Two top Scottish women rugby players – both with solid Borders connections – have been signed to the professional ranks by top female French outfit Lille Metropole Rugby Club Villeneuvois (LMRCV).
The partnership between Scottish Rugby and LMRCV will see Chloe Rollie and Lisa Thomson play in the French Top 8 this season, alongside international teammate Jade Konkel, who moved to the club earlier this month. The contracts are for one year initially.
Rollie and Thomson will become full-time Stage 3 players in the BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy and will be available for Scotland Women selection, making them the country’s newest professional female players.
Villeneuve d’Ascq, based in northern France, near Lille, were crowned Top 8 champions in 2016 and were runners-up in the 2017 final against Montpellier.
Thomson (19) has earned 12 Scotland Women caps since her debut in the 2016 Six Nations and captained Scotland Women 7s to win the 2017 Rugby Europe Women’s Sevens Trophy.
The Edinburgh University centre, who grew up in Hawick and played for Murrayfield Wanderers and Melrose, said: “Becoming a full-time rugby player is something I’ve always wanted. It came around a bit quicker than expected. It’s good for the women’s game, as it gives the young ones something to aspire to.
“We went out to the club in June and were impressed with the facilities. Everyone was really welcoming and the captain was so passionate about the club. It sounds like a great team atmosphere.
“Playing in the Top 8 is going to be a good test. It’ll be a consistently high standard, week-in-week-out, and we’ll have a lot more rugby-based training over there with team and gym sessions every day.
“Training in the BT Sport Academy and the national set-up for the past two seasons has given me a solid foundation to take this next step in France, so I’m grateful to everyone who has supported me along the way.”
Full-back Rollie earned her first Scotland Women cap in the 2015 Six Nations and has been a standout ever since, scoring a brace against Italy in the side’s second win in the 2017 Six Nations.
She made her debut for Scotland Women 7s in 2016 and featured in the side which won the 2017 Rugby Europe Trophy to gain promotion to the Grand Prix competition.
Born in Edinburgh and raised in Jedburgh, the 22-year-old moved to Murrayfield Wanderers from Melrose.
Rollie said: “Being a professional rugby player was always my absolute goal, so it’s really a dream come true. When I got offered this opportunity it was an amazing feeling.
“Jade made history when she became the first professional female player, so to be added to that list alongside Lisa is unreal. I hoped it would happen but I didn’t know when or if it would.
“I’m just looking forward to getting over there this month and training with the squad. I think it’s going to improve me as a player and Scotland Women as we can hopefully bring our experience back to the national team.
“My family are so happy and proud. They’ve seen the hard work over the past few years and supported me in my younger years, taking me to training and watching all my games, so this is a reward for my family as well.”
Scottish Rugby’s head of academy and performance programmes, Stephen Gemmell, said: “Scottish Rugby’s partnership with LMRCV demonstrates our continued innovative approach to developing our talented players and offers a unique chance for Lisa, Chloe and Jade to play for one of the top clubs in the elite women’s competition in France.
“They will continue to be supported by Scottish Rugby as Stage 3 players in the BT Sport Academy and we’ll work closely with the club to ensure that they are improving on and off the field, thus maximising the opportunity of living, training and playing in another country and culture.”
Scottish Rugby’s head of women’s and girls’ rugby, Sheila Begbie, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for Lisa and Chloe to develop their rugby while also gaining valuable life experience in another country.
“All three are pioneers for women’s rugby in Scotland and show what can be achieved through hard work and dedication.
“Scottish Rugby is committed to growing and improving the women’s game at all levels – to have two further full-time female players alongside Jade is another step in the right direction.
“This is also recognition of the excellent work being done to develop our elite female players in the BT Sport Academy and the national team programme, which have benefited from Scottish Rugby investment.
“I have no doubt Lisa, Chloe and Jade will rise to the challenge in France and thrive in their new environments on and off the pitch.”