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Merryn Gunderson: 'Jade Konkel was a massive idol for me growing up'

By Gary Heatly
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - MAY 24: Merryn Gunderson is presented with the Women’s National League Player of the Season Award during a Scottish Rugby Union National Awards Evening at Scottish Gas Murrayfield, on May 24, 2024, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

In recent years Merryn Gunderson has watched the way that Jade Konkel has carried the ball and taken the game to opponents in a Scotland shirt from the back-row – and now the 20-year-old up-and-coming talent has her sights set on doing just the same for the national team going forward.

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As yet Gunderson is uncapped, but she has taken massive strides in the last six months having been a standout performer for Edinburgh Rugby during the Celtic Challenge and, as a result, been part of the wider Scotland training squad during the Guinness Women’s Six Nations.

Being part of the national team environment during April and May has left the Corstorphine Cougars player hungry to keep on learning and, ultimately, follow her club teammate and friend Alex Stewart into the Scotland matchday squad. 

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Gunderson’s 2023/24 breakout season finished on a real high last Friday night when she was named the Women’s National League Player of the Season at the Scottish Rugby Awards at Murrayfield and she said:  “I am very determined and focused on trying to get my first full cap for Scotland.

“The first half of this season with Corstorphine was really good and then the last six months for me being with Edinburgh and the Scotland wider squad has been massive and has given me confidence.

“From running out with Edinburgh at the Hive Stadium, to then starting for regularly for them and then training with Scotland it has all come pretty fast.

“Along the way in those six months, there have been lots of little achievements that I have ticked off and I think when those little achievements keep building up then you can see that you are making progress.

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“The Scotland call up was quite unexpected, but it was massive for me and it was a great achievement at age 20.

“Being in and around that environment of late has helped me set my goals for the next season ahead and helped me to get a feeling for what it is like being involved at the top level.

“It has given me the insight into what the Scotland coaches are expecting and now I can look to bring that out of myself more and build on things to hopefully push on and get a cap.

“In camp, I learnt that a lot of time at the highest level you are going to be playing under pressure. You need that pressure to perform well and you just have to take it in your stride and play your own game for the team.

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“The girls were amazing in camp, they were very helpful from day one giving me help and advice when I needed it and making me feel very welcome.

“Even when we were off the pitch in camp they made me feel comfy and that was a big thing for me. 

“And seeing Alex play in all five Six Nations games makes me realise that a cap is within touching distance as she is around my age and we have played a lot together for Corstorphine and Edinburgh.

“It is down to me now to keep performing and go the last wee bit to get myself a cap which is the aim.”

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When you speak with Edinburgh native Gunderson the thing that really strikes you is her determination to get better every day and do the very best that she can in rugby.

 Rewind the clock back 10 plus years or so and speaking to a young Jade Konkel was just the same, she had that drive and focus from her very early days in the senior game too.

It is perhaps no surprise then that Gunderson calls 62-capped Scottish Harlequin Konkel a “massive inspiration” while others including mum Sheila, dad Neil, granddad John and Corstorphine coaches Eric Jones and Gavin Paul are right behind her as she aims to keep kicking on.

“Jade Konkel was a massive idol for me growing up,” Gunderson, who is currently involved in a rugby course at Borders College, stated.

“We play in the same position – I have mixed around positions from nine in my earlier days to prop and hooker – but I think back-row is the place for me as I am really enjoying it and Jade Konkel has been a massive inspiration to me.

“I can play six or eight and my playing style is normally getting my hands on the ball and carrying, being straight and direct while anything that is in front of me is hopefully going to get knocked down!

“The physical aspect of rugby is something I enjoy, but I am always working on the other parts of my game too.

“It would have been good to have been in the recent Scotland camps with Jade [she missed out through injury] as I think she would have been good to learn from, but Rachel Malcolm, Evie Gallagher and all of the other back-rows were a great help to me.

“My whole family have always been massively into rugby and that helps as well as I continue on my way.

“Everyone in the family is very pleased for me and my grandad takes great pride in talking to people about me and my rugby in any conversation he is having and that means a lot.

 “Eric Jones [the Corstorphine head coach] has massively impacted my rugby, I have known him for quite a few years now.

“He is always pushing me on, always checking in with me to see what my rugby goals are and has given me more responsibilities on the pitch this season. He is a good sounding board and is helping me as I push on up the levels.

“It is massive to have coaches like him and Gav [Paul, the Corstorphine assistant coach] in my corner and helping me out all the time.”

Gunderson started her rugby when she was really young at Forrester Rugby Club in the Scottish capital as her dad set up the Mini section there.

“I went through the Minis there and then played at Murrayfield Wanderers before moving to Edinburgh Harlequins and then Eric Jones took me on from there and I have played for Corstorphine Cougars for two seasons,” she explained. 

“Back in the day I was at Craigmount High School, there wasn’t a rugby team at all, there was nothing there really rugby-related. I was probably the only girl in my year that played rugby.

“Recently I have been talking about maybe going back into Craigmount and helping push rugby so that local girls have that option and support because I never really had that and had to look elsewhere for all of my rugby.

“I am determined to help give other girls that support – everyone always talks about the ‘rugby family’, but it really is like that and the support network is massive in the sport.

“People can always relate to things you are going through or dealing with and everyone is there to help you become the best player and person you can be.”

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