Scotland head coach Bryan Easson has hailed a “very special group of players” after the national team won the inaugural WXV 2 title by the tightest of margins on Saturday.
Italy just failed to leapfrog them in the standings after a dramatic final match against USA in South Africa.
The Scots 38-7 bonus point victory over Japan in Cape Town on Friday meant that they had finished on 15 points with a points difference of +55 from their three matches.
Italy went into their game with the Americans 24-hours later in second on 10 points with a points difference of +31 meaning they had to win with a bonus point and by 25 points or more.
With the Scotland squad and backroom staff watching on from the stands in the Athlone Sports Stadium, Italy did everything they could, scoring five tries and leading 30-8 heading into the closing stages.
However, the American defence stood firm and when an Italian player knocked the ball on with the clock in the red and the final whistle was blown the Scotland players – who had been biting their nails and pacing up and down – began to celebrate.
The 30-8 result means that Italy finished on 15 points, but with a +53 points difference, so they ended up second in the six-team event as the Scots got their hands on the silverware.
“I turned 50 recently and I feel about 100 now,” Easson joked after watching the Italy match.
“That was very nerve wracking, it is tough when you can’t control what is going to happen and that last few minutes when USA kept giving the ball back to Italy and then the Italians had a try disallowed felt like hours!
“The girls deserve this and to see captain Rachel Malcolm lifting the trophy was very special and myself and the management group are immensely proud.
“This is such a massive moment for Scottish women’s rugby and I want the girls to enjoy it because they have been through a lot over recent years and it has been a rollercoaster journey.
“To win six games in a row has been excellent and things have really moved on during that period, getting the trophy is just the icing on the cake.
“It is a special moment for the whole group and they are a very special group of players.”
This success caps an amazing turnaround for a Scotland squad that lost 12 Tests in a row between early 2022 and earlier this year.
Back-to-back wins over Italy and Ireland in April to end the TikTok Women’s Six Nations gave the squad confidence and since then they have beaten Spain in an Autumn Test and defeated South Africa, USA and Japan in WXV 2.
While there is no promotion to the top tier WXV 1 for now, Scotland are set to move up to a record high seventh in the world rankings and six Test wins on the spin equals something last done in 2001.
Since late last year 28 players have been on full-time contracts with Scottish Rugby and the women’s game in this country “can really kick on now”, according to Easson.
Scotland versus Japan: Chloe Rollie; Rhona Lloyd, Emma Orr, Lisa Thomson, Francesca McGhie; Helen Nelson, Mairi McDonald; Leah Bartlett, Lana Skeldon, Christine Belisle, Emma Wassell, Louise McMillan, Rachel Malcolm (C), Rachel McLachlan, Evie Gallagher. Subs: Elis Martin, Anne Young, Lisa Cockburn, Sarah Bonar, Jade Konkel, Caity Mattinson, Meryl Smith, Coreen Grant.
Scotland scorers versus Japan: Tries: Penalty try (seven points), Orr 2, Grant, Skeldon, Bonar. Cons: Nelson 2, Smith.
Scotland-Japan highlights are here
USA-Italy highlights are here
Keep an eye out on GH Media’s channels for Scotland women’s coverage through to the end of WXV 2 in October…
Thanks to World Rugby for the image of the Scotland squad celebrating