Student rugby experience has helped many Scots, including Meryl Smith

Meryl Smith was one of the stars of the show for Edinburgh University in 2021-22
©Rugby People

Scotland begin the 11,000-mile plus trip to Auckland today (Friday, September 23) ahead of their World Cup adventure in New Zealand during October and November.

And while lots has been made of the experienced core of the 32-strong playing group - there are 775 caps in there including five players with 50 or more appearances - there is also a lot of excitement surrounding the young up-and-coming talent who are heading to the big dance.

There are seven players aged 22 or under on the plane in the shape of front-row Elliann Clarke (21, one cap), back-row Evie Gallagher (22, 13 caps), front-row Anne Young (22, two caps), back-three player Shona Campbell (21, seven caps), centre Emma Orr (19, four caps), stand-off/centre Meryl Smith (21, three caps) and stand-off/centre Evie Wills (21, three caps).

Of those seven, three currently attend Edinburgh University and another two have previously been there while in the whole Scotland squad, there is quite a large number of former students who studied in the capital.

During their time there, they also all played rugby for Edinburgh University in the BUCS leagues and the programme for women led by Claire Cruikshank has gone from strength to strength over the years.

In 2017, Scotland World Cup squad members Sarah Law, Rhona Lloyd, Lisa Thomson, Katie Dougan and Megan Gaffney teamed up with ex-England U20 international Sally Stott and others to take the BUCS Championship trophy at Twickenham.

And, earlier this year, the aforementioned Young and Smith played for the university side that lost the BUCS Championship trophy final to Hartpury in Worcester with fellow Scotland caps Elis Martin, Eva Donaldson and Sarah Denholm involved.

Cruikshank will be heading to New Zealand with Scotland as part of a World Rugby internship and Smith, a playmaker who has excelled with Scotland Sevens, told TRU: “Being involved with the Edinburgh University rugby programme has been great for my development.

“We are all good friends and enjoy being around each other, but the programme also allows us to train hard and really work our rugby around our studies.

“Within the university programme, we are all young and ambitious and I think being around each other helps us and we push each other on to be the best players that we can be.

“To see so many current and former Edinburgh University students in and around the full Scotland squad is great.”

“It has been a bit of a whirlwind journey”

Smith, who spent much of her youth in the Netherlands and started playing rugby there, was seen by many as a talent before she even went to Edinburgh University.

In the summer of 2019, she made her Scotland Sevens debut just after completing her Advanced Higher exams at the Edinburgh Academy school.

“We went to Biarritz for a World Sevens Series event and it was an amazing experience and a steep learning curve too, but being in that environment left me wanting more of it for sure,” Smith explains.

“It was such a cool experience and having experienced players around me in that sevens squad who are also part of the XVs squad definitely helped me integrate as time went by.

“I started university in September 2019 and it has been a bit of a whirlwind journey since then. Being involved in the Six Nations this year was a bit of a milestone moment for me because I had been in and around the wider group for a while, but to be part of all the camps during the tournament and get my first XV’s cap off the bench against England at the DAM Health Stadium was an amazing feeling.”

Smith earned a second full cap off the bench against France later in the Six Nations and then was part of the Scotland squad that played in the sevens at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this summer.

A third XV’s cap came recently against the USA and while she has just started her fourth year of studying at Edinburgh University, that has been put on hold slightly by the upcoming World Cup experience.

“Over the last three years since I made my Scotland Sevens debut, I have just tried to train hard and keep learning and that is what I’ll continue to do,” she states.

“These are exciting times and I am just glad to be part of it all.”