When Donna Kennedy won her 115th and final cap for Scotland at Rugby World Cup 2010 it also turned out to be her country’s last appearance on the game’s greatest stage.
Scotland failed to make it to the 2014 and 2017 tournaments but set the record straight in Dubai last Friday when they defeated Colombia to win the Final Qualification Tournament.
And no one could be more delighted for them than Kennedy who got to play in five consecutive Rugby World Cups from 1994 through to that swansong tournament in 2010.
“From a Scottish perspective, we had always been there in the reckoning for World Cups and we performed well so it was sad not seeing any representation since 2010,” she said.
“These girls have got a huge opportunity. There is one thing playing international rugby for your country, and in Six Nations and European Championships but it is taking it to the next level when you play at a World Cup.
“For a rugby player, unless you are a sevens player, that is the pinnacle. You are out there for everybody in the world to see.
“There’s the camaraderie you get in the team from being out there together for a long time and you get to play against teams that you perhaps wouldn’t normally get to play against otherwise.
“It’s such a great atmosphere when you’re there and a great stage to be on.”
Facing down the Haka in 2006
One of the fondest memories Kennedy has of Rugby World Cup is the time they faced New Zealand – and the Haka – in Edmonton in 2006, Scotland giving the Black Ferns a run for their money in a 21-0 defeat.
The current crop of players will get to do that too, having been drawn in Pool A at Rugby World Cup 2021 with the host country as well as Australia and more familiar foes in Wales.
But the fact the tournament is in New Zealand, Kennedy says, gives it even more appeal.
“They are very fortunate that they’ll play a World Cup out in New Zealand, it’s a nation of rugby lovers.
“I played against New Zealand at previous World Cups but never out there which I would have loved to have done.
“In the 2006 World Cup, I remember lining up against New Zealand and facing the Haka. We were wearing our white strips and they were in black and it was an experience in its own right; it’s part of the history of rugby.
“You don’t get opportunities to play nations like that very often so when you do, you have to grab them with both hands.
“It was really close in the first half when we played them because I think they underestimated us, but then they brought on their big guns and won 21-0.
“It was a physical encounter and I got player of the match. I remember it very well, it was one of my favourite games.”
Scotland have the game to be a threat
Now based in Worcester, Kennedy does some part-time rugby coaching and still keeps a keen eye on how the current team are faring.
“They have definitely progressed over the years. They have now got an attack, they can score tries, and they’ve now got a defence. They are playing some really good rugby, and they are a genuine threat,” she said.
“They have put in some really sound performances and I think they are going from strength to strength.
“I remember a lot of these girls from when I coached them as U20s – I coached Jade (Konkel), I coached Emma (Wassell)… and it is great to see them coming through and it is great to see Emma get 50 caps. It makes me feel old!”
Kennedy turned 50 earlier this month and has been a long time retired but she still remains the last Scotland women’s player to score a try at a Rugby World Cup.
The flanker scored Scotland’s only try when they slipped to a 32-8 defeat to Ireland in the seventh-place decider at the Surrey Sports Park in Guildford.
By playing Ireland in her last international, Kennedy’s career had gone full circle as she made her debut against the same opposition in Scotland’s first-ever women’s international in 1993.
Once the final whistle sounded on her farewell match, Kennedy’s thoughts were on the storied career that she’d enjoyed, not whether it would be the last time Scotland would appear at a Rugby World Cup.
“It was a sad day for me because I knew it was going to be my last time playing in a Scotland jersey.
“It was a struggle to get to that point as my body was quite broken, I’d already started to retire and I went back but I knew this was definitely going to be my last time so there was a lot of emotion.
“It was a sad day for me and it’s sad for Scottish rugby that they didn’t qualify after that.”
Until now, that is.