Danielle Waterman, a member of England Rugby and 2014 World Cup winner, spoke with Verge about her journey as a rugby player.
Verge: You come from a legendary rugby family, your father playing over 400 games for Bath. Did growing up around rugby naturally make you want to play?
DW: I have two big brothers, so everything they did I naturally wanted to do as well. As much as I enjoyed it because my brother’s did it and my dad was obviously a really good player, it was more that I just loved the game. I loved the team, I loved the spirit at the local rugby club. It’s still one of my favorite places to go now. Growing up with it in my family helped me to engage with it at a really early age, but actually the sport itself is what gripped hold of me.
Verge: Was Minehead Rugby Club your first club?
DW: Yes, I played with the Minehead Juniors from 4. I spent four years with the first team. They’re slightly bigger than me now, I was one of the biggest for that age. They’ve got a little bit taller.
Verge: Growing up and being into rugby, was it hard being a girl who was into the sport or did you not really notice it?
DW: When I was the only girl at the rugby club that played, I think the challenge was that I had to finish playing with boys at 12 and there wasn’t a team for me to go into. I actually made my own team for a year. I moved away at 16 to Bath to go for rugby academy, so I’d already been scouted by English Seniors. It was my opportunity, and it did mean leaving home at a young age, but at the same time, it was something that I really wanted to do. It was challenging, especially when there were no changing rooms for me. Going back to my rugby club now, they’ve got a designated changing room for girls and there’s nearly 100 players in the women’s and girl’s section. The change is just incredible.
Verge: Do you feel like you’ve had a direct impact on that, and promoting women’s rugby?
DW: I definitely like to think that I’ve played a role in the development of the game, but I’ve been alongside some incredible female role models and with the players and people that champion the game, and women’s rugby is in a fantastic place. It’s not just about the contact side of the game, there are so many other elements to rugby that I’m engaging with young girls and females which is really important to give them that opportunity.
Verge: Why is O2 Touch so important, especially for women’s rugby?
DW: It allows females to engage with the game in a slightly different way, it takes away the contact. It’s fun, it’s challenging, you can build your fitness. I think the fact that you can play mixed really allows people to engage whether it’s with their partners or group of friends. The fact that there’s nearly a quarter of the people taking part are female and the goal is to increase that even further shows just how much there’s value in it.
Verge: In 2003, you were the youngest girl to represent your country at just 18. What was that experience like for you?
DW: It was an incredible honor. I was really lucky, I had some amazing role models that I played alongside, and I was really supported by the coaches as well. It was an incredible experience and something I definitely cherish looking back. It shows the difference, our analysis sheet was handwritten, we got the game on VHS, now everything is electronic. It shows just how incredibly the game has developed and progressed from a technology point of view as well.
Verge: In 2016 you took part in the Summer Olympics as part of Great Britain’s National Rugby Team. What was that like for you and how has it benefitted your career?
DW: To represent the UK was just incredible, it was the biggest honor. You can really see when you get to the team just why it’s so successful. They support every single player. It really took female Sevens to another level because people had the media exposure to be able to engage with it.
Verge: Can you name the most memorable game you’ve played in?
DW: I think the World Cup in 2014. Beating Canada was just incredible, and also getting a try in myself, scoring, looking back it was probably one of the best team trys that England has ever performed. Because of the momentum that created for women’s rugby, it was such an iconic moment in our history because it gripped the nation and put women’s rugby at the forefront of the media. Programs like O2 Touch are reaching out to engage with women in different ways, which is really important.
Verge: Where do you see women’s rugby going in the future?
DW: Women’s sport is in such a special place. There are amazing performances from especially the team sports at the moment, and women’s rugby is at the forefront of that in terms of the performances that we’re putting in. I’m hoping that the coverage is not just international but of the club games continues to grow and develop, with that you’re going to build an even bigger foundation and build a relationship and an affinity with clubs and the players because they get that opportunity to see them on a regular basis. At the moment, it’s just mainly around internationals. The more coverage that we can get, the more opportunities we can get to work with partners and progress the game.
Follow Danielle on Instagram and Twitter at @nolli15.
Danielle spoke to Verge at England Rugby’s O2 Touch Inspiration Day at Pennyhill Park on 24 May 2018. The event was a celebration of O2 Touch, an initiative which has given 5,125 women the opportunity to play rugby regularly. Find your local O2 Touch rugby session here: www.O2Touch.co.uk.
If you are interested in giving women’s contact rugby a try then why not check out one of England Rugby’s ‘Warrior Camps’, aimed at introducing women to the basics of rugby in a fun and commitment-free environment. To register your interest, visit: www.englandrugby.com/innerwarrior.