Scoring tries and studying – We chat with Rhona Lloyd!

Women’s sport has never had a higher profile than it does right now, from the coverage of the football World Cup to the likes of Coco Gauff lighting up individual sports with their energy and, in rugby’s case ever more coverage of the game and its players domestically and internationally. I’ve been a rugby fan all my life but until 18 months or so ago I’d have struggled to name more than a couple of women in the game. Now though I’m hooked on teams and players who are every bit as professional and skilled as their male counterparts and I’m delighted to kick off this new site by interviewing an absolute favourite of mine!

Rhona Lloyd is a try scoring storm, racking up the points for Scotland in both 7s and 15s, turning out for the always exciting Loughborough Lightning in the Tyrrells Premier 15s and still managing to fit in her studies!

Pausing from some study time in the Loughborough University library, Rhona was effusive about Scotland’s ground breaking trip to South Africa: “It was amazing! It was Scotland’s first tour which is pretty mad to think about and it’s the first time we’ve got two wins back to back in over 10 years!”

“For us now, the focus is on World Cup qualification. To maximise our chances of getting there we have to climb the rankings, South Africa were above us so to go out there and get two wins is fantastic. We’ve never played Southern Hemisphere teams before and it was a completely different style of rugby. They were so physical, a lot stronger than we’d faced here.”

Lloyd was quick to point out the benefits of being together with the team on tour too. “it wasn’t about changing our gameplan but it gave us a chance to gel and also to fine tune things and put them into action in a game, then look back on what had and hadn’t worked before playing the same team again 6 days later.”

“I got two tries in each game. Admittedly that was other people putting me away rather than having to do much work but I guess a successful winger knows to stand in the right place, which I’m getting better at!”

“The first game we were dominant, we felt really in control and then in the second they definitely turned it up and came at us harder. There was a while in the game when we had been on the defensive a lot and there were about 8 points in it.” Scotland went on to win the game by an 18 point margin, which is impressive in itself and, coupled with the 47-5 score line in the first game, will pay dividends in the future. “In the six nations, against the likes of England or Ireland we will be defending a lot so we can get in the right mindset and know we have the principles in place.”

Of course there are home internationals still to come this autumn, with Scotland facing off against Wales and Japan, the former are old rivals but the latter are an interesting case, especially given the focus on the cherry blossoms as current World Cup hosts. “Japan have had a lot of investment and the fact they are coming over to play against Scotland shows the value they put on the women’s game. Wales, the last few times in the 6 Nations have ended up in games with less than a try in it, but we’re ready for the challenge and it will be good to be back in Scotstoun!

Talk turns naturally to Rhona’s time representing Scotland so far which takes in the 7s circuit as well as the 15s game. Her style of play, with hard running attacking lines, is clearly influenced by the space and opportunity that having less people on the field brings and means she has a gift for exploiting space. “I came back from a really long injury in January. I caught the end of the 15s season but I didn’t feel that confident, but having the summer playing 7s… You get so much ball and being a winger with that much space really suits my strengths and my skills. It’s given me much more confidence coming back into 15s. In 7s you’re so exposed in terms of your skills and also your tackling. There’s a lot more individual responsibility!”

“For Scotland the 7s team is essentially the backline and flankers of the larger team too so it’s more change for us to gel. We had 4 major tournaments and we were in Hong Kong for a week”.

The theme of cohesion comes up time and again in the conversation and it’s clearly something that adds a lot to any team. It can only help then that there are 4 more Scottish internationals lining up alongside Rhona for Loughborough Lightning. “It helps us being together on the pitch, though the positions aren’t that related. When Loughborough are finished but Scotland still need to train or over summer during the 7s season we’re all following the same schedule so we can keep each other motivated. We all know what the others should be doing so we can pull each other up if we’re not doing it!”

It’s been a mixed start for Lightning, who won their first game but have lost the last two, albeit against a strong Bristol side and the reigning champions Saracens. Rhona is quick to dismiss the fact that she started in their opener before heading to South Africa, but points out how Loughborough dug deep to grind out a win and held their own against a strong Saracens line up until the closing moments of the game. They’ll face Firwood Waterloo this weekend and the team sound motivated to return to winning ways. “Everybody is desperate to get out and get the win. We’re certainly capable of that if we get our heads together and get our processes right!”

After 10 days in South Africa and returning straight into league action you’d be forgiven for thinking rugby was a full-time job, but it’s far from the case, with Lloyd still studying for a masters in Bio Mechanics. She’s honest that it can be tough bit cites the atmosphere at Loughborough – a sports focused university – as being much better suited to her needs than the much more traditionally academic set up in Edinburgh where she did her under graduate studies. “Once I graduate next year I’ll be juggling a job with my rugby. Watching the likes of (fellow Scotland and Loughborough player) Rachel Malcolm who is a full-time lecturer, she has it a hundred times worse than me so I’ll make the most of it now!”

For all that she’s incredibly busy Rhona somehow finds time, along with another Loughborough and Scotland colleague Sarah Bonar to create the Women Who Sport podcast. “I listen to a lot of podcasts and a lot of the sports ones are hosted by men and we thought that a younger, female athletes perspective (was something we wanted to share).  If even one person hears their stories and learns from it or thinks differently about women’s sport it will have been a success”

The pair have already interviewed Red Roses Natasha Hunt and Emily Scarratt and there are a host of names from cricket, netball and athletics, alongside their contacts in rugby, lined up now they’re back on home soil. When oppressed on her dream guests, Rhona is quick to answer: “Maggie Alphonsi. I think she’s amazing, definitely a huge role model for me! Outside of rugby Dina Asher-Smith, I’d love to talk to her. She’s breaking barriers for athletics and for women in sport and I don’t think there’s been someone like her in British athletics for a while!”

Before that though, there’s still plenty of studying to do ahead of an evening’s training so we stop there but I’ll be looking forward to highlights and streams of Loughborough and Scotland’s games as both teams, much like Rhona herself, seem to be on the cusp of achieving some pretty impressive things!

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