Exclusive: Team GB and Scottish Rugby star Hannah Smith talks transitioning between 15s and sevens

Hannah Smith

Becoming an international rugby player is an admirable achievement in itself, but Hannah Smith has pushed her boundaries even further. A vital member of Scotland’s 15s team, the centre also competes in sevens and is now looking ahead to this summer and the prospect of representing Team GB in Tokyo.

In an exclusive interview with GiveMeSport Women, Smith talks about transitioning between union and sevens, dealing with the disappointment of the postponed Olympics and balancing rugby with life as a trained veterinary surgeon.

To go from playing rugby union to sevens is a lot harder than it may seem on the surface. Both are technically forms of the same game, but the strategy and skills involved are completely different. Asked about these distinctions, Smith admits that at times it’s challenging to interchange between the two.

“It’s tricky”, she says. “In terms of 15s for Scotland we’re all about playing really flat, and then you come into sevens and you’ve got to really hold your feet and watch out on defence, so it’s hard moving between the two at the same time.”

Smith was quick to praise her coaches for both Scotland and Team GB however, who’ve made the process of switching a lot easier for her personally.

“We’ve got so many good coaches and support staff who are great encouragement so it is easier than I thought it would be to transition between the two.”

With Team GB training for Tokyo at the moment, the 28-year-old also praises the British team for doing their best to keep spirits high in camp. The impact of the pandemic has meant a number of restrictions have been imposed on the players, including segregated mealtimes, but coaches have implemented a weekly session known as “forced fun”, which has been well received.

“We have at least one session a week called ‘forced fun’ except it’s not really that forced because everyone enjoys it. We do stuff like rounders or dodgeball and that’s where you’re getting your big social interaction from.

“The girls are so easy to get along with so it’s actually been fine and not tricky to come into at all. Everyone’s been so friendly and so welcoming, so it’s been really easy.”

Hannah Smith

This is not the first time Smith has been part of a Team GB camp. The Scot was picked for last year’s Olympic squad before the Games were postponed and concedes it was difficult to process at first, having looked forward to that moment for so long. The key to getting through these tough times though was trying to keep a positive outlook.

“With everything else going on in the world, you have to put it into perspective,” she stresses.

“We were able to just take a bit of a backseat and I was still working so I was busy with that, and then just keeping as fit and healthy as you can really, knowing that [my] time will come again.”

Regarding her preoccupation with work for most of this taxing period, Smith is a trained veterinary surgeon but has now taken a sabbatical from this career to focus purely on rugby. While the centre loved her day job, the decision to step away was easier than anticipated.

“I got to the point where this decision was kind of made for me because I wasn’t able to balance all the Scotland calendars,” she reveals.

“I was working long days where I was on feet all the time and by the time I got to training at night or in the morning I was just knackered, so to actually be able to have that time now has been great, and in terms of my body [its] made the world of difference.”

Interestingly, Smith didn’t get into rugby the conventional way. Indeed, she only began playing at the age of 17, after joining Stirling County –– the same club as her brother Matt, who is now contracted to Glasgow Warriors.

“I started quite late but I’ve absolutely loved it ever since,” Smith exemplifies. Questioned on whether she prefers 15s or sevens, it’s the latter which is her slight preference. That being said, the Scot points out the improvement of her national team in recent years, best highlighted by their result against England in the Six Nations recently, where Smith herself got on the scoresheet.

“I certainly do see an improvement, especially in training. The intensity level we train with is so much better now. Being able to hold out England as we did in the first 20 minutes was great so it’s these small positive wins that we’re going to keep focusing on for now.”

Asked the all-important question of whether she’d pick a Six Nations trophy or an Olympic gold medal, Smith understandably cannot decide. One thing that’s for sure though, is regardless of whether she’s playing 15s or sevens, you can guarantee she’ll give it her all.

Hannah Smith was speaking to GMS alongside Jaz Joyce and Celiah Quansah as part of the teams partnership with Red Bull. For more information please visit redbull.com

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