In her first column for Talking Rugby Union, Wasps Ladies’ Kate Alder discusses the rise of the women’s game, full-time contracts for the Red Roses and the Tyrrells Premier 15s.
The journey and why we need to play our part
It’s mind-blowing how much the game has grown. Women’s rugby has grown at a rate that I think we players could only have dreamt of – and yet it feels we’re only at the start.
I still remember when I started playing rugby back in 2005 clubs were so sparse, I played for as many clubs as there were seasons. Teams would constantly go through ebbs and flows of gaining and subsequently losing players to college/university, and would sadly fold as quickly as they started.
You simply went wherever you could to get game time. Fast forward 14 years and Giselle Mather (Wasps DOR) is having to select 60 players for her squad, loaning other players out to local West London clubs – growing the game from the ground up.
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I can’t help but draw comparisons to my time as a young player, and thinking back to my Dad’s Sunday’s consisting of five-hour round trips to Plymouth, for me to train for an hour and a half! When I think about where the game is now, with the recent introduction of 28 professional Red Roses contracts, and semi professional standards across the Premiership, I can’t help but think about the role people like him have played in getting the game to this point.
Parents of the women’s rugby world – we salute you!
Full-time contracts make a dream become a reality
Without doubt, the introduction of full time, professional contracts for the Red Roses players is a huge breakthrough in the game. Not only does it affect the standards of the current game, but it gives young players an opportunity to make a dream reality – to be a woman, able to play professional rugby for your country.
This level of professionalism, as predicted, is now filtering down into the Tyrrells Premier 15’s leagues, with teams such as Worcester offering semi-professional contracts, and other teams offering varying levels of financial and non-financial support to players.
Whilst this is absolutely the way the game has to go (and players need it to go), it is not without its pressures. Girls are now having to make serious choices around rugby vs. career, and sacrifices in one arena are inevitable. With day training, analysis, S&C and recovery sessions becoming more of the rule than the exception in the league, it’s down to individual players to decide what they’re willing to dedicate to growing the game, and at what cost.
As a full time professional working in recruitment in the city, this is a pressure I know too well. However, just like my Dad, driving up and down the A38 every other Sunday to help the game grow, as players, it’s our time to do the same for the next generation of players. And when you love the sport the way we do, you’d make the sacrifices every time.
Striking the right balance
In terms of my personal rugby-work balance, I’m lucky to have a lot of crossover. The transferable skills between rugby and recruitment are something I often talk about and I am lucky to see my professional and rugby careers grow together, rather than as a trade-off. I am also incredibly lucky to have a supportive employer (SW6 Associates) who allow me to take time off for training days, launch days, and most recently an exciting trip to Ukraine to represent England 7s.
I also think about how my captaincy role at Wasps FC has helped my career through leadership experience – with particular reference to my first time captaining a handful of Red Roses including Rocky Clark (137 caps) and Danielle ‘Nolli’ Waterman (82 caps). If you can gain the respect of players of that calibre – suddenly recruitment directors don’t seem that daunting!
Tyrrells Premier 15s the most competitive yet
Heading into the third season of the Tyrrells, I strongly believe it to be the most competitive yet. As an example, pre-season training was stepped up right across the board, and Wasps are certainly no different. This summer we broke from our normal altitude training camp in the Alps, to embark on a more professional, rugby-based camp in the south of France, concluding with a physical battle against Montpellier. We trained like professional athletes, ate like professional athletes, all in the build up to playing the French champions.
However, trips like that aren’t just about the physical strength of the team, but about reinforcing the culture that Wasps FC have always prided themselves on. The heritage and history of the club is the lifeblood of the team now, and something we never want to lose.
Often pundits look at our team, potentially with less internationals than other outfits, and underestimate our chances – but it’s the hard work and passion across the 60 players that sees us thrive. We know that nothing good comes to you in this field – you have to be willing to work hard for yourself, for each other, and for the club. And when it comes to that, nobody does it better than Wasps.
With a mixed start to the season, consisting of 2 home wins, and a defeat to Gloucester in Round 2, all eyes are on us as we take on Bristol Bears this Saturday on their home turf, as the first live streamed game of the 2019/20 season.
Kate Alder was speaking to TRU’s Joe Harvey