SCOTLAND still face an uphill struggle to reach the World Cup later this year.

But, by beating Wales 27-20 on Saturday, they can at least go into the qualifiers in the knowledge that they are making distinct progress.

After losing heavily to England then Italy in their two Women’s Six Nations pool games, Bryan Easson’s side needed a reassuring outcome at Scotstoun, and they got one. It was not quite the 80-minute performance that they had talked about producing beforehand - the winning margin would have been substantially greater if it had been, because they were the better team by some distance - but it was a solid all-round showing nonetheless.

“We’ve worked so hard this year that we absolutely deserved a win, so I’m just absolutely chuffed to bits for the girls,” captain Helen Nelson said after the game, which gave her team a fifth-place finish in the tournament while Wales went home with the Wooden Spoon. “It was definitely a monkey off the back and we can now take that performance and build towards the World Cup qualifiers later this year.

“That performance wasn’t perfect, but we’re happy with it. I think we defended a lot better, and then gave ourselves front-foot ball to go and play. Spreading the ball wider was something we had talked about a lot, and I think we really showed what our back three can do.”

While Nelson correctly pointed to those improvements both in attack and defence as important aspects of the victory, the key factor was the team’s collective self-belief. They had been tentative for much of their 52-10 loss to England in Doncaster, only really getting into their stride once the game was lost. And they had looked out of sorts at home to Italy, going down 41-20.

But on Saturday, albeit against weaker opposition, they showed far greater resilience and self-belief at two crucial stages of the contest. First, after falling 6-5 behind in the first half they quickly regained the lead. 

Then, at the start of the second, Wales scored to reduce an 11-point half-time deficit to just four. It took a while longer for Nelson’s side to reply that time, but crucially, they did not let their heads go down, instead remaining patient and disciplined, and steadily exerting more pressure on the visitors.

“Just not over-playing in our half,” Nelson continued when asked what her team had done differently compared to their previous two outings. “And when we had the ball in their half, just being patient on the ball and playing phases. We know that we can break teams down when we do have the ball.

“We were probably a little bit frustrated at losing the ball . . . . They were good at the breakdown, jackaling ball, so that’s something we can look to improve on.

“Defence was a big work-on for us from last week, and we were really happy with that performance. I think our attack is always going to be dangerous - I always back our attack. 

“But I think our defence really stepped up a notch and made it difficult for Wales to score against us. We’ll take that away from this game, I think.”

Scotland’s defence up front was illustrated by the fact that three of their four tries came from forwards - props Megan Kennedy and Christine Belisle and blindside Evie Gallagher. Winger Megan Gaffney got the other touchdown, and Nelson added seven points through two penalties and a conversion.

The showing by the pack was especially impressive given they were without three key figures - Jade Konkel and Sarah Bonar, who are unavailable because of work commitments, and Rachel Malcolm, who was injured. Belisle, originally a back-row forward, was playing in another new position at loosehead, while Gallagher was making just her second start - facts that were further testimony to the increasing strength in depth available to Easson as he prepares for the World Cup campaign.

Scotland should have played their qualifiers by now, but the finals have been postponed from this September to sometime next year, and new dates have yet to be arranged. What is known is that, with only 12 teams competing in the finals and nine having qualified by right, the fight for the remaining three spots will be fierce, and that probably just one place will go to a European side.

“We know there will be four teams - us, Ireland, Italy and Spain,” the head coach said. “What the format is, I don’t know. We know it will be post-summer, because there needs to be downtime. Although we’ve only played a few games, it has been a long season for the girls.

“We’ll give them a couple of weeks off, we’ll train for a block and then we’ll give them two to three weeks in July as well. We’re looking at September/October time for these qualifiers – that’s all we are aware of.”