Kiwi-born Molly Wright has returned home to play for Scotland against the Black Ferns in the Rugby World Cup. She tells Kristy Havill of her long, winding road from Reefton to Edinburgh, and back.   

West Coaster Molly Wright’s rugby career has been a stop-start affair. 

Born in the old gold mining town of Reefton, the 31-year-old Wright has lived and played on three different continents, before eventually settling in Edinburgh – where her travels have culminated in wearing the Scottish thistle on her chest. 

As Scotland women’s rugby enters an historic new era of professionalism, Wright has a front row seat to it all. Quite literally, playing hooker. 

But she’s never forgotten her roots, and now she’s returned home – playing for Scotland in the Rugby World Cup kicking off in New Zealand in just a week’s time. And she has the Black Ferns firmly in the crosshairs as she hopes to line up against them in their pool match on October 22 in Whangārei. 

All 12 nations in this World Cup have now arrived in New Zealand, and are preparing for the first weekend of games, starting with a triple-header at Eden Park next Saturday (over 30,000 tickets have already sold, making it a world record crowd for a women’s World Cup match). Scotland will head to Whangārei for their first clash, against Wales, Sunday week. 

As far as stories go of how she got into rugby, Wright’s is not an uncommon one. 

At the age of four, she picked up the oval ball and started to make the two-hour round trip on Saturday mornings to Westport. Her father was coach of the team, and Wright was one of only a couple of girls playing boys’ rugby. 

It was a routine that continued throughout Wright’s childhood – her passion for the game blossoming as she and her male counterparts moved through the age groups together.  

But at 14, Wright was no longer permitted to play with the boys, and it wasn’t feasible for her family to travel to Nelson or Christchurch every weekend so she could play in girls’ grades. 

Her only other sporting option was netball – which she’d tried when she was younger and hadn’t enjoyed. But this time she had no choice. It wasn’t until a high school exchange to Canada in her final year she laced up a pair of boots again.  

“I was going to live in Canada having not played rugby for ages, so thought I’d try something new and play soccer,” Wright says. 

“But the school rugby coach said ‘You’re from New Zealand you’ll come and play rugby for us’.” 

Thanks to her coach’s foresight Wright was back where she belonged, and for the first time in her life playing in an all-girls’ rugby team. 

Molly Wright playing against Italy in the Rugby World Cup 2021 Europe Qualifying tournament. Photo: Getty Images

When she returned to New Zealand, she shifted to Dunedin to study a bachelor of physiotherapy at the University of Otago. Wright played for her hall of residence, Arana College, in her first year, and got her first taste of women’s rugby for the University team. 

She also made a positional switch from the midfield to hooker.  

“One of the coaches at University said I’d have a better shot in the front row,” Wright explains. “At the time it was a big technical change, and the mindset you have in the game is very different.” 

Higher honours soon beckoned – for Otago and then Canterbury in the women’s provincial championship, known today as the Farah Palmer Cup. 

Like many Kiwis in their 20s, Wright moved to London, courtesy of her Irish passport, and enjoyed travel and meeting new friends. 

But when her friends on two-year visas returned home, Wright shifted north to Scotland, in January 2017. 

An international career, though, nearly didn’t happen – Wright had to be pushed out the door of her flat to join a local rugby club.  

“Adult friends are hard to make, so I got a kick up the backside from one of my flatmates to go out and get back into rugby to meet some people,” she says. 

It turned out to be a fairly handy club who acquired her services, and Wright made an immediate impact as Watsonians reached the final of the Sarah Beaney Cup in 2018 – scoring one of her team’s two tries, albeit in a losing cause. 

Wright and Watsonians went one better in 2019, clinching the title at the famed Murrayfield Stadium; the Kiwi named player of the match. 

“Scotland is my home, but New Zealand is where I grew up and still a huge part of who I am.”

After attending national training camps and serving the three-year residency period for eligibility, the call to play for Scotland finally came in January 2020, and Wright boarded a plane to Spain.  

“It was very surreal,” Wright recalls. “It was sunny and hot, the stadium was full with Spanish fans, who are class. It was Spain who knocked us out of our last World Cup qualification attempt, so that was always in the back of our minds.” 

Scotland ran in six tries and won, “and I managed to get a driving maul try, so it was a pretty epic experience.” 

Her debut in the Women’s Six Nations soon followed, coming off the bench against Ireland and England – before the Covid pandemic halted international sport. 

As a practising physiotherapist, Wright soon found a bigger purpose than rugby to see her through the uncertain times. She worked on the frontline for the NHS, aiding patients in their rehabilitation from the disease. 

YouTube video

Wright on her new home as part of the Scotland team. 

Rugby resumed for Scotland in October 2020, with a thrilling 13-13 draw against France in the Six Nations. However, the remaining two fixtures against Wales and Italy were cancelled as the pandemic flared up again. 

After two false starts, it wasn’t exactly a fairytale outing for Wright when the Six Nations started a new edition in April 2021. 

Wright came off the pine as Scotland lost 52-10 to their English counterparts, but she quickly found herself back on the sideline in the naughty chair after a high shot on England player Vickii Cornborough in the 64th minute. 

“You just get absolutely rinsed by your teammates, and at my first training back afterwards it was ‘Right Molly, you’re up first for tackle technique’,” she says. 

It took six months for Wright to serve her three-match ban – a downside to the irregularity of women’s rugby schedules. But she’d finally served her sentence when the team travelled to the Rugby World Cup 2021 Europe qualifier tournament in Italy, where they met Italy, Spain and Ireland.  

The winner progressed directly to RWC 2021, while the runner-up needed to contest the Final Qualification tournament at the beginning of 2022. 

After losing to Italy 13-38 in the opening match, and clung on in the last few minutes against Spain for a 27-22 win, to keep their hopes alive against the women from the Emerald Isle. 

“Had Ireland beaten us and got the bonus point for tries they would have gone through ahead of Italy,” Wright remembers. “We think maybe where they stumbled was looking for tries and not to win the game, and we stole it from them in the 81st minute.” 

Italy went through to RWC21, and Scotland went straight to the final of the Final Qualification tournament up against Colombia in Dubai in February.  

“They were a much lower ranked team than us, but that didn’t mean we didn’t take the match seriously,” Wright shares. “We had 80 minutes to empty the tank, but it was a very different level of stress to the tournament in Italy.” 

Their 59-3 shellacking ensured Scotland’s ticket to New Zealand – their first pinnacle event in 12 years. And 2022 was about to get even better for Scotland Women, a watershed year in their entire history.  

“For them to see a woman who’s going out and being successful in sport and that’s her job, is something totally different from the experience I had growing up.” 

In June, the national governing body announced its four-year strategy for women and girls rugby, including 36 players receiving financial support to train fulltime for 11 weeks in the run-up to RWC 2021. 

As the total investment by the Scottish Rugby Union climbs from £1.6m to £4.1m over the next 12 months, it includes the creation of 30 professional contracts, which Wright says is nothing short of life-changing. 

“Physio for me is a hugely emotionally draining job,” Wright reveals. “People come in and are in pain and want you to do something about it. So they offload their mental stuff on you while you’re trying to help them physically. 

“The emotional energy you have to put into somebody to help them get better is huge. I now don’t have to give that emotional energy to my patients, so I can put it into rugby or recovery or spending time with friends”. 

It’s one thing to receive the investment and professional contracts, but the willingness and desire by players to prove every penny is well spent will be a rippling undercurrent through the entire team. 

“Even without the funding it’s a privilege to come in and play sport at an international level, and it’s not something we take for granted because we’re only able to do it for a small window of our lives,” Wright says. 

“But to able to make that our job and push for us to be the best is going to be special. It feels like we have this opportunity, and we want to make the most of it so that you can see what investment will do for the game. If we can put in the performances off the back of that investment, that shows what it can do for subsequent years.” 

So how does it feel for an expat Kiwi to return to her homeland to represent a different country?  

“Scotland is my home, but New Zealand is where I grew up and still a huge part of who I am. So I’m excited to go back and play rugby there,” Wright says. “It’s the first time my parents will be able to come and watch me play a test match.” 

As well as the Black Ferns, Scotland are grouped with Wales and Australia, in what will be the first time many players will come up against opposition from the Southern Hemisphere.  

And rest assured the women in blue won’t be there to make up numbers. 

“At minimum we’re looking to make the quarter-finals, which means winning at least two games,” Wright reveals. 

“If we can win those first two games [Wales and Australia], anything can happen in the third and then in finals footy. 

“We’re a team that gets better as tournaments go on, so we need to be successful early to give ourselves that platform. We’d like to come in and ruffle some feathers because I don’t think much is expected of us.” 

It’s not just women and girls back in Scotland Wright is hoping to inspire with her and her team’s on field exploits over the coming months and years. 

The girl from Reefton remembers all too well what it was like to come from a small town and have access to fewer opportunities, or to look around and not see many other individuals from small towns succeeding globally. 

“As a player for Scotland, I’d like to leave the jersey in a better place than when I found it,” Wright states. “But coming from a small town there’s not a lot of opportunity you can see. 

“The fact that what we’re doing is becoming more visible will hopefully mean young girls and boys from those places can look to try and achieve big things. 

“For them to see a woman who’s going out and being successful in sport and that’s her job, is something totally different from the experience I had growing up.” 

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