Scotland failed to qualify for the last two Rugby World Cups and new head coach Philip Doyle is leaving no stone unturned to make sure that history doesn't repeat.
In September 2020, Scotland will compete in a knockout tournament with Six Nations rivals Ireland and Italy and that year's Rugby Europe Women's Championship winners with the victors going to New Zealand the following year and the runners-up entering the global repechage.
While Scotland's historic 2-0 test series win in South Africa earlier this month was a pleasing start to his time in charge, Doyle, who turns 55 on Friday, says there is still much room for improvement.
He has highlighted the scrum as a particular area of focus leading into the internationals against Wales and Japan, on consecutive Sundays in November, at Scotstoun Stadium in Glasgow.
“You’ll see a team that wants to play very open rugby, a team that wants to pass more than the opposition, but to do that you need the ball, you need a platform, which is why we are putting in a huge amount of focus on our set-piece this year," he told World Rugby.
“I have inherited an incredibly weak scrum, I don’t mind telling the world that, and that’s why we have brought in specialist scrum coaches this year.”
Doyle has enlisted the help of Alistair Dickinson, who won 58 caps for Scotland. “He is only just out of the game and has really bought into the women’s side of things and is thoroughly enjoying himself. Every session we do, there is a scrum session, which he loves.”
Have had worse places to coach in !!!!Table Top mountain in the back ground pic.twitter.com/x0nIljvtkV— Philip Doyle (@gooserugby) October 2, 2019
Doyle also says Scotland’s desire to play at a high tempo is only possible because of the excellent work being done behind the scenes by the team’s conditioning staff.
“I must give credit to Scottish Rugby for bringing in Allan MacDonald from an S&C [strength and conditioning] point of view and physiotherapist, Jamie Coffey, before I arrived," he said.
“The two guys have been working really, really hard on the girls and changing the way we do things. Their whole mantra this year is making the players more robust.
“Last year or two years ago we had huge amounts of injures through lack of fitness. Now, at training, there is an awful lot more green than red on the attendance sheet.
“We are definitely reaping the fruits of our labours and long may that continue because we don’t have a huge amount of (player) depth.”
Doyle arrived in Scotland as Shade Munro’s successor with an outstanding CV. Coach of Ireland at three Rugby World Cups from 2006-14, he oversaw the historic victory over the four-time defending champions New Zealand at France 2014.
Given his track record, it is hard to argue with Doyle’s pedigree, and his players are left in no doubt as to what is expected of them.
“Obviously, I have a lot of experience in the women’s game, at all levels, and in the men’s game to be fair, so I have a certain way of managing the team. I describe myself as ‘black and white’ and zero grey; they know exactly what I want, and they must adhere to that," he pointed out.
“It’s not my way or no way, it’s just certain things won’t be tolerated. If you’re in the squad, you’re in 100 per cent, nothing else.
“Every girl in this squad now is 100 per cent committed to all aspects of being a Scottish women’s international player, and I will not bend on that, because you can’t. If you’re down one per cent in an international match, you’ll lose it, I’ve learnt that from many years of international rugby.”
The fine margins of international rugby were no better illustrated when Scotland lost 17-15 to a converted try in the final play of the game against Wales in this year’s Women's Six Nations.
With confidence high from the South Africa tour and revenge in the minds of his players ahead of the rematch at the same venue, Doyle is looking forward to seeing his team put their best foot forward on home turf.
“The girls were so positive coming out of South Africa and they are just champing at the bit to get into the autumn internationals. As a head coach, that’s where you want your squad to be.”
Ultimately, New Zealand is where he wants his squad to be in 2021.
“The Six Nations is incredibly important to us in terms of performance and climbing up the world rankings, but World Cup qualification in September is everything and that’s what we are totally building towards.”