Women's rugby in Scotland is gearing up for a momentous season. The first international will be staged in Glasgow next month with three new caps listed in the Scotland team for that match at a time when new recruits are taking up the game at both adult and youth level.
The changing of the guard is also symbolised by the decision of Donna Kennedy, the world's most capped women player, to make the transition from player to coach. She's now looking after the SWRU (Scottish Women's Rugby Union) Academy team - a stepping stone to develop the Scotland players of the future.
Scotland Women, currently ranked sixth in the world, will face Canada, ranked fourth, at Hughenden, home ground of Hillhead/Jordanhill on Sunday 4 November (kick-off 1pm). Admission is free. Later in the season they will play two home games in their Six Nations Championship: v France at Meggetland on Sunday 3 February (kick-off 12 noon) and v England, also at the home ground of Boroughmuir on Saturday 8 March (kick-off 12 noon).
The match takes place against a backdrop of improved support structures in the women's game and a dramatic increase in playing numbers. Earlier this year, the Scotland Women's team also secured a three year sponsorship deal (as part of an overall package encompassing national age-grade sides and Scottish Rugbys' Pathway programme) with equity manager Martin Currie.
Jo Wells, the SWRU Rugby Manager, said today: "At this time last year we had some 450 adult women players. Now that number is an audited 673, an almost 50% increase, and given that itâ€™s just the start of our season I expect the number to rise further.
"Despite some fantastic commitment from so many in the women's game, we'd seen a club fold in three of the last four years. Contrast that to this year where, in fact, we've even got a new club, Strathaven."
The good news in the adult game is being mirrored at school level. Last year there were only five schools in Scotland affiliated to the SWRU. This year there are now some 45 schools affiliated.
Wells said: â€œThe growth can be attributed to a number of factors. A high percentage of women players are from the universities and the SWRU's National Development Officer, Lindsey Booth, has worked in tandem with Scottish Rugby's University and College Recruitment and Retention Manager, Andy Macpherson, and many volunteers proactively to identify and encourage more players.
"The profile rugby has enjoyed through the men's World Cup could also be said to be a contributory factor."
The Scotland Women's team for their opening international of the season includes three new caps Richmond wing Victoria Blakebrough, flanker Joan Hutchison (GHA) and centre Laura Steven (Murrayfield Wanderers).
The Women will have a new captain, lock/prop Jilly McCord, a 30-year-old history teacher, with her RHC team-mate, 27-year-old centre Ronnie Fitzpatrick, as vice-captain.
Scotland Women's team to play Canada Women at Hughenden, Glasgow on Sunday 4 November, kick-off 1pm15 Lyndsey Douglas (Richmond)
16 Alison Macdonald (RHC),
17 Ellen Beattie (Murrayfield Wanderers),
18 Lindsay Wheeler (Blaydon),
19 Sonia Cull (RHC), 20 Sarah Gill (Murrayfield Wanderers),
21 Sandra Bell (Watsonians),
22 Hazel Bielinski (Hillhead/Jordanhill)
The Scotland Women's side will be coached again this season by Lee Adamson, the former Saracens and Barbarians forward.
Adamson, who was head coach of Scotland Women in last season's Six Nations campaign (during which Scotland posted a win against Italy) played more than 600 games for Saracens before becoming involved in coaching in 1999, leading the Saracens Women to three Premiership titles and four national cup successes.
Joining Adamson as assistant coach (concentrating on backs and defence) is Jamie Dempsey. Dempsey brings considerable experience from his previous role as Scottish Rugby's Performance Development Manager for Glasgow North.
Meanwhile, Donna Kennedy has wasted no time in joining the coaching ranks after she called an end to her playing career with a century of appearances for Scotland Women. Only six months after her final international, captaining Scotland against France in Paris, she has been appointed the SWRU Academy's coach.
Kennedy, 35, who is UK sales manager for Dechra pharmaceuticals, said: "I got so much out of the game over the 14 years I have been playing, 13 of them at international level, that I really wanted to give something back.
"I'm still playing club rugby for RHC and the transition from player to coach is quite a challenge but if I can get half as much of the enjoyment from the coaching side and see the players at the Academy level getting ready to step up and enter the elite women's game, then I'll be very happy."
Kennedy will work alongside assistant coach Chris McCaskie who is coaching the Aberdeenshire men's side and has previously coached women's rugby in Canada.
The all-new management team, which also includes manager Richard Fleming (who works in club rugby development with Forrester) reflects changes in the SWRU Academy structure. The Academy is now a partnership between the SWRU and Scottish University Sport.
Stepping up the management pathway, Nicola McGaughey has switched from being manager of the national u18 squad to the equivalent role with the Scotland Women's Development team. In another move Claire Cruikshank has chosen to switch from being Academy head coach to be SWRU u18 Development's assistant coach.
The SWRU management teams, under the leadership of SWRU Performance Development Manager, Jo Hull, are:
Head coach: Lee Adamson
Assistant coach (backs and defence): Jamie Dempsey
Manager: Ali Mackenzie
Doctor: David Pugh
Physio: Kath Carswell
Scotland Women Development
Head coach: Julianna Murciano
Assistant coach (forwards): Boyd Carswell
Manager: Nicola McGaughey
Head coach: Donna Kennedy
Assistant coach: Chris McCaskie
Manager: Richard Fleming
Head coach: Kenny Christie
Assistant coach: Claire Cruikshank
Physio: Fiona Thorburn
The SWRU is an affiliated body with a formal partnership agreement with the SRU and is working towards full integration with Scottish Rugby by June 2009.
Anyone wishing further information on playing girls or womenâ€™s rugby should contact Jo Wells at [email protected] or telephone 0131 346 5086.