STATISTICS can be scary. Not scary in the same way as, say, a far heavier opponent who is hurtling happily towards you with a look of sadistic menace on their face and the ball tucked under an oxter, but certainly intimidating. Very intimidating.

Take Scotland’s recent results against England in the Women’s Six Nations. It was 0-53 last year, 0-80 the year before that. In 2018 it was 8-43, which was still pretty one-sided but a modest improvement on the 0-64 result from 2017.

As they prepare for Saturday’s opening match of this year’s Championship in Doncaster, the Scotland squad could be forgiven for staring at those stats and concluding that they stand little chance against a team who have scored an average of 60 points against them over those past four years. Just as well, then, that they are approaching things a little differently this time round. 

 “The mindset has really shifted from what we have previously had,” captain Rachel Malcolm explained at yesterday’s tournament launch.  “Previously we probably focused far too much on the opposition, but now we have so much belief in ourselves because of the depth we have built in the squad.

“So we go into every game now with that belief, and know that if we stick together and focus on our own performance then we can put in good performances.

“We’re going into every match in this championship with that mindset - with the aim of putting in our best performance and what will happen will happen. We know if we perform well on any given day we can compete with all teams.”

England will still be favourites to win by a wide margin, and the second group game at home to Italy a fortnight later is a more realistic target for Scotland. But France were firm favourites when they came to Scotstoun late last year, only for Bryan Easson’s side to pull off an inspired fightback and draw 13-13 - a result that has encouraged Malcolm and her team-mates to welcome Saturday’s match as a chance to find out how much they have progressed in recent months. 

“Do you know what? In previous years I would have said this was a daunting start, because England are one of the best teams,” the captain continued. “But because of the mindset shift and the fact that we’re so excited to play together, we just want to get out there now.

“I personally think England are the best team in the world, and it’s a massive opportunity for us to go and try and compete at that level and show the incredible work that has gone on over the last year.

“I think the girls are super-excited to play. A lot of the girls based up here haven’t played since October - as you can imagine, they’re champing at the bit to get out there.

“We know it’s an experience which we’re going to learn off the back of, and playing against the best team in the world is a great opportunity. And we’re looking at it from that point of view.

“The biggest thing for us is we want to compete at the level of the top teams in the tournament and compete consistently. I think in previous years we’ve not performed consistently throughout the championship, so that will be a key aim for us.”

Clearly, it is a big challenge as well as an opportunity. A minority of the Scottish squad is full-time, whereas England’s players are all professional. As Malcolm said, our home-based players have not had a competitive match in more than five months. And, perhaps most importantly, key forward Jade Konkel is taking time out from rugby to train as a firefighter. 

“Look, Jade Konkel is an asset to any team on and off the pitch and we will miss her,” Malcolm accepted. “But we have incredible depth now. Previously we maybe wouldn’t have had that depth, but there are players who now have the chance to step up and I very much have faith in them and what they’re doing.

“Jade has been incredible for us, yes. But I know that whoever steps up and has their chance will do a fantastic job and leave that shirt in a better place.”