2016 may be the year that sports fans look back on and say “that was the moment that changed women’s rugby”.
First came the introduction to the Olympics register, then came full-time contracts for England’s elite XV a side women, and now the rebrand of their team – now known as the Red Roses. As exposure grows, particularly as media becomes more and more led by news makers rather than agenda setters, it will become apparent that women’s sport – and specifically in this case women’s rugby – will only become more popular.
#RedRoses was circulating on social channels on Wednesday as Women’s Sport Week continued apace. But is it just a catchy piece of marketing? The RFU are certain that it is much more. Rather than being an afterthought – the Red Roses are now a unit, a culture, a team to get behind. Women’s rugby in England has an identity. They believe the upshot will be more fans in stadiums, more television and radio audience, more participation, and a real sense of pride and togetherness for the England Women.
Gilbert has been a long term supporter of the women’s game, including supplying the ball to the last Women’s Rugby World Cup, and the playing kit to the (former) RFUW team at the 2006 WRWC. We have also made significant developments on our women’s range, including balls, body armour and clothing specifically adapted to suit the women’s game. Then there is our sponsorship of one of the Red Roses current stars, Amber Reed.
Reed plays her club rugby for Bristol and up until this year was working as a PE teacher. However, having been awarded one of the 16 full-time contracts by the RFU, things have moved on significantly, allowing her to focus 100% on rugby.
“I am already physically feeling the benefits of training.” Reed said as we caught up with her on the day of the Red Roses launch. “The training load hasn't really increased from last season but the time for rest and recovery has significantly increased. This gives you time to recover better, so you feel fresher on the next training day, train harder and maximise the benefits from the session.”
Recovery of course is a key factor for all rugby players. The game, whether women’s or men’s, is getting faster, stronger, and more competitive.
“It's great to be able to take my time with these sessions this season” the centre come fly-half continued.
So what does a typical day look like now for Reed and her full-time teammates, now that the days of school playing fields, detentions and after school clubs are over?
“The biggest challenge for me has been managing the down time between sessions. Last season I was constantly on the go, balancing my career as a teacher with life as an international rugby player. Nowadays I am up around 7 and head to the gym for a quick bike session before breakfast (favourite meal of the day). All the girls come in and do prehab together, completing our individual programs based on our injuries or screening scores.”
And is it then a case of taking the rest of the day to chill? Not a bit of it.
“Our morning sessions are generally speed / strength based out on the pitch for an hour then into the gym for weights. About 11.30, grab some lunch then have a bit of down time, which usually consists of watching TV or catching up over coffee. We have a meeting before training to review or preview a session then head out for rugby in the afternoon.”
Reed became a World Cup Winner in 2014 as England lifted the trophy in France. Does the victory allow her a sense of satisfaction to this day?
“The WRWC was a fantastic experience and to come out with a gold medal topped the whole thing off. We had a phenomenal group of players and prepared well for the tournament over the year. I didn't play as much as I would have liked but I was a young player on the squad and I was behind, in my opinion, the two best centres in the tournament - Rachael Burford & Emily Scarratt. The moment will always be special.”
2016’s big year for rugby included the return of rugby in the Olympics. Both men’s and women’s events produced some spectacular action – did Reed manage to catch any of it?
“I spent the first 6 days of the Olympics glued to the 7s action! The Team GB men and women both did themselves, and Great Britain proud. I was absolutely gutted for the girls coming 4th, being that close to coming home with a medal. However, they should be proud of what they achieved on the pitch and the legacy they have helped to create off it.”
But what does a legacy mean in real terms? And how have administrators gone about ensuring the growth of the game?
“There are more women and girls playing rugby than ever before which is fantastic. There is much more media coverage and support which has been a contributing factor to this. One of the biggest changes has been the emergence of professional contracts to 7s players across the world in preparation for the Rio Olympics. More recently, the RFU has invested in the 15-a-side form of the game awarding 16 full time and 16 short term contracts alongside 16 part-time 7s contracts. This is massive for the game.”
There is always the tendency to compare with other sports, and 2016 has been a banner year for a lot of them – the Women’s Super League in football gaining lots of mainstream attention and the inaugural Kia t20 Super League in cricket to name just two – is rugby in as good a place as those sports?
“Rugby is definitely heading in the right direction, especially with the new central contracts and the rebranding of the England Women's Rugby team as the #RedRoses. I think it still has a way to catch-up with Football but this will happen in time, with more media coverage and support from the Governing bodies and clubs.”
And where does Reed see the sport in 10 years time?
“I think we will get to a point where there will be a professional women's league and closer links with the men's clubs. The standards will be higher than ever before with more competitive internationals, live games on TV and a bigger emergence of role models to inspire future generations. It would also be great to see more teams competing at the Women’s Rugby World Cups.”
For Amber Reed now though, it is all about making the most of the brilliant chance in front of her. She realises the unique position she is in. “I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to do the sport I love and also call it a job. Now heading into this 12 month countdown our sights are now firmly set on being the first England Rugby side to retain consecutive World Cups.”
It’s time for Reed to get down to business.
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