THE last time Scotland Women qualified for the World Cup, Rachel Malcolm was a teenage hockey player with little or no interest in rugby. A dozen years later, the 31-year-old has been confirmed as captain of the 32-strong squad that will travel to New Zealand for next month’s tournament.

But if you think such a timescale suggests that the back-row forward has made a slow and steady rise to the top, think again. It was in fact only in late 2015 that she began playing rugby at all, initially for Lichfield 2nds after developing a taste for the sport by playing touch. Only then did the rapid ascent begin: in the summer of 2016 she was called up to her first Scotland camp, she made her debut at the end of that year, and the rest, as they say, is history.

“If I look back at 2010, this was not even in my wildest dreams,” Malcolm said after being named in head coach Bryan Easson’s squad yesterday. “It's a really special moment. It's been the best experience of my life to be part of the squad: to go to a World Cup is truly an honour and to have the opportunity to lead the squad is beyond my wildest dreams.

“Up until this point in my career the highlight probably was that game in Italy [last year’s World Cup qualifier against Ireland], because everything was stacked against us to qualify at that point. But I think stepping out at a World Cup in New Zealand with a group of women who have worked tirelessly for the last six, ten, 12 years is going to be without a doubt the pinnacle.”

By late 2015, Malcolm’s younger brother James had joined Glasgow, so she knew a bit about the sport. But by her own admission she also had a lot to learn once she decided to give it a go.

“My whole family are very rugby-orientated - I guess I had a little bit of resentment towards that growing up, because I was playing hockey and had my own thing, and quite liked to have my own thing. But it was James who probably inspired me a little bit to try the game, because his career was going extremely well, and I was extremely proud of everything he was achieving.

“That’s when I took quite an interest in rugby and started to watch it a lot more. I got into it, I guess. I caught the bug.

“I went to Lichfield Ladies, who at the time were one of the best teams in England. I didn’t realise this at all, as someone who didn’t even know what a ruck was at this point. I went along to my first rugby session and just was absolutely hooked.

“I remember the first day, they were like, ‘Forwards over there, backs over there’ and I stood in the middle and went ‘I don’t know what that is’. They just said ‘over there’, which I’m glad of, for sure - I think they’d seen me run at that point and realised that I was never going to be in the backs.”

Malcolm, one of 16 forwards in the squad, will have stand-off Helen Nelson, one of 16 backs, as her vice-captain. Scrum-half Jenny Maxwell and prop Lisa Cockburn are still making their way back from injury, but otherwise the group of 32 is composed largely of the players who have been the backbone of the team for several seasons. Emma Wassell is the most experienced at Test level with 57 appearances, while Lana Skeldon, Jade Konkel-Roberts, Sarah Law and Chloe Rollie have all also chalked up a half-century or more of caps. At the other end of the experience range, Elliann Clarke and Coreen Grant only have one cap each.

Elis Martin, who made her debut in the recent friendly against the USA, is one of the players who have just missed out on selection. Rachel McLachlan, who was replaced by Martin after injuring an elbow in that 21-17 defeat at the DAM Health Stadium, has been passed fit to play.

Scotland squad for Rugby World Cup:

Backs: S Campbell (Edinburgh Uni), M Gaffney (Loughborough), C Grant (Saracens), S Law (Sale), R Lloyd (Les Lionnes du Stade Bordelais), C Mattinson (Worcester), M McDonald (Hillhead Jordanhill), E Musgrove (Watsonians), H Nelson (vice-captain, Loughborough), E Orr (Biggar), C Rollie, E Sinclair (both Exeter), H Smith (Watsonians), M Smith (Edinburgh Uni), L Thomson (Sale), E Wills (Hillhead Jordanhill).

Forwards: L Bartlett (Loughborough), C Belisle (Loughborough), S Bonar (Harlequins), E Clarke (Edinburgh Univ), K Dougan (Gloucester-Hartpury), E Gallagher (Worcester), J Konkel-Roberts (Harlequins), R Malcolm (captain, Loughborough), R McLachlan (Sale), L McMillan (Saracens), L O’Donnell, L Skeldon (both Worcester), J Rettie (Saracens), E Wassell (Loughborough), M Wright (Sale), A Young (Heriot’s).

Pool A fixtures: Scotland v Wales (Sun 9 October), Scotland v Australia (Sat 15), Scotland v New Zealand (Sat 22).