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FEATURE – England Women on balancing work and rugby

06 February 2013

  • England Women speak about the challenge of balancing work and rugby
  • Danielle Waterman and Emily Scarratt say the reward is worth it

“Challenging” is one word that crops up a lot when speaking to the stars of England Women’s team about the day-to-day balancing act between work and rugby.

Unlike Stuart Lancaster’s side, which is made up of full-time professionals who get paid week-in-week-out to play for both club and country, Women’s Head Coach Gary Street has been tasked with building an England side from players who work normal jobs outside of rugby. Farmers, vets, teachers, students, police officers and small business owners are just a few of the professions within Street’s squad and with the team being scattered all over the country it’s no surprise that time is precious when it comes to training.

“Our reality is 6am training sessions and 9pm at rugby clubs at night, sometimes lunch time sessions with the girls and often strange places for training in the day time – we are away from home a lot,” says Street. “It means we have to be really spot on in every training session and with the detail of the training we do with them. We don’t have any flabby long sessions that we say “we’ll cover the rest tomorrow” as we sometimes only have 40 minutes with the girls before one of them has to go off and calf a cow or something! It keeps us focused on our training.”

With the small amount of time available to get together and train, the results so far are nothing short of astonishing. The England Women’s team have won Grand Slams in six of the last seven Six Nations tournaments and overturned Scotland 76-0 in the first of their games in this year's tournament. They whitewashed world champions New Zealand in last autumn’s test series and have not lost since November 2011 where they were beaten 16-15 by France.

England scrum down against Scotland

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Two day training camps, which include four core training sessions, are often the longest amount of time the team get together ahead of major international matches. When not meeting up to train under the guidance of Street and assistant coach Graham Smith the players train with their local clubs across the country, a factor that England full back Danielle Waterman believes is crucial to the development of the squad.

“It’s challenging having a full-time job alongside all the training that we do but it’s what we do, I definitely would not change my life. It’s not a sacrifice it’s a choice,” said Waterman, who is currently sidelined with a fractured foot.

“We have got a fantastic amount of support outside the England camps with the EIS (England Institute of Sport) with physio and strength and conditioning and we also train and work with our club coaches and do individual skill sessions. We are able to do a lot of training on our own in our pockets of the country and then come back to England camp and focus on specific skills that Gary and Graham have been working on.”

For prop Sophie Hemming, a vet in Bristol when playing for England, the commitment needed to play for her country means that her spare holiday time is dedicated to it.

“It’s challenging, I always feel I am juggling weekend rotas fitting in early morning training sessions,” she said. “I am really lucky with the practice that I work in, in that my bosses are really understanding. I still do the same as everybody else and they have been really good if I need to swap a weekend on call or I need to get cover so I can play a club match they are fantastic with that.

“I use all of my holiday. I am on holiday now, for this interview even! The New Zealand Test Series was also my holiday, but I choose to do that. It's what I love.”

Emily Scarratt runs through the New Zealand defence

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Long weeks at work combined with early mornings and late evenings mean that the pressure can mount up on the players ahead of big games. Although they are all used to the demands, England centre Emily Scarratt says that family and friends are key when handling the workloads.

“It’s difficult as there’s a lot of pressure on our time,” says Scarratt. “We want to put everything into our training so we can move forward and ultimately be the best we can be in our rugby career. We know the situation we are in and know the pressures we are under and it’s something we cope with, we deal with and learn to live with.

We get on with it and move forward with it. Friends and family are really supportive, they appreciate if don’t want to go out on a night out because I have had a tough week working and training and just want to curl up on the sofa in front of X Factor!”

Although head coach Street expects full commitment from his players, he also understands the importance of the support network behind them such as families and friends. The utter professionalism showed by the women involved in England’s setup though is something he believes is making them great examples of how athletes should behave at an international level.

“The big secret with our success is that we couldn’t do it without support of everybody behind us and everybody understanding the demands of what it means to be an international England Women’s rugby player. They are great role models in sport and the amount of time and effort they put in makes my job worthwhile.”