The Exeter Chiefs wing, who was born profoundly deaf, sits down for a Q&A
Wing Jodie Ounsley sat down for a Q&A on international women’s day. Read what the Exeter Chiefs star thinks about the state of the women’s game, how the momentum generated from the World Cup can be harnessed and what she wants to see going forward.
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What is the most positive change you’ve seen in women’s rugby?
I think it has to be the early stages of professionalism. At international level but also to a lesser degree at clubs in the Prem 15s.
Women do not get paid a lot but easing financial pressures definitely raises levels. You can see the level of rugby increase each season in the Prem 15s, most nations are getting onboard with this now! Fitness levels, speed and power. Young girls watching can aspire to be their rugby heroes and at the highest level potentially make a career out of it.
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The women’s game is an exciting format to watch. Lots of open running rugby. It’s often non-stop with a high ‘ball in play ‘ time. I was lucky enough to get a contract with England Sevens at 18, so I’m probably the first generation of players to really benefit from the hard work of those who went before me.
How would you like to see the success of the Rugby World Cup 2021 be used going forward?
I want women’s rugby to be promoted as an exciting format to watch. I know of lots of rugby fans who have never seen a high-level women’s game. Once they do, they are very pleasantly surprised and enjoy it.
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The difficulty is to get spectators to watch that first game. The Red Roses team at the World Cup played a great style of rugby to watch. The Six Nations will be the biggest we’ve ever seen. Show it and people will watch it, so more exposure means more followers, which in turn will attract sponsorship and make it more of a mainstream sport.
Are than any champions out there who deserve a bit of credit who might not get it?
Local coaches and managers who give up so much to get started and help girls’ and women’s teams off the ground in local clubs. I think they are amazing.
Starting essentially a new club from scratch, then keeping it going is an incredible feat. I’d like to see those unsung heroes celebrated more. It’s people like that who got me into rugby and all the opportunities that have come with it.
What more would you like to see in the women’s game going forward?
Things are moving so quickly in terms of coverage. Live streaming and some TV coverage is common now whereas only a few years ago it was non-existent. The quality of coverage is also improving massively with knowledgable pundits and presenters. So there are lots of good things happening.
Exeter, where I play, do an amazing job in trying to make match day an enjoyable experience for supporters. We get an excellent crowd in the thousands for each home game. Attracting new fans and keeping them is a big job but it’s so important to take the women’s game forward.
What are your thoughts on the RFU’s new maternity policy?
Well it had to come eventually! Every employer should make it possible for women to have a child without it penalising their career. It’s a big issue getting pregnant and being a mother whilst trying to be a professional athlete. I take my hat off to them.
Read more: RFU introduces new maternity policy
So any support to make that part of their career a bit easier has to be a good thing. I suppose childbearing years are roughly the same as an athlete’s peak time, so it’s not like we can save having children until our sporting careers are over, it would probably be too late.
To hear more from players like Jodie Ounsley, tune into the RPA’s new podcast The Players Voice
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