Harlequins and Scotland No 8 Jade Konkel talks long drives, going vegan and meaningful tattoos

Jade Konkel’s remarkable rugby journey

There were few opportunities for Jade Konkel to play rugby growing up, but since focusing on the sport aged 17 she has excelled, becoming Scotland’s first female professional player and a key figure for the national side as well as Harlequins.

Here she talks through her remarkable rugby journey…

I used to drive three-and-a-half hours each way to play. There wasn’t much girls’ rugby around the Black Isle, but at 17 I drove to Edinburgh for a development day and got selected for Scotland U20.

After that, every week I drove along the A9 to Glasgow to play for Hillhead-Jordanhill. Sometimes I’d leave at 5am and then find the game had been cancelled, and I’d be sore getting in the car after a match, but I knew I needed to play.

I wanted to put everything into rugby. So after three years at uni in Glasgow studying social care, I concentrated on rugby for a year.

I got a Stage Two contract from Scottish Rugby, which was unpaid but gave me help with S&C. When they offered me a Stage Three contract, which is paid, I burst out crying! It was nice to see it pay off.

Jade Konkel’s remarkable rugby journey

On the ball: Jade Konkel in action against Wales during the Women’s Six Nations (Inpho)

I was the first woman to get a contract but I’m not the last. It was the same playing with Lille in France last season. Scottish Rugby have created a partnership with them and more girls are doing it.

There are now eight players on contracts, we have a women’s sponsor, a great coaching set-up, our matches are on BBC ALBA – it’s all really positive for Scotland.

The 2021 World Cup is what we’re aiming for. I’ve played Test rugby since 2013 and missed two World Cups, so we have to get to this next one. We have a core group who can be together for the long run and are improving every year.

I was such a home bird, I never thought I’d move away. Instead, I’ve lived in Glasgow for five years, France for a year and now the South of England. Karen Findlay’s been trying to get me to come to Harlequins for a couple of years. I wanted to get the experience in France first and then come here.

The physicality in Premier 15s is up there with France. Here there is probably more structure, but the two leagues are quite similar.

I do 13 training sessions a week. That’s not including analysis and recovery. At Quins we have gym and training on Tuesdays and Thursdays, as well as a skills and speed session on Wednesdays. I’ll also do lots of extras on my own.

I have a whole new respect for front-rows. Last year I started two Tests at loosehead – Shade Munro wanted to get his 15 best players on the pitch. I tried it but I’m much more comfortable at No 8.

I remember a scrum against Wales and trying to get round the corner ready for a ball-carry and my legs were so heavy. I wasn’t used to that pain. Front-rowers need a different energy system.

Jade Konkel’s remarkable rugby journey

Skills work: Jade Konkel during Harlequins training (Getty Images)

I’m now a vegan. I’d read up on the health benefits and thought I’d see if I could do it. I’ve actually found it easy and feel a lot better.

I feel fitter and more healthy. I macro count everything I eat and I know how many grams of carbs, how much protein and so on I’ve eaten each day. I’ve lost quite a bit of weight but I’ve maintained muscle and lost fat, so hopefully I’ll be a more agile No 8 but have the same power and momentum.

I’ve got tattoos on both my arms, my ribs, just above my bum, my feet… They’re all specific and a guy in Edinburgh does them. There’s one of me and my sister at my brother’s wedding; a picture of me after my first win in a Scotland shirt; my two favourite places – for a rugby pitch, singing the national anthem and then a view of trees and mountains because I grew up in the countryside… I also have the words: ‘Don’t dream your life, live your dream’.

I write ETT – Empty The Tank – on tape on my wrists before every game. I’ll also write buzzwords like ‘low’ or ‘hunt’ and if I’m not happy with my performance at half-time I might just write ‘5%’ to encourage me to step it up. You’ve always got an extra 5%, you go to a dark place and keep going. I’ve got different-coloured Sharpies, so I’ll use blue if I’m playing for Scotland.

I listen to motivational quotes or look at them on my phone too.

I’m a black belt in Goshin-Ryu Kempo. It’s a self-defence martial art. I also used to play basketball for Highland Bears in the national league. I enjoyed it but I like the physicality of rugby, as well as everything in the game having a purpose and knowing you have your team-mates’ backs and they have yours. It’s a good feeling.

I’ve just finished my personal training qualifications. I’m also doing some other courses and after rugby I would like to set up something in deprived areas to encourage people to get active and be healthy.

This article originally appeared in the February 2019 edition of Rugby World.

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