Scottish Rugby have announced the appointment of Scotland internationalist Jade Konkel as the nation’s first full-time female rugby player.
The 22-year-old, 23-times capped number eight will now commit to life as a stage three player in the Scottish Rugby Academy, as part of the governing body’s commitment to developing the competitiveness of the women’s game.
Konkel will fulfil a full-time programme at Broadwood Stadium, Cumbernauld, but hopes to continue with occasional work as a veterans’ care assistant for former employer Erskine.
"I was very emotional when they offered me the role because it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do," she said.
"It’s difficult to find the words to describe how special this opportunity is to me.
"I’m relishing this opportunity and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got. It’s a huge honour to focus all my time and energy on becoming a better athlete, for myself and for Scotland.
"This the beginning of a new journey for Scotland Women with more investment and time being put into the game, following on from the appointment of a full-time coach and the support from the Scottish Rugby Academy that started last year.
“There’s a massive opportunity for women in this sport to grow and hopefully going full-time shows it’s definitely on a path to move forward.”
Born in Inverness and brought up on the Black Isle, Konkel grew up supporting her mum, dad and brothers at local rugby side Inverness Craig Dunain.
She made her first foray in the sport with the Northern Vixens before a move to Glasgow saw her join Hillhead/Jordanhill, though she eventually got the chance to team up with up with mum, Emma Konkel, in a one-off match back at the Bught Road club in 2014.
A player with a broad sporting skill set, Konkel also spent two seasons with national league basketball side, Highland Bears, represented Scotland in athletics for the army cadets (winning two gold medals in 2008/09 for shot put and discus) and has a black belt in the martial art Goshin-Ryu Kempo.
Konkel was one of 16 women selected in the second tier of the Scottish Rugby Academy at its 2015 inauguration, and is the first woman to be named in the full-time third tier.
Scottish Rugby Head of Academy and Performance Programmes, Stephen Gemmell, said: "Scottish Rugby Academy is an integrated pathway for the most talented rugby players, with today’s announcement an illustration that the only barrier is an individual’s ability and desire.
"We hope and expect it will be an inspiration to all women in the sport, however it’s important to understand that Jade has been selected on merit, based on her performances, attitude, commitment, and propensity to improve; as part of a national selection process alongside all of our identified talented players."
Scottish Rugby Chief Executive, Mark Dodson said: "This is a significant step for both Scottish Rugby and the women’s game and I’m delighted Jade is the first professional female player given her undoubted talent and passion for representing her country.
"This demonstrates our commitment to women’s rugby and focus on ensuring the athlete pathway can develop and support this generation of talented players."
Scottish Rugby also revealed plans for a new elite women’s scholarship, which is designed to attract established athletes with a proven track record in team sport to transfer their existing skills to Scottish Rugby’s women’s programme.
The scholarship recipients will be based at the most convenient of the four Scottish Rugby Academies: either Borders and East Lothian, Caledonia (Aberdeen), Edinburgh or Glasgow and the West.
The scholarships will be awarded annually with the possibility of studying full or part-time at college or university, where additional bursaries could be available.
Scottish Rugby Head of Women and Girls' Rugby Sheila Begbie said: "Women’s rugby in Scotland is a dynamic and emerging sport.
"I’m delighted that we’re now beginning to create opportunities to help Scotland Women compete on the European and world stages in the Women’s Six Nations Championship and potentially Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017.
"Our aspirations go beyond these two tournaments, which is why we are looking to move our top performers into full-time programmes and recruit female athletes, who have performed on the European or world stage, to help propel Scotland into the elite stage of women’s rugby over the next decade and beyond."
Applications are open for the Scottish Rugby Women's Scholarship until Friday 15 July.