Shona Campbell’s journey through the women’s game

From being the only girl on the rugby pitch to representing her nation

Growing up with parents who ran the local rugby club, Montrose RFC, Shona Campbell never felt out of place on the pitch, despite for a while, being the only girl on the team. Now playing for both the Scotland women’s XV side and Great Britain sevens, we sat down with Shona to reflect on her journey through the women’s game.

Mini beginnings

“I would go down to the club with my
 mum, dad and brothers at the weekend and I eventually got bored of sitting around so just got stuck in with the boys,” Shona told us.

First picking up the rugby ball at just 5 years old, she soon got swept into the minis set up as one of the few girls in the squad.  

At age 14, Shona was still playing but explained that due to the very small number of girls, there was a lack of competition, and with more opportunities opening up through netball, she felt she had to make a choice.

“It was tough because I hadn’t fallen out of love with rugby, but I have always played sport because I want to be the best I can, and I want to be in an environment where I can really push myself.

“That just wasn’t possible for me in rugby at the time,” she explained.

Shona continued to play both netball and hockey throughout high school and went on to represent Scotland in the U17 netball squad. However, she never quite shook the feeling that she was missing out on the rugby front.

Rediscovering the game

After discovering touch rugby in her 5th year of school, Shona represented Scotland at U18 and Open level winning three European Championships. Before she knew it, she was headed to Malaysia for the Touch World Cup with the Scotland Mixed Open team, coming home with a bronze medal.

Since then, Shona has gone from strength to strength, being selected for the national U18s sevens side in her last year of school and then joining the U20 futures squad just before the pandemic hit. Post-pandemic, she was invited to join Six Nations training camps and joined the squad for the 2021 competition.

It wasn’t until the November, however, that Shona would be capped for Scotland’s senior women.

“I got my first cap in 2021 against Japan when I really didn’t expect it which was amazing and to be in front of a home crowd too was so special,” she said.

Prior to this, Shona had also been selected to represent GB sevens and would go on to make history in the summer of 2022 as part of Scotland's first-ever women’s side to compete in the Commonwealth Games Rugby Sevens.

Paving the way

Reflecting on her experience of being a woman in a male-dominated sport Shona told us that she felt grateful to have started in a set-up that never made her feel out of place. She does, however, recall one particular incident whilst away at a primary school rugby tournament.

“In school, I was the only girl on the team and when we arrived at that competition one of the PE teachers looked confused at me being there and told me there were no changing rooms for girls,” she told us.

Whilst Shona was confident in herself and her sport at that time, she explained that incidents like that definitely gave her a knock.

“It really is simple things like access to changing facilities which can present a barrier to girls taking part in sport. The more barriers we can remove the stronger the future of women’s sport will be.”

When Shona transitioned to the High School of Dundee, the head of rugby thankfully never questioned her participation and actively encouraged her to get involved with the boys.

"He always told me that there was no reason I couldn't train with them and that they'd just have to get used to it.

“Figures like that have been so key in building my confidence and reassuring me that there was a place for me in rugby.”

The next generation

Back to where it all started for Shona as one of the only female minis, Montrose RFC now has a full competitive girls section.

"That is so cool to see because it's not actually been that long since I was there, and they now have an actual pathway for girls who want to play rugby.

“It's great to see how much it is being normalised now and how many girls are able to get involved," she expressed.

Changing the narrative

Considering the momentum behind women’s rugby, it can be surprising how much scepticism and negativity players still face, Shona explained.

“I still meet people who are shocked that Scotland has a women’s team,” she said, “but you can’t let that overshadow the huge amount of support the women’s game now has and how quickly the narrative around women’s sport is changing for the better.”

Shona and her teammates are fiercely passionate about growing the women’s game and inspiring the next generation.

“We regularly go into talk with girls in schools and clubs and just really get the message out there that rugby is an option and that they can become a professional in this sport.”

For Shona, she feels lucky to be in the game at a time when the women’s side is growing so rapidly.

Off the back of her performance with GB Sevens in 2021 and Scotland XVs during the 2022 Six Nations and Rugby World Cup, she was offered a professional contract with GB Sevens on the World Series.

"So many young boys grow up aspiring to be a professional rugby player, but I never thought that was an option for women because I wasn't seeing it," she expressed

"It's amazing that in such a short space of time that has become a reality for me."

Olympic aspirations

2024 has already been jam-packed for Shona having been out in Australia and the US with GB Sevens earlier in the year leading straight into Six Nations preparations with the Scotland squad’s campaign kicking off tomorrow.

“There’s so much going on this year, but my main focus is on trying to get selected for the Olympics,” she told us.

“I’m trying to enjoy this season as much as I can and really soak up the excitement of building up to Paris with the squad.”

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