Scotland Women number 8 Jade konkel is back in the squad and fighting fit after seven months on the sidelines recovering from a shoulder injury.
The 23-year-old played a full 80 minutes in Scotland’s warm-up win against English Premiership club Aylesford Bulls at the end of last month and is primed for tonight’s Women’s Six Nations opener against Ireland.
“Obviously, Ireland are a very strong squad of competitors but we are going to focus on our game,” she said.
“I think we have definitely stepped up our level of performances. It was fantastic to see how the squad played in the World Cup qualifiers and if we can take how we played against Spain into the Ireland game it’ll be great.
Head Coach Shade Munro has made three changes to the squad from Spain, with plenty of fresh talent among the more experienced players.
Over in the Irish camp, coach Tom Tierney has named five uncapped players for tonight’s game, but Konkel and the squad aren’t underestimating the strength of the fifth ranked side in the world.
“Ireland have a really good depth of players and you can’t think too much about whether they've have been capped or not,” Konkel continued.
“You get selected in the team for a reason so they have clearly done something to impress the coaches and he’s got every faith in putting them on the pitch against us, so I think you need to go in all guns blazing against them because they are going to come at you regardless of their caps, age or experience.”
Konkel, who has 23 caps, played her last international against Ireland, which the Scots lost 45-12 in Dublin on the final day of the 2016 Championship. A few months later she suffered a shoulder injury while playing for Scotland Women 7s, shortly after being awarded a Stage 3 contract in the BT Sport Academy – making her Scottish Rugby’s first full-time female player.
“Its genuinely been amazing. All the support I have received through the BT Sport Academy has been phenomenal down to every little detail. I’ve worked on being sharp, fitness, strength and conditioning when I was in my sling and going over analysis - all those little things add up.”
Konkel isn’t the only female player benefiting from the BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy with 11 of tonight’s squad all training as Stage 2 players.
Everybody has a professional attitude regardless of the job title. People don’t see the hard work and commitment that goes in but each and every one of us gives their all in training down to the gym, conditioning, nutrition and sleep.
“All the tools we get through the BT Sport Academy, the Pathway and the Performance Development Programme … you can definitely see the difference; we are a fitter team and more skillful team and now it’s just about piecing all that together and putting a performance on top.”
And performances are what Scotland Women are focused on during this year’s Championship and improving with every game.
Konkel explained: “If you can show that you’ve had a fantastic performance as a squad against a strong team regardless of the outcome, then I’d definitely take that as a win for us.
“Obviously we want to go out and win. We are forever improving on the pitch, our tempo is picking up, our skills are picking up.
“If you compare our performances from where we are now to where we have been then you can see the massive improvements that the new structures in place are having for us as a squad.
“We’ve got 200 girls in the Performance Development Programme and the Pathway combined. That’s going to be a great platform for these girls in the future for when they step onto that field and sing the anthem.”
Support Scotland Women at Broadwood Stadium tonight (kick-off 6.35pm). Tickets available HERE and also on the gate.
Adults £10, U18s and senior citizens go free as do Scotland Season Pass holders. Tickets are also valid for Scotland U20 v Ireland U20 (kick-off 8.30pm).
All Scotland Women’s game will be streamed live on Scottish Rugby TV HERE following Six Nations' commitment to broadcasting all games live on TV or online.