Alicia Lucas has already made Olympic history on the pitch and the Games remain firmly in her sights as she considers a new career in the commentary box.
The experienced Lucas, who played all six matches as Australia claimed gold at Rio 2016, has no plans to hang up her boots just yet but is taking part in a training programme aimed at sportswomen funded by Sport Australia and run by Brass Neck Broadcast (BNBC).
The course was the brainchild of Jilly Collins, Rugby Australia’s Head of Women’s Rugby and Participation, and it is hoped it can help retain talent and knowledge in the game post-playing.
Lucas was one of seven female Australia sevens and 15s players who attended a two-day workshop at the Sydney Cricket Ground at the beginning of February, alongside women from football and rugby league.
“I had earmarked [broadcasting] a little while ago as a potential career once I retired,” Lucas told World Rugby.
“I am a big communicator on the field, I’m a ball player and so I have that knowledge of the game and my analytical understanding of the game is good in that respect.
“And then I’m kind of the controller and conductor so I love to chat anyway, and so a natural fit would probably be coaching or commentating if I wanted to continue in the sport after I finish playing.
“I’ve also learnt a couple of languages, or tried to learn a couple of languages, while I’ve been playing and I joke around that I’ve learned French so I can commentate at the 2024 Olympics in Paris!
“But never amongst those jokes and earmarking of opportunities did I think that something could come up specifically for female athletes that are currently playing to learn the ropes of commentary through the programme that Rugby Australia put on.”
'You can’t blag it!'
Lucas and her fellow students, who included Millie Boyle, Emily Chancellor, Dominique du Toit, Ashleigh Hewson, Gemma Noller (nee Etheridge) and Shannon Parry, were treated to a crash-course in broadcasting on day one of the workshop before being unleashed on a microphone.
Their performances as both play-by-play and expert commentators were dissected on day two, while special guests, including renowned sports broadcaster Gordon Bray, were on hand to pass on their considerable knowledge and experience.
“I think there is a real responsibility for Rugby Australia to support our athletes whilst they are playing, with what their careers look like after rugby,” Collins said.
“There’s nobody on this planet that can have a lifelong professional sports career as an athlete. So, we need to make sure that we provide support and have conversations with players, to understand what they’re interested in doing post-playing career.
"What’s been fantastic in this case, is that we could provide our players with a comprehensive training programme and practical experience to support in their development.
“And the beauty of commentating is that opportunities can be fitted around playing schedules so, for example, Alicia, Dominique and Shannon all commentated on Super W this year alongside their sevens commitments.
“All of the players on the course have been very receptive because they’re keen to learn and develop their skills. There’s one thing they have all learned quickly about commentary, you can’t blag it!”
Bray, known in Australia as ‘The Voice of Rugby’, has been working closely with Lucas as her mentor. He was overseas when she made her live commentary debut as the NSW Waratahs Women took on Fijiana in February, but offered her some valuable feedback over email.
Lucas admitted to nerves ahead of the match in Sydney because “this is it, I’m doing a live game, people are going to listen to this”.
“But once you get in the rhythm of it and you get going and kind of block that out, you just really enjoy the game,” she added. “And I obviously love the game of rugby.”
Lucas has been on lockdown since her husband Matt Lucas returned from playing in Japan at the end of March, due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
It has given the 28-year-old an opportunity to hone her craft at home, although she admits her knowledge of the “1999 era” Wallabies being shown on Australian TV is a tad sketchy.
That has not dampened her enthusiasm for a potential career behind a microphone, though.
“I would absolutely love to commentate games once I retire — whenever that might be,” Lucas concluded.
“The dream would be to commentate on the Olympic Games. Australia in a gold medal match would be the dream.”