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Pitch Perfect

19-year-old Ellie Miles began playing rugby at an after-school club and quickly rose through the ranks to represent Harlequins, Kent and the South East. We catch up with her to find out why more women should get involved in this up-and-coming sport.

How did you start playing rugby?
My school had an after school club and a few girls would turn up – not many, sometimes I was the only one! In 2015, my local club started a ladies side, so I joined up and in that season I got into both the County and South East sides. I’m also a ballet dancer, so on Saturdays I would dance all day and on the Sunday I would be straight to training or a match.

Why is rugby in particular a good sport for women?
Because it’s so inclusive, there’s a position for everyone. It’s very surprising the girls you find at rugby - you don’t just have the ‘stereotypical’ rugby players; you have a lot of dancers, gymnasts, tennis players, footballers. You’ve got so many different positions you can fit into, you can be any shape or size, any speed, any ability.  You can have scrum halves who are small and large, scrumhalves who are tiny and really thin, and wingers who are really tall. You’ve got props who are quite thin, but still strong, and you have props who are on the larger side as well but really mobile.

Also, a lot of coaches find that the girls tend to listen a lot more, which means, because the game is really easy to get into, you can progress really fast in women’s rugby. In the men’s game, because so many people play it and from such a young age, in a way it is harder to get into if you haven’t played for many years, but in women’s rugby you can go in at any level.

Are there any perceptions of women’s rugby that you think need challenging?
At the moment, there are still some stereotypes I find when I introduce myself as a rugby player. When I mention it in conversation, others go ‘what, really? No, you’re not a rugby player, you’re way too thin’, or ‘you’re way too pretty’, or ‘don’t you get hurt, you’re so diddy?’ But once I’ve explained to them that I do play rugby, I don’t get hurt – or at least, the same amount as any other sport – they are interested in it. Actually, the ankle injury I was out for a year with last year came from a ballet injury, not rugby!

What still needs to change to help promote women’s sport?
We need to push the media and push women’s sport out and let people know that it can be for anyone. Once they know that, I know that so many people are interested in it. At the local club that I used to play for, it took a year for people to understand us, and now I walk in there and everyone’s asking me about my sport, and is really proud of me and what I’ve achieved. So it’s just reaching out and communicating that we are just like any other sport.

How has the introduction of Women’s Super Rugby improved the sport?
It has absolutely improved the game tenfold. At Harlequins, the strength and conditioning programmes, the sports psychologists, the nutritionists, the analysis sessions, the training sessions and the physios were all upped to another level. It’s allowed the likes of Shauna Brown to get into the England squad, who’s never really been on that pathway before, it’s allowed Jess Breach to go to the sevens, it’s allowed a lot of people to improve their skills. We get so much advice, and we always have someone to turn to if we are in need. The standard of the game is definitely being lifted.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get involved in the sport?
Just go and do it! You don’t have to be fit, you don’t have to be strong, you don’t have to be a certain size or shape. At the end of the day rugby is quite an easy sport: hit someone hard, pass the ball backwards, and you can pick up so much from just playing. But once you’ve gone to that first training session, you’ll never want to turn back, because rugby is such a family-orientated community. You don’t just train and play matches, the social side of rugby is amazing and you will make friends for life.

What’s your top playing tip?
Well I love a good ruck, so I would say hit hard with anything you do, and commit. Make a decision; whether it’s a good one or a bad one, just make a decision. So if you go in for a ruck, make the decision to go into the ruck, if you don’t, then make the decision not to, and make it quick. The hesitation is the killer.

Why is the match against Richmond going to be a good one to watch?
It’s a local derby and we are close in the table, so it won’t be that one-sided. Hopefully the atmosphere will be amazing there as well because we are trying to beat the world record for the number of spectators at a women’s club match.

How do you celebrate a win?
A good night out with the girls afterwards – unless we’ve got a match the next day, in which case it’s straight home to bed!

Harlequins will be playing Richmond at Twickenham Stoop on 10 March; tickets are £10 at tickets.quins.co.uk.

Ellie Miles