Women’s 6N: “I just want to keep being part of this journey with these amazing team mates and friends,” says Elis

Gary Heatly

When she came onto the field with 18 minutes remaining of the Guinness Women’s Six Nations opener in Wales last weekend Elis Martin was coming into a pressure cooker situation on what was her tournament debut.

Starting hooker Lana Skeldon had been injured, so Martin came on in the key position and helped Scotland record a 20-18 triumph.

There was a lot going on, but 24-year-old Martin showed great composure to help the team over the line.

“We were always confident,” Leicester Tiger Martin said after the nailbiter at Cardiff Arms Park.

“When I was sitting on the bench I had a quiet sense of confidence too. It wasn’t clicking 100 percent, but we did some really good things and I was excited to be a part of it when I came on.

“It was very physical, their big ball carriers were getting going and they were putting in a few shots too, but I think we handled it really well and we made it all about us.

“We had focused on ourselves all week before the game and we kept doing that in the closing stages and it showed where we have come from and where we are going to get the result.

“To play in a Six Nations game was a great feeling and I just want to keep working hard and keep being part of this journey with these amazing team mates and friends.”

Saturday was Martin’s sixth cap in total, she has been involved in every matchday squad since Spain last year and has played in five of the seven games that has seen Scotland create a record in terms of unbeaten Tests.

There was drama in Cardiff without doubt, but nothing will ever be as dramatic as Martin’s debut back in August 2022.

Martin, who is on a professional contract with Scottish Rugby, takes up the story:  “I hadn’t been involved with the national team squad at all until about six weeks before the Rugby World Cup later that year when I was brought in as an extra player to help out at training.

“I was only going to be in a day a week to start with, but I had a knee niggle at the time, so I missed the first three weeks of that spell.

“As a result, after getting some training in, I didn’t think I’d have a chance of being in the group kept on for the USA and Spain Tests [the latter was subsequently called off due to the passing of the Queen].

“However, I was kept in and was part of the wider group preparing for USA.

“I trained on the Monday of that week and was then told I wouldn’t be required for the match, but was to start looking at Spain to help preparations for the following week.

“I wasn’t even to be involved versus USA as 24th or 25th player on matchday, but I got a call on the Friday from team manager Ellen Dickson telling me that [replacement hooker] Jodie Rettie was feeling a bit sick, so I was to come in for the captain’s run that day.

“That was just to fill in on that day and nothing else, so I did that, but Jodie was there and feeling a bit better, so I just headed home afterwards.

“I then went out to meet my friends for one of their birthdays and was all set just to watch the international as a supporter the next day.

“On the Saturday morning at 9am Ellen phoned me again and said ‘we ned you to play today versus the USA and you are probably going to get on, so please come into camp as soon as you are free’.

“I was just like ‘oh my God, but yes of course’!

“I got a taxi to Oriam and just made it for the lineout walk through and then got handed the number 16 jersey and all the kit, it was crazy.”

A few hours later Martin was coming off the bench at DAM Health Stadium as it was then – Hive Stadium now – but to keep a strange few days going she came on as a hybrid hooker/back-row.

Rachel McLachlan had replaced Louise McMillan at half-time, but an injury to the former saw Martin coming on after 56 minutes.

“I was playing hooker in the scrums, but back-row in the lineouts, it was pretty crazy,” Martin admitted.

“It was the strangest, strangest day, but one of the best of my life.

“We lost the game [21-17], but my family had managed to make it through to watch and after the final whistle I just remember running over to my mum and giving her a big hug.

“Neither of us could believe what had happened, it was very surreal as was getting my first actual cap alongside Elliann Clarke, but you have to take chances in life and I am just glad I was able to take that one.”

Sport is full of highs and lows – that USA week alone shows us that – and soon after Martin missed out on selection for the Rugby World Cup squad that would be heading out to New Zealand.

Martin was naturally disappointed and headed off to Ireland for a break, but when she returned head coach Bryan Easson called her to say that Evie Gallagher was injured and she had been added to the squad.

“There was a whole mixture of emotions at that time because I was gutted for Evie and I was excited for myself, again it was all a bit surreal,” Martin recounts.

“No one else in the squad knew I had been called up until we did the pitch walk at an Edinburgh Rugby men’s game a few days before departure, so they were surprised to see me, but made me feel part of things straight away.

“While I didn’t get to play out in New Zealand just being at a World Cup and learning every day made me feel more confident as a player and changed my mindset a bit, making me think I really wanted to push on and become a regular in the squad.

“It has taken time, but I have worked and worked and worked to get to where I am and having been part of the group for over 18 months now and now having six caps under my belt I really want to kick on and make my mark.

“The coaches around me and the players – especially fellow hooker Lana Skeldon – have helped me so much and put faith in me and it has given me more confidence in myself too.

Martin took up rugby when she was 15 with Hillhead Jordanhill in Glasgow and post-school moved on to Edinburgh University where she spent six years studying and learning more about the game at a senior level.

Spells with DMP Sharks and Heriot’s Blues followed before the big move to PWR outfit Leicester Tigers last summer.

“Being in and around the Leicester and Scotland squads over the last few months has been brilliant for me,” she stated.

“They are both great environments in which to push myself and it feels like everyone has each other’s backs which is a key thing in a team sport.

“I am feeling good on the pitch and away from the pitch just now and I’m looking forward to what is to come.”

Thanks to N50 Photography for the main image and Elis herself and Leicester Tigers for the others

During the Guinness Women’s Six Nations period through to the end of April, GH Media will be covering all aspects of women’s rugby in Scotland via reports, features and interviews…

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