After Scotland’s fifth Test win on the spin against USA on Friday head coach Bryan Easson was keen to pay tribute to the ‘team behind the team’ that have got the squad to this point.
Ahead of a match with Japan in Cape Town on Friday afternoon, Scotland are in the mix to win the inaugural, WXV 2 title, have a six-win run in their sights for the first time since 2001 and, as it stands, have 30 players available for selection.
Following the 24-14 bonus point triumph over the Americans, Easson said: “I have to say that from a medical, strength & conditioning and sports science point, to get to the end of a six-week pre-season, hit-outs against Ireland and Wales, a Test match against Spain and then two really tough Test matches out here able to into this week with 30 players available is testament to everybody.
“The players have done their bit and the staff must take the plaudits too.”
One of those staff members that Easson referred to is sport scientist Fraser Menzies.
The 26-year-old, who grew up in Inverness and was a skier who could often be found in the Cairngorms back in the day, has been working with the squad for just under two years.
His first match was in the Autumn Test against Japan in November 2021 in Edinburgh and it is quite fitting that his 20th Test with the squad will also be against the same opponents in a few days time.
“Two years has flown by and I’ve loved it,” Menzies said.
“Through my skiing I had a few injuries and that was one of the main driver for getting involved in sports science.
“I wanted to help athletes manage that injury process and also help them reach their peak performance levels. Having been through sporting ups and downs myself I felt that I had understanding and empathy which could help.
“Firstly, I did an undergraduate degree in sports science at the University of Edinburgh and then a masters in strength & conditioning at the same university between 2019 and 2021.
“I was lucky enough when I was doing my masters to get involved with Scottish Rugby as a performance analyst intern and that was my route into working in rugby.
“That spell as an analyst really helped me with what I do now because I try to not just look at one part of performance, but work with others to tie the different parts of performance together which helps the athlete.
“Through projects that I was doing at uni that then led me to do more things to do with sports science and strength & conditioning and, fast forward to the present day, and here we are.”
Menzies on… his role
“The role is quite wide-ranging, but essentially it is all about monitoring player performance within training and within games and also keeping an eye long-term on how players are tracking as well in terms of their physical development and making sure they are peaking for matchdays and when they need to be at their best.
“The other part of the role is around injury prevention. I do a lot of work in collaboration with our medical team – the physios and the team doctor – around preventing injuries where possible.
“Obviously, that is not always doable in a contact sport, but where we can we will track things in that sense and intervene if necessary so that player can be spending as much time on the pitch as possible and doing their thing.”
Menzies on… the first year in the role up to the Rugby World Cup
“I started with the squad two years ago and my first Test with them was the Japan match in November of 2021.
“That was a really good way to start and then it was a pretty busy year after that with the Rugby World Cup qualification event in Dubai, the 2022 TikTok Women’s Six Nations, a USA game and then the World Cup itself in New Zealand.
“In terms of the World Cup, we had quite a long pre-season with the players that year in the June, July and August and it allowed us time to focus on physical development alongside technical and tactical preparation.
“I went out to New Zealand a couple of days before the squad to help get the training base set up and probably the biggest consideration for that trip was the long travel period.
“Our physical performance team and our medical team worked together to make sure that the players could come through that in the best way possible so that we could get training underway in Auckland.
“We mapped out things across the two different flights looking at a combination of things such as the time zones, when was going to be best to sleep, making sure they’d have good food options at the right times.
“Also, we talked through things like staying mobile on the flights so that they wouldn’t arrive in New Zealand feeling stiff or groggy after the 26 hours of travel.
“The World Cup was a great learning opportunity for me and it was great to work with other staff to work out how to manage being with the players for a long block of time like that and how best we can help them.
“It was a good time to actually learn more about giving the players the right time of to decompress and recover from matches and then build them back up so they are raring to go for the next matchday.
“That was a very exciting first year in the role and it was great for my development too.”
Menzies on… building up relationships with the players
“I have a lot of contact with the players, for example each morning when we are in camp together I’ll probably be the first member of staff they see just to check in to see how they are feeling and if there is anything medically that needs addressed before that day.
“I have learnt through that the importance of building up strong relationships with players so we can keep on top of things.
“It is important to try and get to know the players as people and not just as rugby players because everyone works differently and I think that family-type atmosphere that has been created withing this Scotland set up is really great and is beneficial. That connection and trust is important.
“There is also a lot of discussions with the coaching team and the wider team to make sure that I understand what everyone is looking for and then we can tie that in with the physical monitoring.
“Since a number of the players have been full-time professionals since the tail end of last year it has allowed them to focus a lot more on a number of things including their physical development.
“It also means they have more time to recover and they aren’t balancing and juggling things with another job unless that is something the individual has chosen to do.
“We have more time with the players and we have also been able to develop closer links with their clubs down south so we can manage what they are up to in different environments to help them get the best out of themselves.”
Menzies on… Scotland’s growth, the growth of women’s rugby in general and being in South Africa
“It is a fascinating time to be involved with women’s rugby.
“The amount of investment that is going into it means that roles like mine can exist now and we can really focus on fine details.
“Seeing the performances the team has been putting in lately is hugely encouraging and very exciting.
“You want all players to be fit and available to play, so whenever anyone is injured you feel sympathy for them, but injuries will occur and from that moment on I work as closely as I can with the medical staff and others to help the player get back to full fitness in the best way possible.
“Seeing them come through the return to play process and then getting back out on the pitch is a good feeling as I know the hard work people have put in to get back to that point.
“Obviously, the time difference in South Africa is not as different as New Zealand, so our travel plans for this trip were scaled back a bit from the World Cup, but we had a great framework to work from that we’d put together for New Zealand.
“It was still quite a long journey time so we prepared for that while we also prepared for the variable weather conditions in Cape Town.”
Menzies on… his role on a matchday
“I’ll go along to the ground a few hours before the team and make sure the changing rooms and everything else is set up for them and myself and the nutritionist will make sure that there are snacks available for the players’ energy demands to top up prior to kick off.
“During the warm up I’ll keep an eye on timings to make sure that everything is running smoothly and then when the game starts my role is probably a bit more of a back seat one, but I’ll make sure timings for subs warming up is in place, will help with topping up players with energy if they are cramping up and the duties during those 80 minutes can be varied.
“It is a great feeling after a win when you go into the changing rooms and everyone is buzzing and it is nice to be able to play a small part in those successes.
“You get quite invested in things, but you have to try and stay objective and a lot of what I do is data driven. We will look at the GPS stats after a game to see what distances players have covered and what speeds they have reached.
“So, although it is exciting and there can be a lot of emotion involved, I try to stay focused on my role and see things through that lens.”
Keep an eye out on GH Media’s channels for Scotland women’s coverage through to the end of WXV 2 in October…
Fraser Menzies is pictured in the main image at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand last year