SCOTLAND captain Rachel Malcolm has admitted it is no longer acceptable for the team to compete gamely only to end up on the wrong side of tight encounters.

And, speaking at yesterday’s London launch of this year’s TikTok Women’s Six Nations, she revealed that the squad are about to start work with sports psychologists as they aim to acquire the extra competitive edge needed to return

to winning ways.

Malcolm’s team have lost their last nine matches in all competitions, a run that includes the entirety of last year’s Championship. But three of Scotland’s five games in the 2022 tournament were lost by seven points or fewer, and the Loughborough Lightning forward is optimistic that work on the mental side of the game will make a tangible difference.

“There have been some last-minute, last-second situations where we’ve got it wrong, and a lot of that does come down to the mental side of the game,” Malcolm said. “Starting from next week it’s something we’re going to be working on a lot more, both sports psychology and mental skills stuff. Aaron Walsh, who came on board with the men’s team [as a mental-skills coach], will hopefully be starting to work a little bit with us as well.

“It’s something we are definitely crying out for as players. Scottish Rugby have listened to what we said, and they’re bringing in support in that respect. We have had psychological support before, but I think it’s probably not been specific enough. And we’ve never before had the amount of time in camp that we’re going to have,” she continued, referring to the fact that this is the first Six Nations in which the bulk of the squad will be full-time professionals. “Now we’ve got the time, we can really utilise that.

“Close isn’t good enough for us any more. We need to find a way to turn those results and be on the right side of them. In the last however many years, we’ve been on the wrong side of too many losing-bonus-point losses, and I think as a squad we want to push on and find a way to get on the right side of them.”

In addition to addressing their mental resilience, the players and coaches have also focused on their playing style as they bid to snap out of that long losing run. They have concluded that they had become too predictable in attack, and now aim to implement a more expansive game plan.

“We want to look to play slightly differently, because what we’ve been doing prior to this hasn’t necessarily worked for us,” Malcolm added. “That’s obviously going to come with a few mistakes along the way, but as a squad we’re really excited about this new era and opportunity to push on and get those wins.

“At the World Cup we defended extremely well, and I’d say that across last year’s Six Nations we defended really well as well. I think Tyrone Holmes, who has come in as our defence coach over the past couple of years, has transformed our defence. So we’re a hard team to score against, but I don’t think we’re scoring enough points. We’re definitely looking at adapting how we attack. We’ve been quite similar across the last couple of years, so adapting that to be a bit more of a threat to teams and stressing them a bit more - and hopefully putting more points on the board to avoid those nail-biting finishes every week.

“I think traditionally as a pack we’ve always looked to carry. We haven’t necessarily looked to spread the ball or look for space. We’ve almost just tried to provide a platform for our backs to play.

“We can all play rugby, we can all move the ball, we can all recognise where space is and make decisions. So hopefully you’ll see a more exciting attack which moves the ball a little bit more and spreads it wider, and really tries to manipulate defences a little bit more.”

Scotland have the toughest possible start to the Championship a week on Saturday when they take on World Cup runners-up England in Newcastle. Realistically that game is about damage limitation, but Malcolm believes it could also help prepare her side for the more winnable games which follow.

“England have tended to put up a significant number of points against us, so this season we want to narrow that gap down. We want to stop them as much as possible, but also we want to put points on the board.

“Although it’s going to be tough, it’s also an opportunity, because if any team is going to expose your weaknesses it’s going to be England. So to have that first up – if there

are chinks in our armour, they are going to find them, and we can learn from that and take it into the rest of the tournament.”