Women’s 6N: “Whirlwind” 12 months has set Elliann Clarke up for a big 2023

By Gary Heatly

When Bryan Easson, the Scotland head coach, named his 36-strong squad for the upcoming TikTok Women’s Six Nations last week, he was keen to point out the exciting batch of young talent that is coming through in this country.

One of those young players is tighthead prop Elliann Clarke and Easson said of the 22-year-old who has two caps under her belt to date:  “Elliann is one player that is really exciting for me, she is showing good improvements.”

This time last year Elliann, wo is originally from Fife and now plays for the University of Edinburgh, had just recently been brought into the wider Scotland squad on a part-time basis to give her a taste of what rugby at the top level is like.

She clearly impressed because the player became more and more a full-time member of the group before being handed a full international debut off the bench against the USA last August at the DAM Health Stadium.

Off the back of that, Elliann was then selected as part of the squad that went to the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand late last year where she earned Scotland cap number two off the bench against Australia.

Heading into this year’s Six Nations, Elliann is looking to play her first game in the tournament while her younger sister Rhea, an uncapped 19-year-old scrum-half, is also in the mix to be involved.

“It really has been a whirlwind 12 months when I sit down and think back on it,” Elliann, who is now one of 28 Scottish Rugby contracted female players, said.

“From joining the squad for experience and to help with numbers at training early last year to then making my debut against USA seemed to go by in a flash.

“And then suddenly I was in New Zealand at a World Cup, it was all a bit surreal, but exciting.

“Fast forward to now and it is pretty cool to be in the same Scotland squad as my sister, we play in the same uni team, so to now be in this environment together is very exciting for myself and the family.

“I am very happy for Rhea because she has worked really hard to get to this point and if we were ever to play for Scotland together it would be an absolute dream, I’d love for that to happen.

“Both of us just have to keep working hard and learning and I think everyone in the group is really looking forward to the Six Nations.”

“Rugby was just really good fun with my friends from an early age”

So, how did Elliann’s rugby journey get going?

“When I was around five I just got chucked into the Dunfermline Minis with my brother Callum and I have stuck at rugby ever since, I love it,” she explains.

“All my family have had connections with rugby over the years, my Dad played and both my Grandads did too, so it was something that I could talk to them about while it was just really good fun with my friends from an early age. I also liked the teamwork aspect of things.

“After leaving the Minis, I was at Queen Anne High School and there wasn’t much girls rugby going on at the time, so I’d travel to places like Montrose and across Angus to get games with whichever teams needed me.

“When I was around 15 I started to play for Stirling County and it was a great environment to go into, there were so many girls there and the coaching was really good, so it helped me take my game on.

“As time went on, Mum and Dad [Adele and Malcolm] used to run in from work and then take [myself and Rhea] across to Stirling and we are always thankful to them for that.”

Elliann had a successful time with County and her under-18 team won the league and Cup double one year and backed it up with another Cup triumph a couple of years later.

The team had the chance to play at BT Murrayfield twice – “an amazing experience” – and by the end of her junior rugby career Elliann had been involved with Scotland under-18s.

Under-20s recognition would soon come after she started to study at the University of Edinburgh in 2019 for a degree focused on animal and agricultural science.

Now in her fourth and final year of that course, Elliann has loved balancing that with her rugby and, when her time studying was affected by the pandemic, she headed back from the capital to the family home just outside Saline in Fife and kept herself as fit as she could.

“It is a unique environment here”

 As mentioned, by early 2022 Elliann was starting her Scotland adventure – and what an adventure it has been so far.

“It was quite daunting coming into the wider squad part-time at first, but everyone was in good spirits having just qualified for the World Cup and everyone helped me out,” she recounts about being brought into the wider set up a year ago.

“It is a unique environment here, there is no higher level to be playing at in Scotland and as a young player you just learn every day and want to get better by working hard.

“Tighthead is the position I am concentrating on most.

“[Regular starting tighthead] Christine Belisle has been absolutely brilliant with me, she has helped me with the technical aspects of the position and all other parts of my game.

“Coming into this level, the props you are coming up against are much more physical and technically sound than what I had been used to, so it has been a steep learning curve, but I am getting there.”

Two moments for her highlights reel have come in recent times.

On her Scotland debut, Elliann came on and won a penalty during her first scrum in international rugby and, more recently, she and Nikki Simpson and Scotland squad mate Eva Donaldson teamed up for her to score a brilliant try for the Thistles.

“When I went into my first scrum with Scotland  I was saying in  my head ‘I can’t mess this up, there are too many people here watching’. I managed to get into a good position along with the rest of the pack and we managed to get on the front foot, to win that penalty was one of the highlights of the day,” Elliann says about her intervention against the Americans last August.

“And I really enjoyed that try [the Celtic Challenge one against the Irish Combined Provinces XV at the DAM Health last month].

“I think it was more fear that I wouldn’t make it to the line that was driving me on more than anything else! I couldn’t see anyone around me, I thought I was on my own, so I just focused on getting there and scoring.

“The Thistles has been great, just to have that level of training and that level of coaching available to a greater number of players is a good thing.

“The environment bridges the gap between club and uni rugby and the international scene and it will help all of the players that will be aiming to make that step up going forward.”

Keep an eye out on GH Media’s channels for comprehensive coverage of all things Scotland throughout the TikTok Women’s Six Nations…

Thanks to Elliann for the images included within this feature