With the Men’s Rugby World Cup in sight, 2023 was set out to be a huge year for the game - and it did not disappoint. The year unfolded with moments of triumph, not just in the men’s professional game but across the board; from monumental steps towards professionalising the women’s game and making history at the Commonwealth Youth Games to the rise of alternative formats across the country, 2023 will certainly be a year to remember.
Back in February, the 2023 Guiness Six Nations kicked off in historic fashion, with Scotland clinching back-to-back wins at Twickenham for the first time. Duhan van der Merwe’s impressive tries, later recognised with the 2023 World Rugby Try of the Year Award, propelled Scotland to a third consecutive victory over England to retain the Calcutta Cup.
The men’s side triumphed over Wales 35-7 in match week two; the first time Scotland had won their opening pair since 1996. A promising championship ended with a victory over Italy, meaning Scotland finished in third place, a joint-highest Six Nations spot. The momentum continued into the 2023 Famous Grouse Nations Series, held as a pre-amble to the Rugby World Cup 2023. The men’s side played four matches in July and August, defeating Italy in the opener before a statement victory over Rugby World Cup hosts France the following weekend. A five-try, 33-6 win against Georgia in Edinburgh completed their preparations.
Drawn into Pool B, alongside the world's two highest-ranked nations in South Africa and Ireland, Scotland were tasked with a mighty challenge, and one which ultimately proved too fierce. An opening day loss to the eventual champion Springboks was followed by strong victories over Tonga and Romania, before a meeting with Guinness Six Nations rivals Ireland in Paris. In the end, Scotland lost out to the Grand Slam champions to mark the end of their Rugby World Cup journey, with the next tournament taking place in Australia in 2027.
Over on the women’s side, new competitions and fresh opportunities marked a new era for the game. Just before the new year, Scottish Rugby awarded professional contracts to 28 female players for the first time. Focussing on skills, physical development, and off-field performance activities such as analysis and recovery, the contracts are a significant step towards professionalising the women’s game.
The TikTok Women’s Six Nations was the big focus for the women’s side entering 2023. After some challenging opening games, the tournament came to a thrilling conclusion for Scotland Women as they experienced a night of record-breaking moments against Ireland in their final fixture, recording their first consecutive Six Nations wins since 2006 in front of a 4,862 strong crowd at Hive Stadium, having beaten Italy the week before.
Rugby for all
At grassroots level, alternative formats of rugby gained significant traction. Walking Rugby and Papa Johns Tartan Touch, Scottish Rugby's touch rugby program, saw a record-breaking participation of over 6,000 players. During the summer months, players from the men’s national team travelled across the country to surprise participants at five different Papa Johns Tartan Touch hubs including Perthshire, Madras and Portobello.
Walking Rugby is also flourishing with more than 15 groups now running across Scotland, participating in weekly sessions. The game provides accessible routes for men and women alike to remain or return to rugby and is made suitable for all ages and fitness levels – the oldest player is 85!
The future of the game
This year, Scottish Rugby formed a new Youth Panel with regional representatives selected to help shape the future of the sport. With members including players, match officials, and coaches with a wide range of experiences in rugby, the group provides a platform for youth perspectives to be listened to and understood.
Appointed for the next two seasons, the Youth Panel will provide a platform for youth perspectives to be listened to and understood. The group will also provide influence on a number of Scottish Rugby decisions as they work alongside the Rugby Development department.
2023 really was the year of young people. In the summer, a 13-strong Team Scotland 7s squad set off for the Trinbago 2023 Commonwealth Youth Games. The young squad produced an outstanding performance across the tournament, eventually defeating Fiji in the final to take the gold and etching their names in history as the first Scottish team to medal at any Commonwealth Games event.
The young team was recognised for their monumental performance at this year’s Scottish Sports Awards where they fought off stiff senior competition to be named Team of the Year 2023.
(Photo credit: Team Scotland)