THE appointment earlier this week of Gemma Fay as Scottish Rugby’s new head of women and girls rugby was an interesting one. Fay is Scotland’s most-capped footballer, with the goalkeeper accumulating 203 international caps over a career spanning two decades so her decision to switch codes following her retirement earlier this year was somewhat unexpected.

It is interesting that football has allowed Fay to leave the sport. She comes across as one of the most switched-on individuals out there – someone who is not scared to speak her mind and who has clear ideas about what she believes in.

A recently retired former player who is able to strongly argue the case for the female side of the game would surely have been a positive addition to the SFA’s set-up but rather than continuing her involvement in the sport she has grown up within, Fay will be focusing fully on aiding the development of Scottish rugby when she begins her new job in January.

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The appointment seems a smart move from Scottish Rugby. The experience that Fay has accumulated as an international athlete over the past 20 years will, of course, be hugely important when it comes to planning a way forward for women and girls rugby and the fact that she has spent the past 8 years as a partnership manager at sportscotland will also have equipped her with much of the know-how she will need in her new role.

However, she does not have an easy task in front of her. Women and girls football in Scotland is light years ahead of rugby in terms of profile and the Scottish women’s national football team is also streets ahead of the rugby team in world terms.

The national rugby team has finished in last place in six of the past seven Six Nations tournaments but there are signs that Fay has picked the right moment to join Scottish Rugby. The 2017 Six Nations saw the team finish in fourth position after wins over Italy and Wales, their best result since 2010 and it seems the appointment of Shade Munro as head coach of the women’s team in 2015 is now bearing fruit.

In her new role, Fay will report to Stephen Gemmell, who is Scottish Rugby’s Head of Academy and Performance Programmes. This suggests that the priority is developing the women’s game at the elite level but it would be hugely dangerous to treat the grassroots and the elite side of women and girls rugby as two separate entities as the playing numbers are not there to not have a grassroots system feeding seamlessly into the elite tier.

Fay’s background as an athlete is likely to inform her approach in this respect – I know few elite athletes who do not believe that how a kid is coached in their early teenage years determines in many respects how successful they will ultimately be as a senior athlete.

If Fay is only charged with managing the athletes once they reach elite level, there is only so far that women’s rugby can go. Without technically proficient, tactically savvy young players being fed into the national set-up, there is a limited scope for development.And Fay must be given the backing to ensure she is able to enact whatever strategies she feels are required to increase the level of the game. Currently, Scotland has only fourfull-time female rugby players.

This is progress but with the rest of the squad still, in the main, combining full-time employment or education with playing international rugby, the improved level of just four players is going to have only a negligible effect on the team overall. More full-time players are needed for the national team to make the step up.

The signs are positive for Scottish Rugby though. It appears that their claims that they want to develop the women’s side of the game are genuine and with Fay being far from a yes-man, it seems unlikely that she will take any decisions she does not like lying down.

There is still much work to be done on the women’s side of the game – crowd numbers remain low and the gap in level between Scotland and nations like England and France is vast. However, if Fay is given time and financial backing, there seems few people better equipped to do the job.