I was fortunate enough to go to John Cleveland College in Hinckley which had a big interest in rugby. There were a lot of boys at the school playing rugby, many of whom went on to do quite well in the sport, which is thanks in part to the school and to its links with Hinckley Rugby Club.
I was already participating in a lot of sport and when I reached Year 10; one of the PE teachers at the school started to really encourage the girls to have a go at playing rugby too. It was soon introduced as an extracurricular activity, with girls at the school invited to play Touch Rugby. The school introduced it just to see who would come along, and there were about 50 girls who wanted to sign up from the off.
I tried it and absolutely loved it, eventually going down to my local club, Leicester Forest, and didn’t really look back from there. By the time I was 17, I had to decide which sport I should focus on if I was going to really excel in one, and I decided that rugby was the sport for me.
There were so many aspects of playing rugby that appealed to me – I loved the contact as I’d never experienced this with any other sport that I’d played, and I also loved the camaraderie. It felt like it was a social occasion as well as a sport – you’re playing with your friends week in, week out, which was a big factor for me.
Playing rugby came quite naturally to me and while there was a long way for me to go, I could see the improvement in my game week-on-week which helped to encourage me. I was also on a great team – I’ve always played alongside Emily Scarratt (England Centre) and so to have someone who was so fantastic and who everyone knew as “the one who was going to play for England” playing with me was a huge help. In the gym and conditioning sessions, I’d try and join in with her – even though she was much better than me, I always strived to be as good as she was one day.
We train pretty much all year round, but once the season’s over, we have to have a five-week break – two weeks of complete rest and three weeks of slowly getting yourself back into it. Last year I was really lucky and went on holiday twice in this period – to Thailand for two weeks complete rest, and to Spain for a week. While I love enjoying the rest, my boyfriend sometimes gets annoyed as it’s still a pre-requisite of choosing a holiday that there’s a decent gym that I can get to. It’s a mindset thing for me, as I will also feel better in myself if I exercise, even if just for a quick 20-minute session.
You need to be at a specific fitness level when you come back into training and, for England, there are fitness tests throughout the year, so you need to remain at a certain level of fitness. When you go back after your time off, you have to get back into the pre-season training regime that nobody looks forward to because your body just aches and you feel sick because it’s so hard.
On a Tuesday and Thursday, typically the girls with full-time contracts would be with our clubs, and then we would do evening training sessions as well. We have the morning to ourselves and then start training at around 1230, when we work on our ‘individual development plans’. All of the players have one of these, which sets out the skills and areas that you need to work on personally throughout the season. These chop and change, and you have regular meetings with the coaches and with the England Rugby staff to continually review them. We’ll also work on skills such as passing, which can last for up to an hour or so, and then we’ll do a gym session for around an hour to an hour and a half.
In the evening, we train with the rest of the club from around 7.30pm. These sessions start with a meeting, and then at 8pm we’ll go out onto the pitch and train for around an hour and a half. Typically, our heavier days are on a Tuesday and a Thursday; on a Tuesday there’ll usually be a lot of contact work and, on a Thursday, it’ll be more team tactics and getting the team ready for games at the weekend. We still have to do more gym work and conditioning on top of this, and make sure we’re getting the right recovery time. On a Friday we’d be doing lighter stuff and making sure we’re prepped for the following day because we’d usually have a game, and then on a Sunday I try not to do a lot!
Throughout the season, the sets and reps change according to what’s coming up – elements such as how difficult the games are looking and if there’s a block of games for England will influence this, so sometimes we’ll be lifting lighter weights and doing less reps than on other weeks. This is set at the start of the season, and the strength and conditioning coaches at both the club and at England will work alongside one another to make sure that the sessions are marrying up to the schedules for both.
I love food, so when I have some time off I love doing things like going out for brunch and coffee with my friends, or having a nice dinner out in the evening. What I choose to eat depends on my mood, but I absolutely love sushi and Turkish food.
When I’m training, if I have a longer day I’d probably start the day with something like porridge with blueberries or banana, which helps to keep me going for longer. We’re usually in training around lunchtime, so I often take quite a few snacks – things like biltong, fruit, nut bars and drained tuna. I usually than have my main meal when I get in from training with a typical dinner would be salmon or chicken and vegetables, though I like to have something different every day. I seem to crave savoury treats more than I do sweet ones now that I’m a bit older, and I absolutely love lentil chips with hummus – I could eat a whole big bag if I get distracted! It’s all about balance though, so I don’t deprive myself of anything really.
If any women are thinking that they’d like to give playing rugby a go, I’d tell them to go for it. It’s a brilliant sport to be involved in – it’s enjoyable, sociable and gives you a great opportunity to work on fitness and strength. I think its empowering for women to be strong and you can see that women are interested in this from social media, and from the female influencers who are making their mark from showcasing their strength and fitness abilities, and this goes hand-in-hand with playing rugby.
It’s also so easy to get started in rugby and there are lots of different types that you can try. You can give it go by joining one of the free women’s Warrior Camps taking place across the country, which is a great entry-level session combining fitness and basic rugby skills. If the contact side of the sport isn’t for you, you can try playing touch rugby instead – O2 Touch runs all around the country pretty much every week, so you can just find your nearest club online and go along and give it a go. Just go and give it a shot!
England Rugby has created the Inner Warrior campaign to encourage women nationwide to have a go at playing rugby, with free Warrior Camps running up until 9th February. To find your nearest Camp, please visit englandrugby.com/innerwarrior.
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