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Gareth Thomas: 'This game means everything. We have to leave it all out there.'

The Ospreys and Wales loosehead expects a big reaction against Australia after the chastening loss to Georgia

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'It was the biggest game of my career so far…now to the World Cup'

By Lucy Lomax
Chloe Rollie of Scotland runs with the ball during the Ireland v Scotland Rugby World Cup 2021 Europe Qualifying match at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on September 25, 2021 in Parma, Italy. (Photo by Alessandro Sabattini - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Scottish spirits are on the up. They had to go the long way round and Covid painfully elongated the process, but their recent victory in Dubai saw them qualify for their first World Cup tournament since 2010.

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One of the mainstays in the team throughout the qualification process was full back Chloe Rollie. The Exeter Chiefs player describes what it meant for the squad to beat Colombia and book their spot at the sport’s pinnacle event in New Zealand in October.

“The trip over there was amazing and great for us as a squad as memories were made,” said the 26-year-old. “A lot of people in that squad tried to qualify last time out and we just wanted to do it for each other. We waited 12 long years to get to that point, and it didn’t come easy!

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“I was in the squad five years ago when we played Spain in those two matches and we didn’t qualify. I was younger then and it felt like a massive thing to lose but when I look back now, I didn’t realise how much it actually meant and for some players where it was maybe their second or third time trying to qualify.

“It was the biggest game of my career so far but winning it comfortably brought mixed emotions, it was over so quickly and it was built up for so long, it’s been all about World Cup qualification for over 18 months, so it was a bit surreal and we were like what do we do now?

“We’re just excited to get out there and play at the World Cup and we won’t take any second of it for granted. We’re in a tough group with New Zealand, Wales and Australia but I believe we can get the results that we want. It’s only another six months away and the belief in the team is massive. The earlier qualification games against Ireland, Spain and Italy showed what we can do and we can get results, plus Dubai was great preparation for us.”

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Not only has the development and investment in England’s top league, the Premier 15s, meant that home grown talent has prospered on the international stage but it has also been of benefit to a handful of other nations ahead of the World Cup.

Scotland is one of those countries who has taken advantage of the competition with only two of the starting XV selected to play Colombia not currently playing their rugby in the top English league.

“Most of the players who play for Scotland are Premier 15s players as the standard compared to the Scottish club level is night and day, it’s bad to say that but that’s just the way it is.

“I think lots of people started to realise that when players like myself, Jade (Konkel) and Lisa (Martin) went to France, and then Jade led the way to the Premier 15s. It’s becoming a lot easier to do it now, clubs are offering a lot more as they’re able to, for example Exeter are helping me out with my accommodation which makes it easier as we’re not from England and don’t have family homes there.”

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Not only have England led the way in terms of investing in the Premier 15s but they have also headed the pack with full-time contracted players since January 2019. However, other than Wales, other European nations such as Italy, Ireland and Scotland still lag behind on the slow journey to professionalism.

“Some players are part time with their work but some players still have to work full time or are studying full time and find it hard with sorting work placements. I think juggling both is hard. We have full time players, like myself, Lana Skeldon and Lisa Thomson and that means we can completely focus on rugby, but there is a big mix in the squad.

“Women’s rugby is growing and hopefully in the future it will be normal practice to pay players. For me to be supported through Scottish Rugby is a massive privilege and it’s always been a dream but with more international teams going professional it encourages other teams to follow in their footsteps.”

With the Women’s Six Nations starting on March 26th with more and more players playing rugby full-time, you can only expect this to have a positive result on the standard of the tournament. Another encouraging sign has been the involvement of social media platform TikTok who are the first title partner of the Women’s Six Nations in the history of the tournament.

Rollie herself is an avid TikTokker who has a decent following on the platform, often showcasing her rugby travels and experiences.

“I think it’s really important to have a brand like TikTok come on board, it stops women’s rugby from being in the shadows and means a lot more people are being exposed to it and that’s just massive for us.

“To be able to show who you are on a social platform like TikTok is massive and over the World Cup qualifiers myself and Rhona (Lloyd) were creating videos and TikTok dances and it gives you some fun and a way to have a laugh with your community and followers.

“You’re able to put yourself across on the platform really well, and of course sometimes it becomes a battle to see who gets the most views and likes.”

With World Cup qualification under their belts, Scotland have half a year to build towards the tournament, but first they have the small task of the Women’s Six Nations, once again in its own window to the men’s tournament and back to the usual five game round-robin structure. Let’s see if they can climb the table and continue to surprise teams with their spirit and heart.

Scotland’s TikTok Women’s Six Nations campaign gets underway at home on Saturday 26th March against England.

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