Zoe Aldcroft, Tatyana Heard, Mo Hunt and Kelly Smith of Gloucester-Hartpury Women were amongst 28 players recently to be named in the 2019 England Women EPS squad and to be awarded full-time contracts.
We’ve already heard from Zoe and Kelly earlier this week, and we also spoke with Tatyana and Mo from the first England training camp of 2019, held at Bisham Abbey.
It’s also been an incredible 18 months for Tatyana Heard. Her second season with Gloucester-Hartpury has seen her rise to prominence and earn her a call up for the 2018 Quilter internationals.
Now she’s a full-time rugby player, and confesses that she’s still taking it all in.
“It’s incredible. When I first got called into camp back in the Autumn, I never thought that I’d get offered a contract. It’s just really exciting, like a dream come true.
“It’s all been a bit of a whirlwind to be honest, everything’s happened so quickly. When the Tyrrells Premier 15s started last season, I wasn’t starting at first. But then I started to get some more game time, my confidence grew and it’s all gone from there.
“That was a really exciting time. The girls in the squad were really welcoming and that helped me to settle in quickly and feel comfortable in the environment. Now I’m going to focus on working hard, and hopefully keeping my place in the squad.
“Being full-time is going to make a massive difference as there will be so much more available time to get the appropriate training and recovery done. I’m just really excited to see what improvements I can make as a result.”
Finally, Mo Hunt is able to view the news with a certain amount of perspective. A Rugby World Cup winner and also an Olympian, having represented Great Britain at 7s in Rio, she’s experienced a lot in rugby but is still incredibly excited.
“We’re all really buzzing. None of us are under any illusions as to how much of a challenge it’s going to be, but we’re all raring to go and can’t wait to get started.
“It’s amazing. You can never take this for granted as you never know what’s around the corner. It’s genuinely such an honour, such a privilege and I don’t think that you can quantify it, it’s honestly one of the most unbelievable feelings.
“I’m so thrilled to be back in the fold, hopefully looking at another Six Nations, pending selection, and I just can’t wait to get going to be honest.”
Having been on the 7s circuit in recent seasons, she signed for Gloucester-Hartpury in December and scored two tries in her debut against Firwood Waterloo Ladies. Even so, the transition is an interesting one!
“It’s going to be an exciting challenge, particularly the way the 15s game is developing – so much high-speed running, so many metres covered etc. Obviously, the duration of 15s has personally hit me hard over the past few weeks! The games are so different.
“The set-up will also be completely different. We’ll be based out of our clubs, which is a bit of an unknown quantity for everyone as it’s not been done before. So, we’re all trying to work through that together, staff and players.
“I know the other girls have mentioned recovery, but that’s one of the key aspects of being full-time, something that I know from my time in the Sevens programme, being able to relax mentally and physically.
“I know that I’ve reaped the benefits of that, and is probably one of the reasons I’m still playing the game to be honest. I’ve been lucky enough to be in a full-time set-up for a few years now and it is so important.
“You’ll see the youngsters in particular absolutely flourish now, in terms of being able to rest and recover and get the maximum benefits out of their training rather than pushing themselves to the max in the gym and then going to work.”
And the significance of the contracts and the potential effect throughout the game are not lost on her.
“It’s really exciting times for England Rugby and also for the individuals. We’re the trailblazers at the minute, the first 28 to be offered full-time contracts.
“It’s going to be challenging because no-one really knows what it entails but, at the same time, it’s awesome that we’re the first to experience it and hopefully the results will be positive as a result.
“But we’re also conscious that we’re role models as well. Young girls possibly picking up a ball for the first time, will be able to look at us and see that there is the chance to be a professional rugby player.
“It’s an attainable goal, both at 7s and 15s, that’s massive for the game and for young girls growing up and we’ll be doing everything we can to live up to that.”