This September England will host the 2015 Eighth Rugby World Cup, which will see an estimated 2.3 million fans descend upon 13 different venues across the country to support teams from around the world. While you might not have much knowledge of the sport in general, most people will recognise the name Jonny Wilkinson and the glorious World Cup victory that was had by England against Australia back in 2003.
What many people are less likely to know is the impressive list of titles and facts held by the England women's team. For example, they won the Rugby World Cup in 2014 after beating Canada 21-9 in Paris, France. The victory followed a record-breaking seventh consecutive 6 Nations crown in 2012 as well as the Grand Slam. They also then became the first team EVER in 6 Nations history not to concede a try.
No longer a game for just the boys, more than 18,000 women currently play rugby in the UK, with it now being counted as one of the fastest-growing female sports in the country. And, when considering it offers a morale-boosting package of confidence, strength, fitness and discipline (not to mention unrivalled team camaraderie), it’s not hard to see why.
This week GTG sat down with England Women’s rugby star Natasha Hunt to find out about a typical week of training, tackling stereotypes and the trials and tribulations of gender inequality in sport.
GTG: How did you get into professional rugby?
Natasha: “I’ve been playing since I was 17 years old. I first joined the Malvern Angels then went on to play for the West Midlands and then for Lichfield and the England Under 20s. Originally, netball was my main sport but our team got split up so I decided to try something totally different and new. My family were also already big rugby fans so I just went for it - the camaraderie amongst the team is amazing.”
GTG: What does a typical week of training and nutrition look like for you?
Natasha: “We’re funded for what we do so it’s really important that we’re really on our game and are always driven to be better. Every month we’re ‘skin-folded’ to test our body fat percentage so we can stay on top of it - anything over 100ml suggests somebody might have let things slip a bit!
“We train four days a week for two hours on each day. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday I’ll do weights training, one day a week I’ll do some form of speed training, involving sprints or something similar, and then two of the days we’ll have skills training sessions that involve hurdles drills and skipping etc. We need to be able to move quickly and be light on our feet as well as strong.
“We also get help from an in-house nutritionist who gives us advice and recipes of what’s best to cook and eat - and great recipes we can make with our Nutribullet .”
GTG: How do you tackle stereotypes of women in sport, especially in such a male-dominated sport as rugby?
Natasha: “It’s actually really important to a lot of us that we try and change the perceptions about rugby and especially women’s rugby. It’s not all about physical contact, muscles and brute force. Generally though, it doesn’t feel like we get that stereotype anymore - it feels like people perceptions of women in sport are really changing. Even during the last Rugby World cup we experienced such a lot of great support that really opened up our eyes to how different the situation is becoming these days.”
GTG: Many sportswomen have to work full-time jobs alongside their sports career. How do you manage a work-life balance ?
Natasha: “It’s really hard. Before I became full-time for the team I worked as a PE teacher during the day. I’d get home from work around 6.30pm and then have to head straight to the gym for a group workout and then go back home to mark papers - it wasn’t great. You do have to make a lot of sacrifices and sometimes it does really get to you. Ultimately though, it’s totally worth it. Not many people can say they’ve pulled on a white shirt and represented their country in sport - so that’s what keeps us going. Plus, we love it so much - it’s our passion.”
GTG: As women, what could we do to help increase female presence in the sporting industry?
Natasha: “They need to support women's sport when it’s on to try and generate more awareness. The BBC showing all the coverage of the Women's Football World Cup has been a massive development. It’s a huge mainstream channel and was a great step forward for getting more people aware and involved. It’s really important that the media back women’s sport too as they can be so instrumental in helping to encourage people's interest and knowledge. Our presence is by no means where it needs to be but it’s definitely headed in the right direction.”
GTG: What would you advise young women do if they want to get into professional rugby?
Natasha: “First they would need to decide what form of rugby they want to get into - there’s so many different options; rugby Sevens, fifteens, touch or tag rugby. If they don’t want contact rugby then there’s also a lot of options out there. Even if you don’t want to do it professionally it’s such a great sport to get into because anybody can do it - whatever your shape or size there’s literally a position for everyone. It’s also a great way to meet people and keep fit.
GTG: Where do you stand on the topic of salary differences between men and women in sport?
Natasha: “The thing is there is such a massive difference in the revenue generated by the men’s and women’s teams in rugby. The men create so much more that they’re able to cover their salaries - whereas the women don’t, so we just aren’t in a position to argue for more money. We’re grateful to them too because currently we piggyback onto the back of their funding, so we need their help. It’s a catch 22 essentially - we need more people to come and watch the matches to generate interest and money, but currently people only watch for free as we need to get greater levels of interest first - we need people to want to pay to come and see us before anything can change. Hopefully with time things will develop and our pay will increase.”
The 2015 Rugby World Cup is officially sponsored by Coca Cola .