IT is often said absence makes the heart grow fonder and for Scotland lock Emma Wassell the cliché could not be more fitting ahead of this year’s Six Nations.

The 29-year-old became the first Scotland player to ever record 50 consecutive caps in 2022, clocking up a run of 54 games before a wrist injury eventually brought an end to her phenomenal streak.

The Loughborough Lightening star also missed out on the entire Six Nations campaign last year through injury and had to settle for watching her teammates enjoy two home victories against Ireland and Italy.

While she couldn’t have been happier with the results, it sparked a whole new hunger in Wassell to get back in the mix for this year’s tournament.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever watched it as a fan and it was in a way the best thing to happen in terms of inspiring me because I wanted to be part of it so much,” she told The National.

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“I’ve been so lucky with how many times I’ve played for Scotland but I’d probably never taken that step back and seen the buzz around it. We are still building an audience but the audiences we do have care so much and are really passionate. It’s a special thing to be part of.

“Scotland had a tough first three games but we won our last two home games.

“I’ve got a lot of caps now but I haven’t experienced a whole lot of wins at home and it’s a truly special thing so not being a part of it was hard. I was over the moon for them, but everything we do is to win in a Scotland shirt together so it has motivated me to get back.”

The Women’s Six Nations will kick-off on March 23 with Scotland set to face Wales in Cardiff.

After finishing fourth last year, there are a multitude of reasons for Bryan Easson’s team to expect improvement this time around.

Scotland go into the championship having won the inaugural WXV2 competition in which they beat South Africa, Japan and the USA, with the latter having been ranked above them.

Those wins contributed to a run of six consecutive victories for the first time since 2001 for the women’s side.

While Wassell believes momentum is crucial in rugby, she said the team will be anything but complacent about the huge test the Six Nations still presents.

The National:

She said: “I don’t think we’re going into this naive just because we won XV2, there’s still a lot of challenges.

“Our goal is to improve on last year and I do think the gap is closing between England and France and the rest, but they are still our main challenges.

“We will absolutely be striving for wins in all three of our away games [Wales, Ireland and Italy] That would put us in a very good place to finish in the top three.”

The vast majority of the Scotland team are now professionally contracted players and the recent expansion of the Celtic Challenge has given more upcoming stars the chance to play more competitive games against sides from Wales and Ireland to help bridge that gap between club and international test rugby.

Given the gap in quality that has so far existed between England and France and the rest of the sides, Wassell said in the past Scotland have usually accepted signs of improvement in performances year-on-year as a marker of success beyond results.

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But she insists Scotland must now find that ruthless edge that brings victories in the tightest of encounters, something they have arguably lacked in recent years.

She said: “In the past we’ve said as long as our performances are improving game on game [that’s fine] and I think that is still important, but I do now think we’re at a stage where knowing how to win these games is important.

“Before WXV we had a run where we lost a lot of games on the bounce but a lot of those were by seven points or less, so we had the potential to win but maybe just were not to grind it out. I think that needs to be the next level for Scotland, finding a way to win.”

Scotland’s first match against Wales will be, as Wassell herself described, a grudge match given Scotland have come out on the wrong end of recent encounters.

The most painful of those was a three-point loss at the death in the Women’s World Cup in 2022 just as it looked like Scotland had won their first match at the tournament for 12 years.

Wassell said Scotland fans can expect a “spicy game” at Cardiff Arms Park where a win for Easson’s team would set a huge precedent for the rest of the tournament.

“We’ve been in some really close encounters with Wales and that World Cup game stung,” she said.

“We’ve been in situations where I really believe we have the potential to beat them. I think that first game is going to set a precedent for the rest of the tournament.

“I think we’ve come on leaps and bounds but so have they. They’re a hugely physical team and it’s about being able to match up. That’s rugby sometimes, it’s just pure physicality that sometimes gets you the win. It will be a spicy game.”