Student Sporting Insight #08 – Maëlle Picut

Born in France and raised in Hong Kong, Maëlle Picut made the life-changing decision to pursue her passion for rugby and academics by embarking on a journey to the United Kingdom to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Sport Science.

Maëlle discovered her passion for rugby while in Hong Kong, where she devoted ten years to the sport. Her talent and dedication stood out, leading to her selection for Hong Kong’s U14’s, U16’s, and U18’s teams, as well as training and competing with the national XV and 7s women’s teams during her gap year.

Whilst studying at Renaissance College, Maelle led Hong Kong to victory in the Dubai Junior Sevens Tournament in December of 2016, where they battled opponents India, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.

Continuing her promising rugby career in the United Kingdom, Maëlle represented her university’s rugby team whilst pursuing her bachelor’s degree. The talented flanker captained her university team to Championship glory in 2022, winning the coveted Women’s National League (WNL) Title.

With a stint at Premiership Women’s Rugby side, Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, Maëlle’s impressive playing career in the UK culminated in a remarkable achievement when she was selected to represent France in the 2023 Women’s Six Nations Championship.

Student Profile

Name: Maëlle Picut

Nationality: French

Institution: Durham University

Degree(s): BSc Sport Science

We recently had the opportunity to speak with Maëlle to gain insight into her experiences, challenges, and triumphs as a student-athlete in the UK. Find out how she was able to play elite-level rugby alongside her university studies below.

What attracted you to pursue your degree in the UK and what was your process when you applied to university?

I grew up in Hong Kong and always had the vision of pursuing my further education in the UK, just like the majority of international students in my high school.

I was attracted to the level of academia combined with the integrated sporting culture that exists within British Universities. My application process was facilitated through research and talking to alumni, to get an idea of the different universities out there.

One of the girls I played rugby with in Hong Kong recommended Durham for its rugby, it was the same year that DUWRFC were in the BUCS final. I applied and was offered a sports scholarship. Which ultimately led me to pick Durham University, combined with the fact that I was interested in their sports science programme.

During your time at Durham University, you captained the rugby club, leading the team to the Women’s National League title. How was your experience with the club and competing at the top level of UK university sport?

Before starting my third year, our coach asked me if I would be interested in captaining the women’s team, and without hesitation, I agreed.

I really loved this experience, although I don’t think I realised how time and energy-consuming it would be. But I learned a lot during the process, especially with the arrival of 6 international sport scholars who were recruited to play for DUWRFC, they added so much to our team.

The BUCS programme is so impressive and essential for the development of young athletes who also want to pursue higher education but still play their sport at a high level. This is not the case where I am from, so I am grateful to have been able to play and study simultaneously.

During your degree, how did you find it balancing your studies with your sporting commitments in rugby?

In all honesty, this is a challenge that a lot of student athletes are faced with. Not only do you have to balance sport and academia, but you also want to have a minimum level of socialising outside of your sport and there are only so many hours in the day. With this is mind, I specifically chose to study a course which are very understanding of the sporting requirements when they assigned work and deadlines.

At times, I would have two trainings a day, so I would bring my food and work to MC and work there all day in between trainings to maximise time. That being said, I think the added pressure was also a distraction and enabled me to fully focus on what I was doing in the moment; whether it was sport or work.

What was the highlight of your time studying and competing in the UK?

I think the weeks leading up to our semifinal were memorable. We had just won the league and were so excited to play. The team identity was created and we had formed a family together, a process which can take months.

My studies were going well and I was almost at the end, with only my dissertation left to hand in. It was a a great time, the sun was out and training was full of smiles.

You were recently called up for the French national squad for Women’s Six Nations receiving your first caps for your country, can you describe the feeling of representing your country in a major tournament?

The feeling is very unique; you have a vision and a distant dream that suddenly becomes a reality and you have very little adaption time before you are expected to become ‘an international player’, a new and daunting identity.

Playing in your colours, in front of your family, and in front of your country is a surreal feeling that I will always cherish.

Would you recommend the UK to prospective international students looking to play sport alongside their studies?

Definitely! There are even scholarships and dedicated funding to help overseas athletes come and experience British universities.

You will get to play at a high level, graduate with another degree and experience a whole new culture and lifestyle with long-lasting friendships too.

Follow in Maëlle’s footsteps!

Want to pursue your academic and athletic ambitions at a university in the UK?

The Student Sport Company can help! We proudly work with the UK’s leading sporting and academic institutions and are able to offer international students of all ages the opportunity to pursue their education at all levels of study.

Learn more about the benefits of studying at a UK university or register your details for our free service via the link below.

Please follow our social media channels to keep up to date with all things sport related across the Higher Education sector!