Johnston bid to make Olympic history

Scotland star in Rio rugby sevens selection battle

Sporting rivalry can be a swiftly-changing and confusing concept sometimes, just ask Steph Johnston.

The Scotland full-back is locked in a battle to write her name in the history books as the first Scotswoman to become a Rugby Sevens Olympian.

To do so, she had put aside the previous rivalry with English and Welsh teammates in the GB squad.

But, having played alongside some old friends and made some new ones in training camp, fresh rivalries emerged.

At their first official outing in Kazan, the squad was split into two teams: the GB Lions and GB Royals, with the squad members pitted against each other in a quarter-final tie as the battle for places heated up.

Johnston, 30, was disappointed to be on the losing side but had the consolation of bagging a late try.

The intense competition between the teams has now been put aside again as the squad is fined tuned, with a final final training trip to Tignes, in France the last stop before Rio.

And the heat will be on before the final 12 is named on July 19, when the squad will be divided once again into those going and the dozen left behind.

It’s the last stage in a four-year quest that has seen Stephanie play in Australia to develop her game, move south and take a year away from her job as a vet in Coventry to join the full-time Team GB set-up.

This was followed by warm-up matches as part of a GB Select in Dubai, Las Vegas and Vancouver.

However, Johnston didn’t find it too difficult to settle in, as she had already made the move South to play for Worcester.

She said: “I was playing alongside and against a lot of these girls week-in week-out. You do get to know each other well when you’re doing that and that really helped in the programme.

“I knew most of them before we started so there is already that knowledge of each other and a basis to build a friendship on.

“I have made really good friends within the programme and there are a few girls I will definitely keep in touch with when it’s finished which is really nice.”

For the moment though, the squad is walking a tightrope of team spirit and a common goal and individual desire to book that coveted seat on the plane to Rio.

The squad has moved to Sport England’s elite performance venue Bisham Abbey. Once home to Tudor monarchs, Johnston is hoping to make a bit of history herself.

She cites the recent warm up in Kazan, where they competed as Team GB for the first time at a top tier tournament, as her favourite moment so far.

She said: “I feel I’m in the right place for me at the moment. I’m peaking at the right time and scoring lots of tries which is always a nice  feeling. That’s been the highlight so far.

“At the moment, it’s a case of working as hard as I can. I’m doing everything I can.

“You want to know you have got no regrets going in to selection and I can hold up my hand and say that I have done everything possible.

“The coaches are very happy with where I am and they know I am working hard for it.

“I was fortunate that I was quite fit going into the programme. I had a good base level of fitness there.

“For me it has been abou improving on skills and game understanding and just getting the opportunity to play alongside some real world class players and learning from them. That’s where my game is most improved.

“Going to the tournament in the GB select team in Dubai was special as was winning the plate in Kazan. It’s nice to see all your hard work pay off.

“I was a vet before and worked a lot of long hours I really loved that job but knew I had this year to give it a full go. I’m enjoying every minute of it. Long may it continue.

“It will be good to get back into fifteens eventually but for the moment I’m enjoying a bit of fast rugby in the sunshine as opposed to muddy, cold rugby up in Scotland.”

With D-Day looming, Stephanie is desperate to be part of a historic moment for the game, which has come a long way since it was invented by a Melrose butcher over a century ago.

She added: “It is a great opportunity for the sport as well. Sevens is such an exciting game and lot of people will not have been exposed to that before. They will know nothing about rugby sevens. Hopefully it will be a big eye opener.”