Joining the pack: Easson backs trio to make impact

 By Gary Heatly

Scotland Head Coach Bryan Easson has backed the three players coming into the pack to do a fine job on Saturday against England.

The Scots are in Doncaster to take on the reigning champions in their Women’s Six Nations opener this weekend and Easson has made three enforced changes to the forwards for this one.

Tighthead prop Megan Kennedy tweaked a shoulder in training recently while second-row Sarah Bonar is training with the Army and No.8 Jade Konkel is training with the London Fire Brigade.

As a result, from the team that started against France in the last outing in October, Cartha’s Christine Belisle, Hillhead/Jordanhill’s Louise McMillan and Stirling County’s Siobhan Cattigan come into the side.

It will be a first start for Belisle in the number three jersey after four caps off the bench and Easson said of the Canadian-born 27-year-old:  One of the first things when I came in [to the set-up] was that I looked at Christine, who had played second-row and back-row, and thought she could be a really dynamic front-row.

“I spoke to her and said ‘in terms of long-term, this is a thing for you in terms of where you can get to’ and Christine being Christine, a great human being, bought into it immediately.

“She changed her training plan and worked really hard. She came off the bench against France and in her first ever scrum, a daunting prospect for anybody, won a penalty.

“We have Gary Strain in as a Scrum Coach, he works with Glasgow Warriors, he is in and out with them and then comes in with us. He has been extremely impressed with how Christine has worked on her scrum and, because she has played elsewhere she is also very good around the pitch for us.”

McMillan, 23, has mainly played in the back-row during her 23 caps to date, but Easson has moved her forward in Bonar’s absence.

“Louise played lock in one of the Tests against South Africa in 2019, she is a very good rugby player,” he said.

“She is a good lineout player, she understands the lineout and is really athletic.

“When you have players who can play across the back five [of the scrum] it helps your options, to have Louise able to slot in at second-row gives us huge options. She is a good rugby player.”

Asked if there is any pressure on Cattigan replacing key player Konkel, Easson replies:  “None at all because they are different kinds of players.

“Jade is obviously renowned as a world class player and is well known down south from her performances with Harlequins.

“But every time Siobhan has played for us she has played very well.

“She played at 8 against Spain a couple of years ago and performed extremely well. Siobhan’s always pushed Jade really hard for a starting position anyway, she brings something different.

“She maybe won’t carry as much as Jade, but she is very good in contact situations and also has good skills so we’re looking forward to seeing how Siobhan gets on. She’s excited and she wants to take the opportunity.”

Cattigan is 25 and has 15 caps to her name.

The rest of the starting XV is the same as the one that played in the draw with France while Stirling County back-row Evie Gallager, 20, could debut from the bench.

Thanks to Scottish Rugby/SNS for the main photos

England v Scotland takes place in the Women’s Six Nations on Saturday, April 3 in Doncaster with a 3pm kick-off and is live on the BBC iPlayer