Six Nations: Trail blazing, tenacious and tough tackling team player Jade Konkel hits half century

By Gary Heatly

No.8 Jade Konkel has been a key player for Scotland now for many years and in many ways her own character embodies the way the whole squad goes about things.

Everything she has every got out of rugby she has had to fight hard for and earn while she has never been afraid to push herself out of her comfort zone.

That started around a decade ago when she began making the long drive from the Black Isle to Glasgow regularly to play for Hillhead/Jordanhill and continued when she was first capped off the bench versus England as a 19-year-old in 2013.

In 2016 she became the first ever female rugby player in Scotland to be given a full-time professional contract by Scottish Rugby and that meant her upping sticks to France to play at the top level with Lille Metropole in 2017.

For a girl from the Highlands, it was a bit of a culture shock at first, but she knuckled down and enjoyed the experience out there, testing herself week in, week out on the pitch and learning French off it alongside her Scotland pals Chloe Rollie and Lisa Thomson.

In more recent times she has been a standout player for Harlequins down in England in the Allianz Premier 15s competition and has balanced those commitments with becoming a qualified firefighter with the London Fire Brigade.

And, last month, she earned her 49th Scotland cap – and made the World Cup at the third time of trying – as the national team defeated Colombia in Dubai to make it to the showpiece event in New Zealand in October and November.

Still just 28, cap number 50 is set to arrive on Saturday in the TikTok Women’s Six Nations opener against England at the DAM Health Stadium in Edinburgh – so what do this trail blazing, tenacious and tough tackling team player’s family and friends make of her reaching this milestone?

“I am just so pleased for Jade, when she sets her mind to something she does it”

Jade’s mum Emma has been her biggest supporter since day one alongside her husband Steve.

They will be at the DAM Health at the weekend and Emma said:  “I am just so pleased for Jade, when she sets her mind to something she does it and from the first time she picked up a rugby ball she wanted to play for Scotland.

“For her now to be doing it for a 50th time alongside some of her best friends in a Six Nations match in Edinburgh is just amazing and of course they have the World Cup to look forward to.

“Jade is so focused though that she won’t even be thinking about that just now, she will purely be focused on this England game and it is going to be great to have family and friends there – including her dad who is just back from working in Brazil – to cheer her on, we are very proud.”

Rugby was in the Konkel family because Steve played for the Inverness Craig Dunain club and then, once the fourth of four children was born, Emma decided to start playing for the women’s team there too.

 It meant that their four children – boys Paul and Steven and girls Sammy and Jade – spent their weekends on the touchline and Jade was keen to give it a go around the same time as her mum stopped playing in 2002.

“There wasn’t a junior section at Craig Dunain at the time, so she began playing at Highland, but she was the only girl and stopped after a couple of years,” Emma, who managed to come out of her own rugby retirement to play a special game alongside Jade a few years ago, explains.

“Basketball then became her main sport and while she was at Fortrose Academy she played for the Highland Bears in Inverness and loved that.

“Plockton High School did have rugby for girls, so she played a couple of games for them in her teens and took every opportunity she could to get involved in rugby.

“She just wanted to keep her rugby going and as soon as she was 17 and got her driving licence she started driving to Glasgow to play with Hills. As a parent I was nervous about her driving so far, but it just showed how much she wanted it and she met some great people at that club.

“Whatever she puts her head to she picks up very quickly and, soon, she was moving to Glasgow to study and ger rugby just kept getting better and better.

“I never dreamt that she would play for her country, let along get 50 caps, so this weekend is just going to be a fantastic occasion.”

“She supports and empowers the people around her on and off the pitch”

 Another fantastic occasion will come this summer when Jade gets married to fiancée Helen Roberts.

The pair met a few years ago when Jade relocated to London to play for ‘Quins and Helen moved to the big smoke for a teaching post.

And although from Welsh heritage and grown up in Durham, Helen is now one of Scotland’s biggest supporters!

“When it comes to rugby, I’m now a committed Scotland fan through and through,” she jokes.

“As for rugby knowledge, I knew basically nothing when I met Jade – I’m still learning and Jade is very good teacher. I think she would argue that what I lack in knowledge, I make up for in enthusiasm!

“Jade approaches everything in life not just with tenacity, but with great integrity too.

“What we see on the pitch manifests in every other part of her life.

“She supports and empowers the people around her on and off the pitch. She’s a brilliant friend and, despite being the busiest person I know, always makes time for people.

“Be it friends, family or a young fan who is just starting out on their rugby journey, she will always make time to support and help others.”

“I am immeasurably proud of her balancing her firefighting and rugby.

“I’d say I don’t know how she does it, but I do, it’s because she’s Jade.

“She’s incredibly passionate about both firefighting and rugby, and, by nature, she always strives for excellence. It also helps that she’s the single more organised human I’ve ever met too – her meal prepping and scheduling is next level stuff!”

They say that great minds think alike and Jade and Helen both had the idea in their heads to ask the other to marry them during a sunrise breakfast in the South Downs in the middle of December 2019.

“I really believed she was going to be so astounded I’d proposed and she acted like she was… until 10 minutes later when she got out a ring and proposed to me,” Helen recounts.

“And now I actually can’t put into words how proud I am ahead of her 50th cap. I’m really lucky that I get a front row seat to her amazing achievements, but I also get a front row seat to all the hard work that goes into it – she has relentlessly pursued these goals her entire career and to see her achieving them is beyond words.

“All the planning for the wedding is done – I did say Jade was organised – and I can’t wait to call her my wife. But first… bring on the Six Nations!”

“Jade is a great leader, she deserves the success she is having”

Heather Lockhart and Donna Kennedy are two of the best female players Scotland has ever produced – and they are pleased to have watched Jade’s rise to this point.

When Jade started driving down the road to play for Hills, prop Heather was there while they also played together for Scotland on a number of occasions together.

“When Jade first came to the club she was obviously young, but you could see that she had talent straight away and her enthusiasm for the game was second to none,” Heather recounts.

“She just loved playing and she was always asking questions and wanting to learn. Once she moved to Glasgow and was training more her game moved up a notch too and to be capped by Scotland at 19 you have to be doing something right.

“For her it has been nine long years of trying to get to a World Cup, so I was so chuffed to be commentating via BBC ALBA on the Colombia game because the whole team was controlled, Jade played well and it meant so much to them all.

“Jade is a great leader in the current set-up, she deserves the success she is having.”

Donna, the most capped male or female Scottish player of all time with 115, was a No.8 like Jade.

“I was lucky enough to coach Jade in the early part of her career when she was with the Scotland under-20s,” Donna explains.

“She was presented to me as a prop and I said ‘no, no, she is going to be a future back-rower that one’, she had all the physical attributes needed to excel there.

“Her desire, her attitude, her power and her skill stood out from day one and I could always tell she was going to go far in the game.

“She has always pushed herself in her career to get better and I like that in a player.

“This may be her 50th cap, but there is still a lot, lot more to come from Jade Konkel and it will be brilliant to see her at a World Cup later in the year.”

Head along and support the team in the 2022 TikTok Women’s Six Nations as tickets for both of Scotland’s home fixtures are on sale now.

Adult tickets are £15, Under-18 tickets at £5 and U12s can attend for just £1 with a paying adult ticket. Secure your tickets here

Thanks to Jade’s family for the photos, the main one shows her and her mum playing their one and only game together – a special moment