We at Rugby People are delighted to be able to bring you a piece by Scotland International Rhona Lloyd.
This is part of our Women's Rugby Month and I have to say I'm extremely proud that Rhona has taken time out of her very busy schedule to show support for our efforts to help grow that sector of the sport we all love.
Over to you Rhona.
In a time where support for women’s sport from the public and institutions is continuously growing, June was a harsh reminder of the inequality that women in sport still face. Social media trolls accused Eniola Aluko and Alex Scott of only earning their place on football world cup panels for being black females, despite their detailed insight and combined excess of 240 England caps. Football commentator Vicki Sparks was criticised merely for her female tone of voice. Scimitar Storm women’s team received no prize money for victory in the hotly contested elite tier of Chester 7s, while the top 4 male teams in the equivalent tier all received cash prizes. It’s for all these reasons that I was delighted to see that Rugby People, a growing group of sports photographers, have designated July as women’s rugby month.
It is noteworthy that Rugby People do not need to dedicate a month to women’s rugby because they relentlessly support it all year round, and all tiers of the game at that. They travel to Lille in France to support the Scottish contingency playing club rugby there with as little hesitancy as they drive to all corners of our country to support Greenock Wanderer or Garioch (who by the way put on a post-match spread superior to any international match or Sunday dinner I’ve ever had). They supported Scotland Women 7s in the Rugby Europe trophy in Hungary last year, with the same quality coverage as they did after promotion to the Grand Prix in Marseille this year. The significance of having a photographer at grass root games, especially in the developing world of women’s rugby, cannot be underestimated. Rugby People’s pictures are shared to our social media accounts, exposing the sport to a wider audience and reaching the “I didn’t know girls played rugby”, “shouldn’t you be playing netball”, “is it still full contact” and “rugby is a man’s sport” population (I could go on).
All that Rugby People ask for in return is credit where credits due on their pictures to increase their following. They also welcome donations on their website so they can continue to provide widespread coverage, but they’ll never ask for this. Edinburgh University Ladies donate £100 as a club each season and considering last season’s president Liusaidh McMaster spent an equivalent sum on green scrunchies, I deem this money well spent. Rugby People actually asked me to share my thoughts on the past and coming season, not for gushing promotion. But as I know they’re too modest to promote themselves and because I’ll really miss them once I leave the Scottish Rugby bubble, I had to fit it in.
The last couple months rugby-wise haven’t gone according to plan. I got stuck in a real mental rut during the 6 Nations, spending more time worrying about doing something wrong on the pitch than doing something right. Studying for my university finals, desperately trying to stay afloat above the 2:1 threshold, I felt guilty because I wasn’t training and at training I felt guilty that I wasn’t studying. I was moved to the bench and didn’t get off it for our 6 Nations game against Ireland which was our only win of the tournament, and first away win in recent history. To be part of the match day 23 but not a player on the pitch was a difficult and conflicting. Was I part of the win? In some ways. Playing rugby isn’t our job. It’s essentially a hobby; one that we sacrifice careers, relationships, family time and numerous hours each day for. It comes with triumphs and heartbreak, never with warning or in equal measure. I couldn’t wait for 7s to start from early in the 15s season, hoping that would help clear my head and regain some confidence. Returning to club-land 4 days after playing Italy, I captained Edinburgh University in our semi-final against Exeter. I didn’t play well, and we lost heavily. I felt like I’d let down the team that meant so much to me, who I’d never play for again, and I picked up a stinger on my left shoulder which I’d already had surgery on after 1st year. A scan confirmed I’d need another operation and another summer without 7s, making it 3 out of the last 4.
While the recovery period brought a lot of pain, tramadol and tears, it also gave me time to reflect. I thought about the last 3 years of playing international rugby, and the challenges I’ve faced with the mental side of the game and my confidence over the past season. Instead of continuing to worry and relying on ‘hoping’ that things would change, I started to see a sports psychologist through the university then Sport Scotland and speak about it. We spend so much time in the gym and on the pitch, but rarely work on the mental challenges of international sport, despite it contributing so much to performance. Women’s rugby is a developing sport and it’s easy for players to rise from the club to international stage with few setbacks. I’ve never had that luxury, and for that I’m thankful. Instead, I’ve had opportunities to reflect and improve, which in my development and our journey to world cup qualification, I hope will become evident.
I’m going to be starting the new season in September with Loughborough Lightening as I begin a masters at the university. Rugby has kept me in Edinburgh and living with my parents so far in my life and leaving is another rugby-based decision, but one that will bring a lot of growing up too. I’m incredibly lucky to have such supportive parents, who drive me to games, eat a lot of sweet potato against their will and for my benefit, provide a shoulder to cry on and remain equally proud regardless of if we win or lose. Leaving them, my extended family, familiar friends and teammates in Edinburgh to meet new faces, begin a masters in something largely unrelated to my undergraduate degree and return to rugby with 2 new screws in my shoulder in a new environment terrifies me, and that’s exactly why I need to do it.
Hopefully this time next year I can write about the season again with happier reflections on support for women’s sport, fully functional shoulders, and off the back of a season with more happy tears than the last one. And while I’m training my hardest for club and country in Loughborough, I know my Scotland teammates will be doing the same in London, France, Darlington, Edinburgh, Glasgow and wherever else we are spread. This coming season, if you play rugby or just love it, support women’s rugby. Go to a local club game or come to an international at Scotstoun. See the hard-work, sacrifice, highs and lows for yourself. Bring your children and let them see that it’s an inclusive sport, that they can play regardless of gender, size or shape. Oh, and most importantly, support Rugby People.