Since picking up a rugby ball at seven years old, Lisa Martin’s dream was to play professional rugby full time, but a lack of resources and opportunities for women meant that it looked likely to remain a fantasy.
But after being awarded a Scottish Rugby Union contract to play for French club Lille Metropole Rugby Club Villeneuvois (LMRCV), the 28-year-old from Duddingston is well on her way to achieving her childhood goal. Lisa is one of eight Scottish women the rugby body have handpicked to give financial support, training and playing opportunities in preparation for the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2021.
The number of contracted female players has doubled since last year, when the deals, known as 2021 contracts, were awarded for the first time.
Lisa is one of five new signings who will now work as full-time rugby professionals. She is set to head off to play for LMRCV in the coming weeks.
Lisa, who worked as a performance sport co-ordinator at Edinburgh University until last week, was shocked when she was asked to join the ranks of Jade Konkel, Chloe Rollie and Lisa Thomson, who all played at the French club last season.
She said: “I was absolutely delighted, but the offer came out of the blue. I was gobsmacked for about 20 minutes. I’m really excited to test myself out in France and see if I match the other girls out there.”
The decision to leave behind friends, family and her long-term boyfriend back in Edinburgh was not straightforward, but in some ways it was the easiest she has ever had to make. “I had to process what the offer meant, but accepting the contract will repay the tough choices and sacrifices my family have made,” she said.
“Everyone is really proud.”
Lisa has captained her country for the past three seasons and has earned 41 caps in her rugby playing career. She led her team to victory against Ireland in the 2017 Six Nations in their first away win against the rival nation in 12 years.
It was a “huge moment” for the former Portobello High School student, who wants to test herself against the world’s most seasoned players and sees her time in France as the perfect training ground.
Lisa, whose dad played rugby during his time in the RAF, has dedicated herself to the sport, often missing birthdays and weddings to train and play.
She said: “A rugby schedule doesn’t always match up with a personal and family schedule.”
Senior women’s rugby is not “as cemented” as the men’s game, but Lisa sees it as an opportunity to forge a sport that is inclusive and exclusive to female players. She said: “Women’s rugby is never going to be a carbon copy of men’s, but it’s about creating our own identity. We do have extra challenges and hurdles to overcome.”
The other players are all supportive of each other and are a “bit of a family”, according to Lisa. “We’ve gone through the big highs and the tough lows but not many people can say they put their body on the line for other people,” she said.
Scottish women’s rugby is growing, with participation doubling last year. Lisa puts that down to increased visibility thanks to games being shown online and on sports TV channels.
She said: “Having it readily available is changing perceptions,” she said.