After that historic first win in Italy, Scotland’s women take on Ireland in Belfast on Saturday with a huge prize at stake, namely qualification for the 2025 World Cup. I can’t make it to the Kingspan Stadium but I will be glued to the television screen and willing them on to victory.

Every international match should carry the ‘must win’ label, but realistically in the Guinness Women’s Six Nations there is no prospect in the foreseeable future of Scotland beating England and though our women did so well against France, there are clearly two divisions in the Championship with England and France out in front and Scotland, Ireland, Italy and Wales playing for third to sixth places.

It just so happens that this year World Rugby has decreed that the ‘best of the rest’ that finishes in third place will be rewarded with qualification for the World Cup in England next year. England, as hosts, and France, Canada and New Zealand have already qualified as they were the top four in the 2021 World Cup, which of course was Covid-postponed until 2022.

You would think the stakes could not be higher, then, as a much-improved Scotland prepare to face Ireland, and obviously World Cup qualification is massive, but there’s actually another big prize on the go, namely qualification for WXV 1, the international tournament which will be played in Canada later this year. Win on Saturday and finish third in the Six Nations and Scotland go to WXV 1, while a loss would put Scotland into WXV 2 in South Africa.

Lots to play for then, and it really is winner take all stuff. The match will be preceded by the Wales v Italy encounter at 12.15, and if Italy win, and I think they will, then it’s on to Belfast at 2.30 and both Scotland and Ireland will know they have to win to finish above Italy.  

Scotland will have to beat Ireland without one of our best players. As expected Chloe Rollie picked up a three match suspension yesterday after her last-minute yellow card against Italy was upgraded to red after the final whistle. I thought referee Maggie Cogger-Orr called it right with the yellow card and I did not think the upgrading was justified but I could see why it happened, and it’s just a shame that Rollie cannot bring her undoubted pace and skills to Saturday’s game.

Meryl Smith is the obvious replacement at full-back, and it’s further evidence of Scotland’s increasing strength in depth that at the time of writing, no additions to the squad had been deemed necessary. I would like to see the XV that started against Italy go in again in Belfast, and if Helen Nelson can take her opportunities and the flying Francesca McGhie gets some ball on the wing, then I think Scotland can win. For a confidence boost, they just need to look at the world rankings which show that Scotland have leapfrogged Italy into sixth place, while Ireland’s women are ranked No. 10.     

So come on Scotland, it’s time to secure your place at the big tables.


Fraser Brown did his stint for Scotland on the biggest stages and I want to pay tribute to one of my favourite players who has announced his retirement at the end of the season. Capped 61 times by Scotland and veteran of 141 appearances for Glasgow Warriors, no one can grudge the 34-year-old hooker a break from the rigours of professional rugby, though I understand he will now be progressing a career in coaching, once he has fully recovered from the knee injury that has effectively finished his playing days.

Early in his career, injury nearly finished Brown as a player before that career had barely started. He missed most of two seasons with various injuries and Edinburgh released him in 2011, only for Brown to bounce back for the Warriors in 2013-14  - one of Gregor Townsend’s best decisions. Whatever he does in future, he retires with the best wishes of all rugby fans who appreciate his courage and commitment.  


Away from rugby, I want to pay another tribute, this time to an exceptionally brave individual, golfer Paul Moultrie from Troon. Last month I told on these pages the story of how 59-year-old Moultrie was going to take part in  the London Marathon to raise money for cancer research, the difference being that Moultrie is currently being treated for prostate cancer. 

The founder of the Mind Body Golf programme finished his latest round of radiotherapy just last week, and his training was interrupted by hamstring problems and a hand fracture. 

I am delighted to report that he completed the Marathon, though at times he was reduced to walking, and in the process he has raised £12,000 for the Prostate Cancer UK charity, more than double the sum he had set out to achieve.

He now faces a long battle to be rid of cancer, but if there’s anyone who can beat the disease, it’s Paul Moultrie.