How does it feel to win a Women's Rugby World Cup?
It's a question that’s been asked of a select band of sportsmen and women down the years, those fortunate few who have lifted the Game's greatest prize.
But how does it feel to really win a Women's Rugby World Cup?
How does it feel to have the ball in your hand and the posts within sight, knowing that if you can find the space and reach the try line, you will have literally won your country a Rugby World Cup?
Few Rugby World Cup winners can answer that question, for only the smallest number of them have played the role of match winner. But Emily Scarratt can. And she knows exactly how it feels.
To try to understand, we must rewind 12 months to the Women's Rugby World Cup 2014. Hosted by France, Scarratt as England centre and kicker was the undeniable star of the show, plundering a Tournament-high 70 points. Sixteen of those points alone came in the Final, a 21-9 defeat of Canada.
In a game far closer than the scoreline suggests, the Canadians had clawed back an 11-point deficit at half-time to trail 11-9 with 20 minutes remaining. Scarratt kicked between the posts again to establish a five-point lead with 10 minutes remaining, but their opponents refused to buckle.
As English nerves crept in and passes went astray, the momentum was all Canada's — until Scarratt took possession of the ball and ran. Cutting through tired challenges and brushing off two defenders, she kept on running until the try line — and victory — was in sight. In that brief, glorious 10-second spell, Emily Scarratt as good as won that Women's Rugby World Cup. But just don’t try telling her that.
"I was very happy with how I performed but to paint me as the star of the team is disrespectful to every other player on the team and in the squad," she says now, smiling but steely eyed. "It's all about the team — the squad and the coaching staff as a whole. Nobody wins a game or a Rugby World Cup on their own."
This is undeniably true, of course, but how did it actually feel to have the ball in hand and see the posts looming large? Does glory flash before your eyes in that brief moment? "I'm not sure it was glory," she laughs. "I was just thinking: 'You have got to get across that line, you cannot not make it'. When I did, there were still 10 or 11 minutes left but we knew those points put us in a very good place."
Of course Emily Scarratt benefits from kicking points for England, a role that guarantees her greater exposure than, say, the prop forward whose work so often goes unnoticed. But it also guarantees her greater pressure. How does she deal with the levels of expectation? How does she deal with standing behind a kick in a Women's Rugby World Cup Final that absolutely has to go between the posts?
"It’s all about hard work and trusting in what you’ve done a thousand times before and trusting in your ability," she explains. "You just take yourself out of the stadium, take out the cameras and the crowd and the noise and just focus on the mechanics of the kick." She likens the feeling to being underwater. "Everything gets a bit fuzzy or foggy as you focus purely on what you need to do."
Emily Scarratt hadn’t considered herself famous until the day England faced New Zealand in Women's Rugby World Cup Final in 2010. That was the day the penny dropped. "We got off the bus at The Stoop (Harlequins' ground) and there was just this incredible noise," she recalls. "It was completely alien to a lot of us, certainly to me as an 18-year-old in my first Rugby World Cup. It shocked me. I got this huge wave of nerves wash over me. For the first time I realised what it meant to people that we won. It wasn't fame as such, just recognition. And that was a bit weird."
England lost that Game, beaten 13-10. But rather than dwell on what had been their third Final defeat in a row, they resolved to bounce back stronger. "I held onto the disappointment of that defeat and kept thinking about how it would have felt to have won," she remembers. "On those dark, cold nights when you're training in the rain, that's what spurs you on, the thought that you will not fail, that next time you will win. Rather than being a psychological burden, the pain of defeat spurred us on."
Scarratt says that last year England went into the Women's Rugby World Cup believing they could win, yet they wouldn't have been the only nation thinking that. "No, I'm sure New Zealand in particular thought they could win as well so you can't be certain of anything," she explains. "But equally, you have to go into the Tournament believing you can win or you might as well not show up."
Having won a Women's Rugby World Cup Final in France and lost one on home soil, Scarratt is well placed to discuss the advantage England's men might enjoy this autumn. Will hosting the Finals help or hinder them?
"There are two sides to it," she says. "The buzz you feel and the support you have is amazing when you host the Tournament. But the one advantage we had away in France is that we got cocooned in this bubble. We didn't know what was going on at home. It was only when we landed back and the press were there that we realised that it was a big story. But we escaped that pressure and I think that helped us."
England's men will not have that luxury this autumn. "No, and with the social media side of things it can feel like there's no escape, which in turn can create more pressure," she warns. "But if you're disciplined and you don't actively go looking for stories or for comments, you can still avoid all the hysteria that builds up."
The World (Cup) Is Not Enough
A year on from Women's Rugby World Cup, and while Scarratt doesn't feel 'famous', she recognises the positive effects winning a Women's Rugby World Cup has had on a personal and collective level. "Being invited to watch Wimbledon from the Royal Box felt surreal," she laughs, "and obviously that was a result of winning a Women's Rugby World Cup."
"But on a much bigger level, the positive effects that win has had on the Game in England are far more important. We've been able to turn professional, which is obviously a life and game-changing move. And more and more girls come up to me and ask how they can get into the Game, which is obviously great for the Game both short term and long term."
The future for England's women's team involves an Olympics next summer (in the Rugby sevens) and Women's Rugby World Cup in Ireland in 2017. A world champion aged 24, what motivates Scarratt now on those cold, dark nights training? "The desire to get better and keep improving," she shoots back instantly. "That’s what every one of us is working towards. It's about dominating Rugby, rather than having your name once on a cup. Domination is the ultimate goal and that was just the beginning."
This article was commissioned via NewsCred's NewsRoom and written by freelance contributor Nick Harper.
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