THE Scotland Women’s rugby team have responded to recent reporting of the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of team-mate Siobhan Cattigan, insisting that the picture created does not accurately represent the environment within their squad or the commitment of the medical team towards protecting player welfare.  

Cattigan was 26 and had been capped 19 times by Scotland when she passed away last November.  

A story which appeared in The Sunday Times at the end of last month revealed that Cattigan’s parents have joined a lawsuit being brought against Scottish Rugby and World Rugby alleging that more could have been done to prevent the brain damage suffered by a number of former top-level players.  

During the article, Cattigan’s parents described their anger at Scottish Rugby’s handling of two concussions suffered by their daughter, indicating that they believed Siobhan was encouraged to continue training and playing when she was not fit to do so, and arguing that the appropriate level of medical and pastoral support was not made available when she started to become depressed and withdrawn.  

For legal reasons, some of the allegations cannot be addressed directly, but the squad have collectively decided that they need to challenge the portrayal of their coaching and medical team as uncaring and ignorant of the risks associated with brain injuries.

Bill Mitchell – chief executive of RPS, the association which represents the collective interest of all Scotland’s professional rugby players – spoke to The Herald yesterday on behalf of the national women’s squad.

“I’m not an apologist for the SRU and nor, in fairness, do the SRU expect me to be,” insisted Mitchell, who helped set up RPS in August 2019 against stiff opposition from Murrayfield and points out that it is one of only two player associations globally that doesn’t receive any funding from their governing body, although he acknowledges that the two organisations now have a very constructive relationship.

“My concern, entirely, is to address the perception that has been promoted that in some way, shape or form, the duty of care which is afforded to our [RPS] members is sub-optimal, is less than acceptable.

“Murrayfield get some things wrong, but this [player welfare] they don’t. So, the position that the squad is taking – and RPS is supportive of this – is that the level and standard of physical and pastoral care in Scottish rugby is very high.

“Are there things about being a Scotland squad member they want to change? Yes – it has taken longer than we would all have hoped to get to the stage where we are having constructive conversations about realistic contracts for the women’s team, so that is a frustration. But the healthcare they receive is excellent, the pastoral care is excellent, and they [the squad] are upset at the inference that can be drawn that it was less than that.”

It is suggested in the article that team doctor Carrie McCrae could and should have done more to provide Cattigan and her family with appropriate support when it became apparent that her mental health was deteriorating at an alarming rate. This is impossible to address directly due to medical confidentiality and the prospect of a court case, but Mitchell said the players were keen to highlight that this portrayal does not chime with their own experiences.

“Individuals in the squad have said she has gone out of her way on occasion to provide help and support when approached by girls – way beyond just the immediate concerns of physical care,” said Mitchell.

Head coach Bryan Easson was also singled out in the article. It was claimed that as Cattigan was treated on the pitch following a head injury against Wales during the 2021 Six Nations, Easson could be heard through a medic’s ear-piece shouting: “Get her f***ing back on that pitch, get her back on.”

Scottish Rugby stated in The Sunday Times article that: “Given the seriousness of this suggestion, we sought feedback from people who attended Siobhan during her treatment for this injury. Those people are categoric that this phrase was not heard or said and include the medic who treated Siobhan. Coach Bryan Easson, himself, categorically denies making this alleged comment.”

Later in the article it is claimed that Cattigan was “screamed at” that there was “no room for anxiety” in the squad when she was clearly struggling during Scotland’s three-match World Cup qualifying tournament in Italy last summer, but Mitchell insists that such behaviour would not have been accepted by the rest of the squad.

“I have not heard anything about that,” he said. “The squad are very supportive of Bryan Easson as the coach because they think he’s been great since he came on board. Again, there are a few things Bryan doesn’t do particularly well, but there is unanimous feeling within the squad that the picture which has been painted of him and the way that he communicates is just not accurate.”

Mitchell acknowledges that refusing a request to have Cattigan’s name embroidered on the team’s shirts for their match against France during the 2022 Six Nations was in RPS’ opinion a “mistake” by the SRU. An agreement was eventually reached to lay a Scotland shirt on the pitch “crest up” during the national anthems.

Another bone of contention is on whether some of Cattigan’s team-mates missed the funeral because of a failure by the SRU to pass on the appropriate information.

“Because of the deeply emotional and upsetting circumstances, there was a failure of communication somewhere along the line,” said Mitchell. “I am certain that there was no intention by the SRU to exclude anyone who was invited – I can’t see any reason why they would deliberately exclude anyone. The newspaper article was certainly the first time the team knew about it being an ongoing issue, so that came completely out the blue.

“The SRU are very clear that they were told there would be a list of people who could attend made available and that’s what happened.”

He added: “This is a truly awful situation. We are all deeply saddened by Siobhan’s passing and very sympathetic to what her family is going through.

“We cannot and will not challenge what the Cattigan’s believe, [but] what we can do is put forward our understanding of how this squad experience playing for Scotland, and the support they receive.”