Jade Konkel has never been to Germany, the birthplace of her paternal grandfather, nor to a Rugby World Cup.
But if she had to pick one of them to tick off her ‘to-do’ list first, it would definitely be the latter rather than the former; Munich’s Beer Halls can wait until Scotland’s place at New Zealand 2021 is guaranteed.
The first woman to be handed a professional full-time contract by the Scottish Rugby Union, Konkel has been a mainstay of the Scotland team since making her debut in 2013, and the game’s greatest stage is one that she’d undoubtedly take well to, given the chance.
Scotland’s failure to qualify for the 2014 and 2017 tournaments means the barnstorming Harlequins number eight is determined not to miss out on another Rugby World Cup.
Scotland Women take on @JRFURugby this month at Scotstoun Stadium as part of an exciting Autumn Test campaign!— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) November 3, 2019
Packages and tickets on sale now, including the kids for £1 offer https://t.co/LN1dRPxRao#AsOne pic.twitter.com/qw17j3Ra9V
Dream come true
“Everything we are doing at the moment is focused on the World Cup qualifiers,” said Konkel, speaking ahead of the November internationals against Wales and Japan.
“We’re always going to take each game as it comes but, ultimately, we want to be in the most perfect place come September to qualify.
“I’ve missed two World Cups, on a personal level it was so hard to watch, heart-breaking, but I think it’s a testament to everyone that we haven’t given up, and we are all working towards that goal. People are putting things in place to give us every chance to make that happen.
“To be able to play in my very first World Cup in somewhere like New Zealand, which is absolutely massive for rugby, would genuinely be a dream come true.”
Scotland’s participation at Rugby World Cup 2021 depends on them winning the European qualification tournament next September or, at worst, finishing runners-up and then trying their luck in the repechage.
Six Nations rivals Ireland and Italy plus the Rugby Europe Women's Championship 2020 winners – Spain are favourites to retain that title – will stand in their way.
A 2-0 series victory in South Africa under new coach Philip Doyle suggests Scotland are in a good place going into this month’s matches against Wales and Japan, at the Scotstoun Stadium in Glasgow, on 17 and 24 November respectively.
“We’d only had 10 training sessions prior to the series with the new coach. That’s not a lot at all, it’s the equivalent of two-and-a-bit camps. To come away with two wins – and also spend a lot of down-time getting to know each other a lot better – was fantastic,” she said.
A measure of how far Scotland have come, firstly under former coach Shade Munro and now Doyle, is the fact that five of Konkel’s last 13 appearances have been wins compared to one in her first 24 tests.
“It was a slow start, to say the least, but within that start, there were still so many positives we could take. A lot of people were saying failure this, failure that but I genuinely believe we learnt from each of those losses and while we were still many steps behind, the fact we have managed to persevere, and are now building and building, is really good and testament to what they are doing in the programme to help us improve.”
It is 10 years since Scotland won three tests in a row, and Konkel is expecting a typically competitive fixture against Wales. The last two Six Nations matches have been decided by a point, with a win for each team.
“Wales is one of my favourite teams to play against. We’re obviously very similar in the way we play, and it is always really competitive," she said.
Night and day
“With our new structures in place, it’ll be interesting to see how that goes, and then, it’ll be exciting to play against different opposition in Japan. Playing someone new can only benefit us, massively.”
As well as Scotland’s rise, Konkel has witnessed at first-hand how the women’s game, in general, has lifted off since her early days at Hillhead-Jordanhill RFC. Rather than being the first and only Scottish Rugby contracted player, she is now one of 10.
“Sarah Law and I got capped on the same day, in 2013, and I was saying to her in South Africa, when we were getting a picture together during the shirt presentation, that we would have never thought we’d be standing on a beach about to play in a two-test tour against southern hemisphere opposition. That in itself was an amazing moment," she admitted.
“In 2013 we’d have never gone on any kind of tour let alone South Africa. The resources going in, the fact lots of us have gone to the Premiership (in England), the fact we have contracted players … it has all just massively improved.
“Obviously, there is still lots more we can do and push in growing the game but there is a night and day difference to 2013.”
Photo credit: Scottish Rugby / SNS