Tamara Taylor has been playing as a part of the England team for 14 years, and was named RPA Player of the Year in 2017. Verge had the opportunity to interview her and learn more about her story and journey as a rugby player.
Verge: Why did you choose to play rugby, and what makes it so special to you?
TT: It was different than any other “girl sport” that I was allowed to play. If I wanted to go get the ball, I could just go and get it, if I wanted to stop someone running, I could just grab a hold of them and no other girl’s sport would allow me to do that. My brother played and I watched him and I thought, “that looks really cool, I want to play that too.” It was a bit different from what I was doing.
Verge: Was there a competitive edge between you and your brother?
TT: Yeah, he was two years older than me, although I was just the annoying little sister that followed him around and wanted to do everything that he did and his friends were doing, much to his disgust probably. That got me into rugby, because he played.
Verge: Did you start off playing touch rugby?
TT: I went straight into Fifteens, I did a little bit at school, but not much, never competitively. I joined the women’s team when I was 15.
Verge: Have you ever played touch rugby? Do you dabble in using those techniques?
TT: Yeah, I’m a rugby coach as well, that’s my full time job, I work for the governing body, and we run loads of touch. We’ve got O2 teams in the area I work in, so I either go along and help them and play. I love touch rugby. It’s fun, it’s active, you get moving. It’s a really good way of getting some fitness in without realizing that you’re actually working that hard. I used to play in the touch league, the Newcastle Falcons, every summer, we made a social team that got a little bit competitive. It’s a really good way of playing rugby without doing the contact side of it.
Verge: Why do you think touch rugby is so good for getting girls into rugby? Is it because of the lack of contact, and it can be played by anyone?
TT: It’s a really social way of playing rugby. You can have kids and adults playing alongside each other, mixed men and women, it doesn’t matter because there’s no contact, it’s just a game that you can play. It has a level of competitiveness, it’s a challenge to play rugby, to run forwards and pass backwards, I think it’s different than any other game where you can put the ball in front of you. You have to have a different mentality, a different way of thinking. I’ve used the word different a lot, but I think that’s sometimes what people want. They want to be doing something that they haven’t been doing for the whole of their lives.
Verge: Last year you won the female RPA Player of the Year. What did that mean to you as a female player?
TT: It was amazing. It’s an award that’s spoken for by the rest of the girls, the rest of the England players, and they’re the ones that you go on the pitch alongside, and put in all of the extra hard yards, for the people around you that are also playing with. To get voted for by them, I can’t even put it into words, it was amazing. To win it in that year, when it had been quite a tough year building up to the World Cup, was also really special.
Verge: After Uni, how did you get into playing rugby? Do you have any tips for students looking to get into playing?
TT: I went to fresher’s week, and I was wandering around and they had all the sports out. I went and spoke to the rugby lot. Especially at Uni, it’s a really good opportunity to try different sports and I know a lot of girls that we had coming to the rugby team had never played before. Get in contact with your university team, there’s loads more social teams, it’s not just about first team rugby anymore. There’s a lot of links from university rugby into club rugby.
Verge: Which do you prefer, playing or coaching?
TT: I like both actually, I really like the fact that I can do both, because I’m not done yet with playing. I don’t want to stop playing. I’m going to keep playing as long as I’m enjoying it. I like that I can also coach alongside it, I like being able to share the knowledge and experience I have from playing and share it with other people and help them on their journey.
Verge: Is it nice seeing the young, up and coming stars of England rugby and world rugby, and having the honor of teaching them and training them? Is that part of the joy of training?
TT: It’s massively important that we keep that kind of circle going and older, more experienced players have got a really important role as leaders and as parting on some of that experience and knowledge. That’s something I’ve always done, I’ve always been either coaching or teaching in life in general. It comes naturally, and I think it’s only right that we impart as much as we can.
Verge: What sort of opportunities did you have to play rugby when you were younger? Were there lots of female teams around?
TT: There wasn’t any youth rugby near where I lived, so my secondary school didn’t do rugby, would never have done rugby. A women’s team moved into my area and I joined them when I was 15, which now you wouldn’t be allowed to do, because you have to be 18 to play senior women’s rugby. I trained for a year alongside a women’s team and then played for them. I missed out on the mini rugby that kids have nowadays, and the junior age groups. It’s brilliant that girls have those opportunities now. There are a lot more coming through and staying on and joining the girls’ team now because they’re more accessible, which is only going to strengthen club rugby and ultimately England rugby.
Verge: What changes do you hope to see for women in sports in the future, and specifically in rugby as well?
TT: The accessibility and visibility. If you don’t see something, you don’t know it exists, and that visibility matters. I only knew that rugby was a thing because my brother played and I watched it, and then by chance I saw that a women’s team was joining. Otherwise, I may never have played. It wasn’t on TV. We’ve got to get that grassroots level where everybody has opportunities to try different sports. Just because it used to be a male dominated sport like football or cricket, why should they be? Share the love and everybody can play them. Specifically, for rugby, I think we’ve coming really far and the governing body has really put a lot of emphasis on the women’s game and the growth and the women and girls’ strategy. People have got to keep investing, keep believing, keep the media attention there to positively reinforce it.
Tamara 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.