Jade Konkel: First Scottish woman signs pro rugby deal

Jade Konkel
Konkel has played in 23 matches for Scotland

Jade Konkel has become Scotland's first full-time professional women's rugby player as governing body Scottish Rugby also launched a new scholarship to attract top athletes from other sports.

The 22-year-old Hillhead/Jordanhill number eight has been capped 23 times.

She was one of 16 players selected in the second tier of the Scottish Rugby Academy in 2015 and is the first to make the full-time, third tier.

SRU chief executive Mark Dodson described it as "a significant step".

Scotland Women have gone six successive Six Nations campaigns without a victory and lag behind neighbours England in introducing professional players.

England enlisted 20 professionals following their 2014 World Cup success, while Sian Williams became the first Welsh woman to sign a professional contract in February.

'Selected on merit'

"This demonstrates our commitment to women's rugby," said Dodson, whose organisation also appointed Shade Munro as full-time women's coach and set up the Scottish Rugby Academy last year.

Head of academy and performance programmes Stephen Gemmell stressed that the only barrier to others following Konkel's path is "an individual's ability and desire".

"It is a wonderful opportunity for Jade and one that she fully merits," he told BBC Scotland.

"It's important to understand that Jade has been selected on merit, based on her performances, attitude, commitment and propensity to improve as part of a national selection process alongside all of our identified talented players."

Scotland Women in action against France
Scotland Women have not won a Six Nations game in six years

Konkel will undergo a full-time programme at Broadwood Stadium, Cumbernauld, cutting down the hours she works as a care assistant for armed forces veterans' for former employer Erskine.

"It means everything to me," she said. "It is a massive opportunity and one I am going to relish every moment of.

"It is an opportunity I never thought I would get and my dream has become a reality.

"It means I can put all my focus into rugby and try to become the best athlete I can."

'Create opportunities'

Inverness-born Konkel is a multi-talented sportswoman and spent two seasons with national league basketball club Highland Bears, represented Scotland in athletics for the army cadets, winning two gold medals for shot put and discus, and has a black belt in the martial art, Goshin-Ryu Kempo.

Her graduation to full-time professional was accompanied by the announcement of a new elite women's scholarship designed to persuade established athletes with a proven track record in team sport at world and European levels to transfer their existing skills to Scottish Rugby's women's programme.

Recipients will be based at its Borders & East Lothian, Caledonia (Aberdeen), Edinburgh or Glasgow & the West academies.

Head of women and girls' rugby Sheila Begbie added: "I'm delighted that we're now beginning to create opportunities to help Scotland Women compete on the European and world stages in the Women's Six Nations Championship and potentially Women's Rugby World Cup 2017."

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