Scotland game is pivotal – Wales attack coach Richard Whiffin
The Highlanders-bound coach recognises the importance of Wales’ opening game at Rugby World Cup 2021
There is no doubt that Les Lionnes du Stade Bordelais winger Rhona Lloyd is going to be one of her country’s key players at the showpiece event, kicking off on Saturday 8 October.
The former Murrayfield Wanderers, University of Edinburgh and Loughborough Lightning star has been in the form of her life over the last year or so and now has an impressive record of 19 tries in 39 international caps
She has been in and around the national team 15s setup since she was 19 and also played for Team Scotland in the Commonwealth Games Sevens earlier this year in Birmingham.
And the Edinburgh-raised player is determined that Scotland’s first appearance at a Rugby World Cup in 12 years will help grow the game back home and inspire the next generation.
“The shift in women’s rugby over the last few years has been huge,” Lloyd said with Scotland preparing to take on Wales in their Pool A opener in Whangārei on Sunday.
“When I think back to my early caps at Broadwood I could probably name you every person in that crowd and it is definitely not like that now, which is very special.
“Getting more girls to pick up rugby balls, keep fit and enjoy themselves is a massive thing that motivates us all in the squad. To think that people back home will be getting up early to watch us on the TV in the coming weeks is an amazing feeling.
“We want to inspire young girls and boys back home.
“And it is funny now because some of the younger players in the current squad met us [the more established Scotland players] when they were really young.
“There is a photo of me giving a shirt to Meryl Smith when I re-visited my old club Murrayfield Wanderers after playing one game for Scotland and now we are team-mates! So, we are already seeing the next generation coming through.”
The pathway in women’s rugby was not quite as clearcut around a decade ago when Lloyd was making her was in the sport though with a few more obstacles in the way.
“I was really lucky when I was at Tynecastle High School in Edinburgh that Bruce Aitchison was my PE teacher and he massively looked out for me,” she said.
“I was very keen, very sporty and he helped me channel that in the right place and I went on to play for Murrayfield Wanderers.
“When I was at school, I didn’t really tell anyone that I played rugby and when I was 16 I was getting a really hard time for playing. It was mainly from boys in the school, I guess because rugby wasn’t seen as cool for girls.
“I was already training with the Scotland under-20s and I remember my coach at the time Eric Jones calling me and saying ‘don’t quit and keep going’.
“There was a time I was going to stop playing, but I’m so happy that I didn’t.
“Now I am really passionate about going into schools and talking to young girls and that comes from the way I first got involved.”
Lloyd has had to deal with her fair share of downs in her career to date – a number of shoulder injuries and just missing out on going to the Olympics in Tokyo last year to play sevens amongst them – but she has always been a positive character.
And her confidence in her own ability seems to have grown since she moved to France to play club rugby for Les Lionnes du Stade Bordelais ahead of the 2021/22 season.
“I’d finished my masters at Loughborough and spoken to other teams down south, but I also reached out to some teams in France and got a good offer from Bordeaux,” she explains when asked how the move out of her ‘comfort zone’ came about.
“It has allowed me to be pretty close to full-time for the last year which has been pretty cool. It has been good, it’s been amazing, the last season and a bit playing there has been such a privilege. Last summer was hard after training with Team GB and then not making the Olympics and then heading to a new country to be with a new team where I didn’t speak the language was pretty mental, but I think it was what I needed at the time.
“Physicality and things like that, the areas of my game I wanted to work on, I’ve been able to work on, so France has been the perfect place for me to be playing my rugby leading into this World Cup.”