Prospect of fourth Rugby World Cup excites Scarratt

World Rugby Women’s 15s Player of the Year 2019 Emily Scarratt talks about switching from sevens to 15s, forsaking another Olympic Games and the potential of appearing at a fourth Rugby World Cup.

In Tokyo last month, Emily Scarratt joined fellow England international Sarah Hunter in becoming a recipient of the World Rugby Women’s 15s Player of the Year award.

Talking to World Rugby, the 29-year-old goal-kicking centre reflects on a magnificent 12 months as well as looking forward to what the next year has to offer.

It was unbelievable to get that recognition. At other award ceremonies I’ve been to, the winners generally know beforehand, but I was totally in the dark on this occasion. When you look at the names of the four other nominees – Sarah Bern (England), Pauline Bourdon (France), Kendra Cocksedge (New Zealand), Katy Daley-Mclean (England) – and a lot of the names that didn’t make that list, you understand where the women’s game is at now and the strength of it. How people pick one individual person out of a team spirit, I’ll never know. I obviously owe a lot to the other girls.

The last time I came back from sevens, after Rio, it took a while for me to get back into the groove of playing 15s; I was quite rusty.  It takes a while to adjust because of the differences but, thankfully, this time around (2019) was a lot smoother. I tried not to think about it too much, which helps, and just get back out there playing rugby. Importantly, while I was still playing sevens, I was also watching a lot of 15s and keeping up to date with the game because it’s constantly changing and moving on.

It was always going to be a tough decision going back into 15s from sevens in an Olympic year. It did take a while to make my mind up. Ultimately, I had to think about what was more important to me in terms of a potential Olympic Games and a potential World Cup and what would I most want to strive towards. I’d always grown up playing 15s and that was always in my heart if you like and as I am getting older it is becoming more apparent sevens is a younger person’s game. I’m not far off 30! It is fantastic that the girls have qualified on behalf of Great Britain to be at the Games, and I’ll be supporting them all the way.

Sevens is one of the most fickle and toughest games I have ever been involved in. Genuinely there are probably eight or nine teams that can beat one another on a given day. You’ve got 14 minutes and there aren’t many second chances given. I think all the teams going to the Olympics will be going all out to put their best foot forward. It’s a standalone tournament, and you get one shot. The medals are going to be so fiercely contested and it’ll come down to such fine margins as to who gets them.

Captaining GB at Rio is one of those experiences that’ll sink in once I’ve retired, in three years or whatever. Obviously, I feel super proud and privileged to have been in that position but it’s not something you think about too much. We missed out on a medal which was heart-breaking at the time, but the overall experience was something I’ll never forget. I remember when we pulled up to the Olympic Village and the size of the place took me aback. I’d no concept of what it would look like or be like. To walk around and see the mass of colours of all the nations represented and all the diversity in the group of athletes, covering all the sports from all over the world, was just phenomenal.

I think Tokyo 2020 is going to be unreal. Rio was the first time sevens was part of the Games and they did a fantastic job hosting it. When you look at the World Cup and see how the whole of Japan was totally consumed by it, I’ve no doubt it’ll be exactly the same for the Olympics. It could be a phenomenal occasion, and I think sevens is going to play a huge part in that. Sevens is such an attractive sport and perfect for something like the Olympics, plus the standard of the sevens game in both men’s and women’s is going through the roof.

Every time I step out onto the field I just want to go out and enjoy myself. When the weather is miserable and cold in January/February, you do kind of question your decision to go back to 15s when the other girls are in sunny Sydney or wherever, but I do love playing 15s, it’s what I grew up with.

The potential to go to a fourth World Cup really excites me. Everyone knows how big a deal rugby is in New Zealand so for them to have the opportunity to host the biggest competition in the women’s game is very, very special for them. I know they’ll do an awesome job and it’ll be supported really well. We lost to New Zealand at our home tournament and again in 2017 as well, so while we’ve got to take everything as it comes at us, there is a hell of an opportunity for us to go out there and turn that around. I know its super-cliched that you learn more from your losses, but I also believe we can take a lot from our Super Series defeat to New Zealand in the summer. It came at an important point in the four-year cycle leading into the next World Cup.

The next World Cup has the potential to be the best yet. USA and Canada are making huge strides. We’ve always known they are blessed athletically, but they are really now starting to get hold of the rugby side of things, which is kind of a scary thought with the size of their population. I expect those guys to keep pushing on and the ability of New Zealand and France is without question. France have got a lot of firepower. Someone like Gaelle Hermet does a hell of a lot of work for them at the breakdown and in her ball carrying. Once that squad starts to really galvanise itself, they’ll be hard to stop.

From an England perspective, we’re incredibly lucky in that we’ve got a whole range of talent throughout the squad which is super exciting for us. You’ve got your Sarah Berns at one end of the scale in terms of her ball-carrying ability along with Hannah Botterman; they are new-age props who can break the line and run almost as fast as anyone on the field which is quite scary.

Full-time contracts make a huge difference. When rugby is your job it’s all you have to focus on. I think more countries will follow suit which can only be good for the game. Playing in bigger stadiums, attracting big crowds, having games on TV and the coverage the women’s game is getting on websites and in newspapers is all helping to drive the game forward too, as is the Tyrrells Premiership in England.

We’re not going to jump straight from Sandy Park to packing out Twickenham just yet, probably not during my lifetime as a player, but it’s definitely doable, and hopefully, when it happens, I’ll be in the crowd cheering the girls along. You saw the Lionesses in the football pack out Wembley. They’re probably a little bit further along in terms of their development but would they have dreamt of that 10 years or so ago?  

My ‘wish-list’ for 2020 is for Loughborough to win the Tyrrells Premier 15s title and for England to win another Grand Slam. Is that too much to ask?

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