With a resounding World Cup victory in the bank, a new full-time sevens programme underway and the 2016 Rio Olympic Games fast approaching, England Women are on the rise and mean business. One of the stars of the game and a member of the full-time sevens squad, Emily Scarratt spoke to The RPA about the World Cup triumph, her new life as a professional player, the RFU’s new strategy for women’s rugby and how she spends her spare time away from the sport.
Firstly Emily congratulations on the World Cup win, has the achievement sunk in yet?
It still feels very surreal, I have been asked that question a lot recently and I really believe it will take a long time to hit home. When it does though, I’m sure it will give us all a reality check of what we actually achieved in France. It was an amazing performance, not just by the players but by everyone who was a part of the team and by everyone who gave their support at the games and back home in England.
What’s the secret behind this England team’s success?
I know it may sound very cliché but I really do believe it’s because we have been through such a lot together and we’ve been able to learn from these experiences and grow stronger and stronger as a team. We were beaten in the 2006 and 2010 World Cup finals, therefore as a team we were all very determined to make sure whatever happened we didn’t finish second best for the third time in a row.
The squad were recently invited to 10 Downing Street to be recognised for the achievement, can you explain what that experience was like?
It was absolutely amazing! When the Prime Minister, David Cameron, entered the room you really had to pinch yourself to make sure what was happening wasn’t a dream. To get recognition like that and to be able to go to a place such as 10 Downing Street, was truly fantastic and we are all very appreciative for the support.
Women’s rugby recently got another boost with the announcement that England’s Women’s Sevens players will turn professional athletes under a new full-time programme. In your opinion how important is this step for the game?
It’s a huge step and obviously coming off the back of the World Cup win, the interest in women’s rugby and women’s sport is at an all-time high, so it’s a significant moment for the game. The new programme will now provide all the extra funds and training facilities which will allow us to train properly and spend much more time doing the one thing we all really love which is playing rugby. It will also give young girls playing at grassroots level the pathway and the dream that they too might be able to become a professional rugby player and personally I think that’s a massive achievement for the sport.
Did you ever think something like this would happen in the Women’s game?
I guess I have always hoped that it would but until it actually happens you are never really that confident that anything will ever transpire. When we all received the news, it was such an exciting moment though because we have all wanted something like this for such a long time and therefore we are very keen to make it work and function to the highest capacity.
Joining 19 other players in the programme, how excited are you to now be considered a full-time rugby player, training day in day out with your teammates?
I think it’s an awesome feeling knowing that I’m going to be spending a lot more time with my close teammates in a programme designed to make us all better rugby players. It will allow us to forge stronger partnerships and develop as individuals, which is a very exciting thought knowing that’s our new life.
The programme will be led by Head Coach Simon Middleton and the RFU’s Head of Women’s Performance Nicola Ponsford, how important do you think these two be will to the setup?
Nicola has been fantastic, she was one of the people who helped get this programme up and running in the first place and therefore she will have a huge impact. Simon is an awesome coach and was with us at the World Cup, where he showed some of his brilliant ideas and techniques. Both are very passionate about what they do and both have put so much work and thought into this programme.
How will the new full-time programme affect your own personal situation, will you have to give up your day job?
Yes unfortunately I will have to give up my PE teaching role at King Edward’s School in Birmingham, but this is a such a big opportunity so there’s no way I could turn it down. To be in a squad training for Olympic qualification, is an unreal thought and as much as I loved my teaching job, this is an amazing and exciting chance for me to hopefully represent my country at the Olympics.
You mentioned the Olympics, do you think this programme will bolster Great Britain’s chances of winning gold in Women’s Sevens in 2016?
It will massively help our chances no doubt. As an England squad we will be hoping to qualify on behalf of the Great Britain team and that’s one of the main reason’s this programme has been put together, to give us the best chance possible. If we can get ourselves into a position to qualify and qualify well, then this programme will be already working as a success.
Along with the sevens programme, the girls will also be required to play Premiership and international matches, do you think this will make the workload too much?
No, it’s been very personally managed, we’ve been given a really well planned calendar which outlines when all the Sevens tournaments, England Internationals and clubs matches are scheduled. It’s been very carefully managed in terms of what games needs to be played where and when, so for me personally I’m still extremely excited.
The RFU also recently launched their new women’s strategy which aims to increase playing numbers to 25,000 by 2017. Do you think this is possible?
I personally think it’s more than possible to increase the playing numbers especially given the recent World Cup success. They are working off the best base they have ever had, in terms of the publicity and exposure the women’s game has seen and hopefully because of that more girls will want to play the game. Along with the new professional setup, I think we have a really good opportunity to get the women’s game right up next to the men’s in this country, and that’s why this is the perfect time to start.
In the wake of the new strategy, what part of the women’s game do you think needs the biggest help?
I think the domestic side of things, right down to grassroots level needs the most work. I think we need to work on getting more girls into clubs and then for more clubs to enter more squads into women’s leagues. I think school’s need to play a big part in the development as well, because we need to see more schools linking with clubs and helping girls find out which is the best local team for them.
We read that at the age of 16 you turned down a basketball scholarship in the USA, how happy are you that you decided to stick with rugby?
I’m very happy, it’s definitely worked out pretty well (laughs). At the time it probably wasn’t a decision I took all too seriously, but I think now that I have a gold medal around my neck and have a full-time contract, I certainly think I made the right call.
Away from the rugby pitch what do you like to do in your spare time?
Well recently spare time has been non-existent (laughs), but I love playing other sports such as tennis and I also really enjoy cooking and making good food. I also try and spend as much time with friends and family and catch up as much as possible.
And finally, if you could offer one piece of advice to a younger player what would it be?
Just to enjoy yourself and throw yourself into as many things as you can, so you can improve your game on the pitch and your life off it. Always work hard at training, and be happy because I think when you’re enjoying yourself your game will also improve.