For the love of the game: on the road with Richmond Women
Find out what happened when Rugby World joined Richmond Women for their last league game of the season, away to Lichfield
By Rachel King
How far would you go for rugby? Every weekend up and down the country thousands of players, supporters and fans pack themselves into cars, coaches and trains. But for some these trips are less of a jaunt and more of a lifestyle. Rugby World joined Richmond Women on a trip to Lichfield for their last league match of the season to see what it really means to travel for the love of the game.
We set off from Richmond Athletic Ground at midday for a 5pm kick-off, and most of the team are napping or stocking up on food. The journey there is defined by coffee – gallons and gallons of coffee. Oh and Ryan Gosling. Our fancy coach has two large TV’s which drop down from the ceiling and we’re watching Remember the Titans. A very young Gosling is part of the first racially-integrated high school American Football team in Virginia. It’s not his most memorable performance, but he’s popular with the team and the film contains enough of an aggressive contact sport to still be rousing. As for the trip back I’m afraid I can’t talk about it: I took an oath.
Richmond lost 48-0 in the early-evening sunlight, but their spirits are still high. On the round trip we spend six hours on the road. But, as No 8 and full-time physio Sam McCarthy points out, six hours being driven on a coach is not actually something to be taken for granted. “For a lot of the Women’s Premiership clubs it’s still a relatively new thing,” she says. “They used to have to do a four-hour drive, then play rugby and then drive back, which is a lot.
“For the men’s Premiership it’s the same, they still have to travel, they still have to train, but obviously they don’t have to work 40 hours (of a day job) on top of it.”
For the team, though, this time commitment is all part and parcel of being a Premiership player. Richmond captain and ex-England hooker Emma Croker commutes to training and home games from Essex, a 90-minute drive on a good day. “I work in West London so I’ll go straight to training from there, which is time when I don’t get to go back and see my daughter,” she says. “Then it takes the whole day on a Sunday between travelling and playing and travelling home again.
“For Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, (Richmond’s furthest away game) we meet in Richmond at 6 o’clock in the morning. So I’ll leave Essex at around four, go to Richmond, get the bus, play and then get home at about one in the morning.”
For us mere mortals this devoted relationship with the motorway might seem alien. But for the top women’s teams in the country there simply isn’t another option. McCarthy tells me many of the players she knows would go professional given the opportunity. As for why they’re willing to do all of this in their evenings and on their days off: “They’re your family. Whatever’s happened outside of rugby they’ll be there for you, which makes getting up that early and doing all that work worth it.”
This is the last season of the Women’s Premiership as we know it. From next term onwards there will be ten teams competing in an all-new competition, Women’s Super Rugby, with the league ring-fenced for two seasons. Lichfield, who won the fixture here, have not been offered a place in the new competition but Richmond will participate and the RFU’s aim is to raise the standards of domestic women’s rugby. For the majority of athletes it will still be a case of amateurs going to extraordinary lengths to enjoy the sport they love.
For the top women’s teams in this country travel is as much a fact of their rugby lives as training or nutrition. The difference is they do it in their spare time. They’ll get up at four and get back at midnight for big matches, commute an hour to training after work and back again, spend all that time away from their families, away from their jobs, trekking up and down the country because they love this sport so much. It’s not all bad though – sometimes you get to see Ryan Gosling in Lycra.
Crabbie’s is a club partner of Richmond Rugby. For more information on how Crabbie’s is supporting grass-roots clubs across the UK via its Rugby Rewards scheme and how your club can get involved, go to www.crabbiesrugby.co.uk Find out more about the Women’s Super Rugby competition in the May 2017 issue of Rugby World – on sale Tuesday 4 April.