THIS fixture does not get any easier for Scotland. Bryan Easson’s side played well for large chunks of the second half at Castle Park, Doncaster, but by that time the damage was done, and defending champions England had wrapped up the points in this first Women’s Six Nations match of the year.

In many aspects of the game Scotland are a more efficient unit than they were a few seasons ago, but perhaps inevitably given many of their players had not had a competitive match since October, they took 40 minutes to get up to speed.

The fact that captain Rachel Malcolm injured a knee while contesting the first kick-off did not help matters, and although she soldiered on until half time, she did not reappear for the second half and must now be a doubt for the game against Italy at Scotstoun on Saturday week.

Having scored five tries in the first half to claim the bonus point, England added three more in the second, but they did not have it all their own way.

Hannah Smith crossed for the visitors, with Helen Nelson adding the conversion to her first-half penalty, and Easson was encouraged by the reaction of all his players to his blunt words at half time.

“We were all disappointed with our first-half display – we felt at half time that we’d just sat back and waited to see what England were going to bring to us,” he said. “So at half time we were quite strong with our words, especially defensively, just staying in the tackle. And in the second half we put England under more pressure.

“We’ll take positives from the game rather than look at the first half. I said to them ‘You can hold your heads high regarding your second-half performance’.

“The first game for a few months was always going to be difficult. We were under no illusions that it was going to be a tough ask. We’d built up pretty well coming into the game, which we’d been pleased about, but until you play rugby at this level it’s going to take you time to put together what we’ve been working on.”

Scotland have not beaten England this century, their last win having been a 15-13 result in the 1999 European Championship, and the odds will remain stacked against them for as long as they are a mixture of professionals, semi-pros and amateurs while their opponents are all full time.

But, as was demonstrated by their 13-13 draw with France in their last outing six months ago, the Scots are a more resilient bunch these days, and if they can build on the solid showing in the scrum and the line-out they stand a chance against the Italians.

Besides Malcolm, substitute Molly Wright looks set to miss that game after being sent off for a high tackle in the second half. Lisa Thomson had already been shown a yellow card late in the first half, and Louise McMillan followed her to the bin a minute from time. England’s Poppy Cleall and Lark Davies were also yellow-carded in the second half, but none of the offences appeared malicious.

Italy begin their campaign at home to England next week in a match which is sure to help Easson prepare for their visit to Scotstoun.

Scorers, England - Tries: Packer, Riley, Davies, B Cleall, Breach, Rowland, P Cleall, penalty try. Cons: Scarratt 5.

Scotland - Try: Smith. Con: Nelson. Pen: Nelson.

England: S McKenna; L Thompson (E Kildunne 64), E Scarratt (captain) (M Jones 64), L Tuima, J Breach; S Rowland, L Riley (C MacDonald 64); V Cornborough (D Harper 64), L Davies (V Fleetwood 68), B Cleall (S Brown 57), A Ward, C O’Donnell (H Millar-Mills 64), Z Aldcroft, M Packer (A Cokayne 59), P Cleall.

Scotland: C Rollie; R Shankland (E Musgrove 41), H Smith, L Thomson, M Gaffney; H Nelson, M McDonald (J Maxwell 64); L Bartlett (P Muzambe 72), L Skeldon,

C Belisle (M Wright 61), E Wassell, L McMillan, R Malcolm (captain) (E Gallagher 41, L Cockburn 66), R McLachlan (J Rettie 72), S Cattigan. Unused substitute: S Law.

Red card: Scotland: Wright 64.

Yellow cards: England: P Cleall 51, L Davies 57. Scotland: Thomson 37, McMillan 79.

Referee: A Groizeleau (France)