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Celtic Challenge: Glasgow's Holland Bogan and Lucy MacRae ones to watch for future Scotland caps

By Gary Heatly
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 13: Warrior's Holland Bogan warms up before a Celtic Challenge match between Glasgow Warriors and Wolfhounds at Scotstoun Stadium, on January 13, 2024, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ewan Bootman / SNS Group)

Scotland have selected a batch of young players in their Guinness Women’s Six Nations training squad off the back of good Celtic Challenge performances – and the great news for supporters of Bryan Easson’s charges is that there are other up-and-coming talents just waiting in the wings for an opportunity going forward too.

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On Monday, Edinburgh Rugby’s quartet of Cieron Bell, Nicole Flynn, Alex Stewart and Merryn Gunderson were among seven uncapped players listed in a 34-strong national team squad that will meet up on February 26 to start working towards the showpiece event that begins on March 23.

The first three of those listed were part of the Scottish Futures squad that travelled to Italy last summer and it now seems that Scotland head coach Easson and his coaching staff have some really positive coaching headaches to make because there are a number of players between the ages of 18 and early 20s knocking on the door for recognition and caps.

Holland Bogan and Lucy MacRae are certainly two to look out for in the coming years, the teenage duo being part of the Scotland under-18 XVs and sevens squad in 2023 and also being in Italy for the aforementioned Futures trip.

In recent weeks, they have been playing for Glasgow Warriors in the Celtic Challenge and while it has been a tough competition for the Scotstoun outfit results-wise, they have certainly impressed and shown maturity beyond their years.

Glasgow finish their campaign in Belfast this coming weekend looking for a first win in seven and there is little doubt that Bogan and Macrae will kick on from here.

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“Stepping up from under-18 level the Celtic Challenge has definitely been a learning curve, but it’s been a challenge that I have tried to embrace,” second-row/back-row Bogan, 18, said.

“I have just tried to soak every bit of knowledge up from the more experienced players around me and getting to work and play alongside a Scotland cap like Louise McMillan who is the same position as me has been excellent.

“Over the last 18 months or so I have been exposed to loads of different environments and I have loved it. Being part of the under-18s XVs and sevens programmes, the Futures and then joining Stirling County have all helped shape me into the player I am now and I feel like I have grown up quickly on and off the pitch.

“Physically now I feel I am ready to play regularly at this level and I enjoy that side of the game.

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“With Glasgow, I have been part of the defensive leadership group, so although I am young I am not afraid to say anything if needed out on the pitch.”

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Bogan was born in Scotland, but spent a year of her early life in Florida and then around 10 years in Amsterdam.

It was in the capital of the Netherlands that her parents had met a few years before and Bogan laughs: “After they gave me my name, I was known for a while as Holland in Holland!

“I have an older sister so I am not sure why I was the one to get named after the country, but it is kind of cool.”

Back in Scotland, Bogan was playing football in her teens at Eastwood High School in Glasgow when the penny dropped that she really wanted to give rugby a go.

“I looked across at the other pitch where there was some rugby going on and I thought to myself ‘That looks so much more fun’,” Bogan, who is now in second year at Stirling University studying for a degree in sport psychology, recounts.

“I joined Cartha Queen’s Park and played there in the under-18s before getting dispensation to play senior rugby at age 17 and things have just moved on from there to Stirling County and representative honours.

“When I was 17 and coming into senior rugby I was only allowed to play back-row, so I have a real love of playing at six and getting my hands on the ball, but I have been playing more and more second-row and I enjoy it there too.

“I just feel at the age I am at and the stage women’s rugby is at I am so lucky.

“The game is growing all the time and having experiences like the Futures and now Glasgow has exposed me to the levels I need to be hitting regularly.

“Seeing people I have played with making it into Scotland training squads and things like that shows me that it is not too far away and I have to just keep working hard and, hopefully, other opportunities will come.

“To play for Scotland is the goal.”

Bogan was in the second-row in December as Stirling County won the Premiership final versus Watsonians and, the previous season, MacRae was at 12 and was named player of the match when the same club also lifted the silverware.

In the 2022/23 final last January, County defeated Corstorphine and MacRae was just 17, but ran the show and has had a brilliant year and a bit since then.

“It certainly has been an enjoyable time, but it has been really busy too, so I haven’t been able to reflect too much, I have just been cracking on,” MacRae, now 18 and in first year at Edinburgh University studying for a degree in mechanical engineering, said.

“Although we have been in the Glasgow programme now for a couple of months, it feels like it has gone quite quickly to be honest because every training session and match I have been picking up new things.

“What I have really enjoyed has been just hearing about everyone’s different experiences in rugby: we have some people coming in who have played for Scotland, others who have played club rugby for a number of years and a batch of young players including myself and I think the mix is really good.

“People talk about things on the pitch when making the step up in levels, but for me I have noticed a lot off the pitch. The detail the coaches go into leading up to a game and the analysis we do on our own game and the opposition has gone up a notch while it is fascinating to see how international players go about their business and preparations.

“For example, as an outside back, learning from Beth Blacklock when she was with us was interesting while other players like Louise McMillan and Mairi McDonald also set high standards.”

Centre/full-back MacRae believes playing in the BUCS Women’s National League for a few months before Christmas with Edinburgh University helped her prepare for the Celtic Challenge experience and, like Bogan, she comes across as very level-headed and driven.

As a result, it is perhaps no surprise that she has not shirked the goal kicking challenge for the Warriors and it shows the faith that Glasgow head coach Chris Laidlaw has in her that he gave her that role.

“When we started off the programme it was a pleasant surprise to be given the kicking duties ahead of the first game and I have been working hard on that part of my game ever since,” MacRae said.

“It is very much process driven and a case of ‘practice makes perfect’, so whether I am kicking on my own at training or in a big match I just try to go through the same routine and block out any distractions.”

MacRae began her rugby journey at local club Helensburgh alongside the boys in the Minis before moving onto Hillhead Jordanhill and then Stirling County ahead of moving east for university last summer.

“Rugby very quickly became a big part of my life and it still is now,” she said.

“I am really enjoying my degree and am passionate about that, but one day I would love to be a professional rugby player now that that opportunity exist for females.

“And, of course, pulling on a Scotland jersey would be an honour.”

Glasgow Warriors versus Gwalia Lightning is at the Kingspan Stadium on Saturday at 12.30pm while Wolfhounds and Clovers meet at 4.30pm with the former chasing the title – both games are on RugbyPass TV.

WATCH GLASGOW WARRIORS VS GWALIA LIGHTNING ON RUGBYPASS TV HERE

WATCH WOLFHOUNDS VS CLOVERS ON RUGBYPASS TV HERE

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