'Women's Summer Series is next step for the game'

sru coach player
We spoke to head coach Clare Cruikshank and prop Poppy Fletcher from Scotland U20 about the upcoming Women’s Summer Series.

What are your expectations going into the competition in Parma next month?

CC: The players will learn things that can take them through their international careers. From a team-building aspect and the connections we can create on and off the pitch. getting them that time away just now is something that we’ve never had before. PF: I’m just super excited. We had a tri-nations competition last year in Rome [Scotland played 40-minute matches against Italy and Ireland after a week of training against each other], which was a really great experience. It was a first for us, we’d never done that before. So having this opportunity to now play three full 80-minute games, and spending two weeks away, is even bigger and even better.

Will there be some level of familiarity with your opposition?

PF: A lot of our U18s age group is coming into 20s now, so we should be playing against a similar Italian team we played at U18s. It will be pretty cool to see some familiar faces.

Where does the Women’s Summer Series – and the introduction of U20s rugby in general – fit in the trajectory of the sport?

CC: Adding that U20s bracket is the next step for the women’s game. It’s always something that’s been missing. We’ve had the U18 Six Nations for a few years now, then there’s a bit of a gap going into the senior team. The Celtic Challenge has helped fill that void for some of the players involved in this programme; but from an age grade and national perspective, 20s is a really key development part. This is a great opportunity for everybody.

Poppy, how has your season gone with Edinburgh?

PF: It’s been a busy one. The Celtic Challenge this year was another massive step up. A lot of the girls here were involved in that with Glasgow and Edinburgh, so it’s nice now to come together as one group and build on everything we’ve learnt from our separate Celtic groups. It’s exciting.

Claire, you said this pre-Women’s Summer Series training block would be about working hard and pushing the girls. How has that gone?

CC: We’re definitely pushing them hard. We want to challenge them and for them to be outside their comfort zone in training, so that when it comes to game day against the three teams that we play, they’ve experienced some of the challenges and dark places that they will end up in during a game situation. But it’s also been fun as well!

PF: I would say this pre-season we’ve definitely switched on, especially the Scottish-based players that are in regional training centres. Pre-season has been intense. That team bonding that we’re looking to do has been raised throughout these conditioning and tough fitness sessions. But it will pay off. I wouldn’t say I enjoy it necessarily, but I do like to push other people through difficult situations, like a big fitness drill, for example. I like the attitude that we all bring when we’re doing something like that. It brings out the best in us.

Is there strong competition amongst the squad?

CC: Definitely. As Poppy alluded to, the players coming from the Celtic Challenge – the Glasgow and Edinburgh environments – and through the age grades into this; then looking at some Scottish-qualified players (predominantly in England, but some in Wales) – it adds a further competitive element. That competitiveness is really driving the standards in training and pushing everyone on.

Who are the players we should be looking out for in the Scotland team?

PF: We’ve got so many stand-out, skilful players that I’m excited to see. Hannah Ramsay for one. She cropped up a bit more in the Celtic Challenge for Edinburgh and I’m looking forward to playing with her and even just watching her. She’s got an exciting style.

Claire, this Women’s Summer Series is also a development tool for your staff as well, isn’t it?

CC: We’re really lucky in this programme: the group of coaches and management team are pretty much 99% the same that worked together last year, and a lot of us have worked together through two or three programmes - whether that be the Celtic Challenge or age grade programmes. The Women’s Summer Series is allowing us to go into that tournament environment and experience the tight turnaround in games, how we prepare players, how we load-manage them, how we can get our analysts to get us information as quickly as possible. Hopefully, when all of us push on and take that next step, we’ve experienced it and we’re not doing it for the first time. It’s a very cool and unique development tool.

The Women's Summer Series runs from 4th-14th July.