Working at home and playing away from home

Claudia MacDonald is part of England’s Rugby World Cup squad for the delayed 2021 World Cup, held in New Zealand between 8 October and 12 November. She plays her club rugby in Devon for the Exeter Chiefs. You can follow Claudia on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. At the time of writing this blog, Claudia and her team-mates hadn’t yet travelled to New Zealand.

By the time you’re reading this we’ll be in New Zealand having played our first match, against Fiji, in which England were victorious 19-84. But right now, we’re preparing to head to the Southern Hemisphere to attempt to do our very best in the World Cup.

England have been on a 25-game winning streak, but externally when we look at the competition we’re going to face at the World Cup, nobody is going to underestimate what teams can do and how they can perform. We’ve certainly had some very close games, and when we look back at our performances, we can see places where we can be exploited by opposition, so we’re constantly trying to look at ourselves and fix ourselves and see where we can improve as a team.

The areas for improvement and analysis are very much led by the staff and the coaches. We can’t control how France, New Zealand, USA, Canada, all the rest of the teams arrive at the World Cup. They’ve all had a lot of time together and warm-up games.

It’s a knock-out tournament after the pool stage. What I’m saying is that the only thing you can predict is that it’s unpredictable: all we can control is how we go out there, so we’re just trying to be the fittest, strongest, most skilled versions of ourselves, and we just hope that’s enough, and we go out there and problem-solve with what’s needed.

Playing away from home, in the backyard of the world champions, is a huge challenge. There are all the logistical things such as sitting on a plane for a very long journey, which is incredibly disruptive to training plans, nutrition, and sleep. You try to work on your marginal gains in all those areas but travelling that far has the potential to derail that!

Then there’s playing away from home. In our last game there were 11 000 people all cheering for England. It has an enormous impact on the team itself. It’s those few moments, you’re really tired and you have to keep going – maybe you’re working on your kick-chase, or you have to make a tackle or a long pass, when the crowd’s behind you it gives you that little extra boost to keep going. If we’re in New Zealand, all those people sit in New Zealand’s favour!

The home crowd could influence decisions made on the pitch, and questionable calls. Is it a forward pass? If the crowd is fully behind it being a forward pass, then it might be!

You get excited by it, though. I certainly am! All crowd noise is amazing, you want to play rugby that people love to watch and want to be a part of. When we play in France, the French supporters are incredible. You feel like you’re in an uphill battle from the beginning. They’re booing when you take penalty kicks, when France play well they’re all on their feet going crazy, it give you that extra boost. But we also feed off the challenge that presents to us, as the away team.

There will always be nervousness, but you have to get excited by it. Those are the big occasions, that’s why you play the sport, to play in the big occasions. You want the people who are watching to enjoy and really be in the game.

When we’re at home, because women’s rugby isn’t professional right across the board, there’s a real mixture of experiences with careers and life outside of rugby.

You’ve got senior players who are pretty set with what they want to do outside of rugby, and come from a different time in women’s rugby when they had to work full-time. Then you’ve got some younger players who’ve only ever been a full-time rugby player since when they finished school. It’s a real mixture of expectations.

I think there’s now a lot more volume around focussing on what you want to do outside of rugby.

The only issue is that schedules change significantly. When you’re in international camp, it’s all daytime training sessions; when you’re with your club training takes place in the afternoons or evenings across most clubs. Therefore, the time you have available to do a job chops and changes all over the place. Which can make it a lot more difficult and you need to have a very receptive employer that’s happy to be really flexible.