Shaunagh Brown Exclusive: 'Now I have that time to spread my wings wider and make a difference'

Shaunagh Brown was part of the recent feasibility study steering group for a possible British and Irish Lions Women's tour
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December 27th 2022 saw Red Rose and Harlequins forward Shaunagh Brown retire from professional rugby.

Since playing her final game at The Stoop three months ago, Brown has been busy taking up a new role as a development coach in the Cayman Islands and more recently, she was also involved in the feasibility study regarding the possibility of a British and Irish Lions Women’s tour.

A first British and Irish Lions Women's tour is looking increasingly likely following positive initial findings and Brown describes it as 'being given the green light for an Olympic Games.'

"It allows people another step for them to aim for, another dream to achieve," she tells TRU. "Their ultimate dream can now become a reality."

After hanging up her boots following a career that included four Women’s Six Nations titles with England and an Allianz Premier 15s title with Harlequins in 2021, being part of the feasibility study has been a huge learning curve for Brown and she is grateful to have had a say in the process: "It was an eye-opener for me," she adds. "I've always just played.

"I've realised it's easy for us as players to just turn up, play and go home. When games are played, it can be down to TV scheduling and what might work for the men, might not necessarily work for the women.

"We went through a robust process of having challenging conversations and questioning the time of year, format etc. Those questions are yet to be answered for definite but to say that it's feasible, I'm confident it's the right decision."

Brown's involvement with the feasibility study shows her enthusiasm for the game is still there despite retiring last year. Many will remember her post-match interview on BT Sport when Harlequins won the AP15s final when she spoke so passionately about women and their importance, as well as talking about breaking down stereotypes within the sport.

Two years on, and she's still pushing boundaries to help continually improve the game: "I'm passionate about the game and empowering women and girls and getting other people to realise we are worth more and we can do more.

"Sometimes we just need that little push up to help along the way. Even if they're not participating in sport, it's about getting a message across.

"Whether you’re someone that wants to wear makeup and play rugby, that’s okay. Whether you want to not wear makeup, go to work and dress up, that’s also okay. If you want to be a truck driver, an electrician, whatever it may be, it’s okay. It's that constant message that I want to spread. Now I have that time to spread my wings wider and make a difference."

Since retiring, Brown has also taken up a coaching role in the Cayman Islands. She was approached by ex-England hooker Mercedes Foy who’s been working out there for four-and-a-half years as a female rugby manager.

Brown works alongside her and coaches in schools during PE lessons. Her main role is making rugby accessible in schools. She teaches five times a week in different schools and she then coaches the U14 boys, U18 girls and the senior women on a Saturday.

“I coach all sorts of abilities - from those that know nothing about rugby to the more developed players. I’m really confident I’m making a difference over here," Brown says before offering advice to me on my own coaching with St.Ives RFC Midlands in Cambridgeshire.

“The main thing is enjoyment. If they keep coming back, you’re doing well. It’s having that confidence in yourself and backing yourself because you know what you know. Keep going and give it a bit of time as they’ll pick it up in the end. Let them ask questions.

"Back yourself and keep going with it because you are doing a world of service to so many people. You’ll be changing people’s lives without realising it.

"Rugby is a wonderful sport that can be played by all sorts of different body types and I’m loving what I’m doing out here”.

When asked if she’s enjoying retirement, Brown is quick to respond. “I’ve adjusted to life really okay and I’m so busy. I’m having a great time,” she laughs.

"I was at the England-France men’s game on Saturday and my stomach turned when they (England) started singing the national anthem. It made me think the next time I’ll be here is for England v France Women on the 29th of April. I kept thinking I wonder how I’ll feel knowing that there was a strong possibility there to make history with over 36,000 tickets that have been sold.

"That’ll be the game that will test to see if I’ve made the right decision or not but right now, I’m very happy with the decision I’ve made and I’m not yet missing playing."

Despite her last appearance for the Red Roses being the World Cup final loss to New Zealand back in November, Brown still sees the occasion as a positive one but knew once she’d played in a World Cup, she wanted to hang up the boots.

“We went to win but we didn’t. It’s not seen as a failure, though. We went to a World Championships and got a silver medal.

"The change in women’s rugby was massive. I’d have strangers talking to me on a train and ask; 'Are you Shaunagh Brown? You were part of the World Cup.' To me, that was mad. You never get over the loss of it but you have to try and take the positives out of it.

“I only ever took rugby seriously because I wanted to go to a World Cup. I went to a World Cup and that was it. People come and people go. I’m the sort of person that will not drive a certain car until the wheels fall off - I’d rather buy a new car.

"Some people will be around until their body says no but I’m getting married at the end of this year and I want to start trying for a family at the end of the year. Life just moves on."

Thoughts turn to the beginning of the TikTok Women’s Six Nations, and the Red Roses begin their campaign against Scotland at a sold-out Kingston Park next Saturday.

Knowing the hard work the players have to put in at training and on game day, Brown is happy to be watching from afar. “I need to learn to eat less!” she laughs.

"I’m not quite missing the training, that’s for sure. I know how tough England camps can be and how emotionally draining they are so I’m enjoying keeping busy and doing my own thing here in the Cayman Islands.

"I’ve taken up flag football to keep fit and I’ve started training in the gym there, as well as taking up gym classes too which are hard - 60 press-ups in a row isn’t easy!."

“On England, the future for women’s rugby is incredibly exciting and the Six Nations will be too. Filling Twickenham with 82,000 people in 2025 for a home World Cup final is a very realistic goal. The fact there’s already 36,000 tickets sold for the England v France game in April speaks volumes. I’m looking forward to the Red Roses playing well and achieving."

Brown will no doubt be cheering the Red Roses on from the stands as England look to secure a fourth successive Grand Slam while off the pitch, one of the focuses for the former front-rower will be the next stage for the British and Irish Lions Women.

"Everything still needs to be decided and where the tournament will actually take place," Brown adds. "What the squad will look like, when it will happen, how long the tour will need to be etc. The next step is waiting for our British and Irish Lions to get together with their stakeholders; World Rugby, Sky, Canterbury, Vodafone and their partners, just to see what works best but for the players - more importantly - to make it a success.

"I'm not adult enough to be part of those conversations so we have to sit and wait now!" 

But continuing to be influential in the growth of women's rugby remains a clear goal for Brown and that hasn't changed since calling time on her playing career.