England Women v New Zealand: Watmore eyes chance to shine

By Bryn PalmerBBC Sport

Doing the accounts for her parents' lawn supplies company one day, burning up the turf for England the next.

The life of an international women's rugby player may not be straightforward but Joanne Watmore is not complaining, with a three-Test series against world champions New Zealand on the horizon.

The 26-year-old is typical of the can-do attitude coursing through the England Women's set-up, professional to their boot-straps despite the constraints and demands of their amateur status.

Watmore lives in Chester but trains two or three times a week with a strength and conditioning coach at Manchester's Sports City complex, an hour away. The nearest Premiership club is 100 miles south in Worcester, where she trains once a week and plays matches on a Sunday.

"I really enjoy training and it is something I would do even if I didn't have to," she says. "People think it is a sacrifice but if you enjoy something, it is more your own choice."

In between training and playing, Watmore works for her parents' company, and has just started a two-year programme to attain her Level Four accountancy exams.

"It gives you something different to think about away from rugby. I am pretty lucky. They are quite lenient in letting me have time off to train. It is a lot harder for some of the girls like Michaela [Staniford] and Katy [McLean] who are teachers."external-link

Watmore, a 5ft 11in strike runner who can play centre, wing or full-back, certainly brings an intriguing pedigree to the England party.

Having played union from the age of eight and represented England's age-grade teams, at 20 she switched to rugby league (her father Michael used to play the 13-a-side code with Widnes) and helped Great Britain finish third at the 2008 Women's Rugby League World Cup.

But less than a year after returning to her first love, Watmore was handed her debut with the senior England union team three weeks ago, after a late call-up to the squad.

She made an instant impression, and not just with her long red hair.

Within four minutes of coming on as a half-time replacement, she tracked a break from Worcester club-mate Danielle Waterman, took an inside pass on halfway and stepped inside the remaining cover, brushing aside France's right wing with a powerful hand-off before gambolling over for one of the quickest tries by an international debutant.

"I play with 'Nolly' [Waterman] at Worcester and I know when she makes a darting run like that, she always puts you in space," Watmore recalled. "It was a play off a set move, I hit a short line and I was really happy when I went over. It relaxed me into the game as I was really nervous beforehand.

"It was the first Test of the season and we knew it wasn't going to be the prettiest of games. They were a very big side, ranked third in the world and they had a lot more time together than us. But we matched them physically, and when we had chances we took them."

In contrast to their male counterparts, who are lurching towards a meeting with the All Blacks a week on Saturday, the women are relishing another chance to get one over on New Zealand's other union world champions.

A three-Test series in nine days against the Black Ferns begins this Friday and culminates in a match at Twickenham following the men's game between the two countries on 1 December.

It gives England the chance to broaden their horizons and assess their options, with a host of new talent coming through to complement an experienced core of players.

England have won the last seven Six Nations titles, six of them with Grand Slams, including this year, but greater motivation springs from overcoming the side who have beaten them in the last three global finals.

They did just that this time last year, winning the first three-match series between the countries 2-0, with a draw in the final encounter.

At the time Watmore was enjoying herself in Dubai, helping the England Sevens team to the final of the first fully sanctioned IRB women's tournament outside a World Cup, a precursor to a fully fledged women's sevens circuit this season.

She is now a member of the RFU's 44-woman elite squad, which includes both sevens and 15-a-side players, with some like Watmore switching between the two.

"Obviously there is some specific tactical stuff for each, but we train as a squad and a lot of it is the same," she explains. "It is good to move between the two and have the opportunity now to play against a team like New Zealand.

"They are a world-class side and you can never underestimate them. We will need to take more chances than we did against France, but it was good for us to try stuff and good for me to get some game time."

Watmore will start on the bench in Friday's first Test against the Black Ferns, and can expect to see plenty more action in the coming weeks and months.

With a Sevens World Cup - alongside the men's - in Moscow in June 2013, the next 15-a-side Women's World Cup in France in 2014 and the lure of an Olympics campaign two years later, this is a good time to be a women's rugby player.

Especially one who can shine in both forms of the game.

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