in an optimistic mood under new permanent head coach Bryan Easson, and they went on to justify that optimism in style in their Rugby World Cup qualifying campaign.
Having been interim head coach since August 2020, Easson was given the post on a permanent basis after presiding over a highly creditable home draw with France. The self-belief shown in that rearranged Six Nations match has become the dominant characteristic of the team, with captain Rachel Malcolm playing an increasingly impressive leadership role.
An abbreviated 2021 Six Nations began with the now-familiar heavy defeat by England, who ran in eight tries in a 52-10 stroll in Doncaster. A 20-41 home defeat by Italy followed, with two of the visitors’ tries coming in the first ten minutes. But Scotland then performed with considerably more self-assurance in their fifth-place play-off against Wales, winning 27-20.
That self-assurance looked like it had vanished in the first game of their European World Cup qualifier, as they went down 38-13 to the Italians. But they bounced back from that defeat in spectacular fashion with contrasting wins over Spain and Ireland.
After falling behind very early on against the Spanish, Scotland fought back to win 27-22, holding on in the final few minutes with some defiant defence. Against Ireland it was their attack they had to thank for the 20-18, with a late Chloe Rollie try being converted by Sarah Law.
Those two results were enough to take them through to the repechage in February, where they need to win two games to book a place in the World Cup finals in New Zealand. A 36-12 friendly win over Japan in November gave further proof of their sustained improvement.
Tragedy followed two weeks later, when Siobhan Cattigan died aged just 26. The Stirling County back-row forward played 19 times for Scotland, from her debut against Wales in 2018 to her final appearance in the win over Spain.