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Rhona Lloyd: Whales, Scotland, and Great Britain

By Gary Heatly
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - OCTOBER 01: Rhona Lloyd poses for a portrait during the Scotland 2021 Rugby World Cup headshots session at the Grand Millennium Hotel on October 01, 2022 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Music has played a big part throughout Rhona Lloyd’s Scotland career to date and now, after reaching the 50-cap milestone, she wants her country to keep making positive noises in the world of women’s rugby going forward.

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The Scots marked the winger’s half-century in style by beating Italy 17-10 last Saturday in Parma to put them third in the Guinness Women’s Six Nations table with one round of fixtures to go.

Beat Ireland in Belfast this coming weekend and Scotland could finish third in the standings for the first time since 2005 and secure WXV 1 qualification and a spot at Rugby World Cup 2025.

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A lot to focus on in the immediate future for Lloyd and co then, but this week she has taken time out to look back on her journey with Scotland that began as a 19-year-old back in 2016.

And whether it was naming the Scotland Sevens ‘band’ Rhona and the Whales while they were having an impromptu jam session while on tour in Hong Kong, buying a ukulele on that same trip or playing that ukulele in New Zealand at the Rugby World Cup in 2022 while sports scientist Fraser Menzies played the bagpipes as the squad sang Loch Lomond, music has never too far away from things.

Indeed, her teammates serenade her with ‘Rhona, Rhona, Rhona – their version of Ruby by the Kaiser Chiefs – a few days ago at her 50th cap presentation at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi with parents Lea and Robert watching on to keep the music theme going.

“I love rugby and I love music, it’s all a lot of fun,” Lloyd, now 27, said.

“We went to Hong Kong in 2019 as a Scotland Sevens squad to try and qualify for the World Series. There’s a band Noah and the Whale and we were playing chopsticks on our glasses, it was all a joke, but good fun.

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“The next day we walked past a music shop, I got a ukelele and some of the girls got maracas. Then we had to name the ‘band’ and I pushed for Rhona and the Whales.

“I’m not sure if everybody was happy with it, but the name stuck!

“From that day we referred to the sevens squad often as Rhona and the Whales and sometimes had a laugh with music when we were away on trips.

“Then when we [the XVs squad at WXV 2] were in South Africa last year we weren’t flying back until the Monday after the last game.

“A bunch of people were going to get their cap numbers tattooed. It was me and a lot of the younger girls, so our team manager [Ellen Dickson] said to me ‘Rhona make sure nobody comes back with a silly tattoo’.

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“Then we came back and she said ‘Oh it was just you!’ [because she had got a tattoo of a whale on her arm to mark Rhona and the Whales].

“Seriously though, culture to me is really important and that is something that I got from Scotland Sevens.

“We once came ninth in a World Series event for example when we had only met on the Tuesday and then competed from the Friday onwards. That is unheard of, but something that allowed us to do it and push though was our willingness to train hard and work hard for each other because of the bonds we had created.

“Culture has a big crossover with performance, so whether it is music or other things I just want everyone to enjoy being part of the group.

“I have so much fun playing rugby, it is a passion that has become my job, so enjoying the journey is a big thing for me.

“We have a social committee in the current Scotland Six Nations squad. Louise McMillan, Rachel McLachlan, Francesca McGhie and me we do extra things around camp to make sure that everyone is enjoying their team here and that everyone is connecting as teammates and friends off the pitch.

“We want this environment to be an enjoyable one and I think if you asked any player then they’d say that it is.

“That feeling off the pitch has helped us with our recent form on the pitch for sure.”

Lloyd, Scotland cap 192, first got introduced to rugby by international cap 136 Sarah Quick when the latter held a taster session at Tynecastle High School in Edinburgh.

From there, and with the promptings of teacher Bruce Aitchison and coach Eric Jones, Lloyd went on to play for Murrayfield Wanderers and was hooked.

Since then she has played for national age-grade teams, Edinburgh University, Loughborough Lightning, Les Lionnes du Stade Bordelais, the national sevens and XVs team and GB Sevens.

She is currently dual-contracted to Scottish Rugby and GB Sevens – she has hopes of making the Paris Olympics in a few months with the latter – and said: “Women’s rugby has moved on so far.

“My first Scotland cap was against England in 2016 [a 32-0 loss] and I got capped the same day as Lisa Thomson. We were so young and we were still playing for the under-20s. At that time the senior squad didn’t have a lot of depth, so you were very quickly put into it.

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“The game was at Broadwood [in Cumbernauld], I would guestimate there was a maximum of 300 people there, we were the curtain-raiser for the Scotland under-20 men and I couldn’t tell you if there was a live stream – the way that the game has changed from then to now is absolutely massive.

“It was a huge honour to play for Scotland then and it’s still a huge honour now.

“I just feel so privileged that I’ve played during this period when women’s rugby has changed so much. We’ve seen professionalisation at the international level and for younger girls that are coming through now, it just looks so different for them.

“It does feel like women’s sport is exploding and I feel really lucky to be competing at this time.

“And with Scotland, things are so exciting. We have been happy with the recent wins over Wales and Italy, but our standards for ourselves are so much higher than they used to be and we know we can still play better which says a lot about where the squad is at right now.

“We’re in a very good place and it’s no secret that we want to keep pushing on to see how far we can get Scotland in the world rankings [they are now at a record high of number six].

“We want to be competing on the world stage and we are thinking about that World Cup next year.

“It’s been an incredible journey for me so far and I am excited by the future.”

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