The lock has been a mainstay in the Scotland team since her 2014 debut
Emma Wassell: The Scotland player who hasn’t missed a Test in six years
As an auditor who is one exam away from earning her chartered accountant qualification, Emma Wassell is good with figures. It’s a number from her rugby career that is the real standout, though.
Since making her Scotland debut against Ireland in the opening game of the 2014 Six Nations, the lock has been involved in every Test her country has played. That’s 41 successive Internationals and 39 consecutive starts after two replacement appearances at the beginning of her journey – and she will extend that run against Ireland in the first round of the 2020 championship.
“I still can’t believe it,” says 25-year-old Wassell, who took up rugby aged 15 at Ellon Academy having previously done gymnastics while at primary school. “It’s been pretty special to be involved the whole way through. There’s an element of luck. I’ve had injuries but I’ve been managed extremely well; there have been times I’ve been hurting but not hurting enough not to play. I’ve missed a bit of club rugby, but not international.
“When I do miss a game it will be a huge mental test. Everything is now building towards qualifying for the 2021 Women’s World Cup. I want to play as long as possible and to play for Scotland in a World Cup would be the pinnacle.”
Qualification for New Zealand 2021 is far from guaranteed. They need to win the European qualifier in September, which will also feature Ireland, Italy and the winner of the 2020 Rugby Europe Women’s Championship, or finish second in that event and subsequently win the repêchage tournament.
It’s a tough ask for a team that has won only three Six Nations matches in Wassell’s time – and that includes four winless championships. Yet she believes improvements are being made. They comfortably beat South Africa on a two-Test tour last autumn, winning 47-5 and 38-15, and have a new coach in Philip Doyle, who famously guided Ireland to victory over the Black Ferns at the 2014 World Cup.
“I fully believe we have the right plays, we’re just lacking execution sometimes,” reflects Wassell. “Everyone is buying into Philip Doyle’s game plan and what he believes we can achieve going forward.
“We were very happy with how we performed in South Africa and we played how we set out to play. Then when we played Wales in November our set plays didn’t go to plan. We managed to fix that against Japan and were 20-10 up with ten minutes left but made a few mistakes, sat back and Japan came at us.
“They deserved to win (24-20) but we need to play for 80 minutes and not take our foot off the pedal. Physically there are times we can be quicker off the line and we need to make our tackles, but the mental side of it is huge for us.”
While there is still plenty of work to do, Wassell is keen to emphasise how much the Scotland set-up has changed in the six years she has been involved. She remembers playing in front of a couple of hundred people in her home town of Aberdeen for her second cap against England, whereas now they draw at least a couple of thousand to Scotstoun.
Then there are the 2021 contracts given to ten players to help support their rugby career, either through direct funding or partnership agreements with employers.
Wassell doesn’t have a contract but recognises the dedication of the whole squad. “Despite not being professional, every single person in the team trains and prepares as if they’re professional whilst balancing jobs, uni and so on.”
The juggling of responsibilities is something Wassell understands well. Her final chartered accountant exam is in May and some classes for that are likely to clash with the Six Nations, a tournament for which she uses her annual leave to train for and play in.
“It is difficult with exams and studying and work and rugby, but in the long run it will pay off. So many female players do it. I knew rugby would never be a career so it was important to make sure I had a good grounding in accountancy. The hardest part is studying alongside training and work, but my coaches are supportive and work are supportive.”
She’ll be hoping her balance sheet is in credit come the end of the year with the Six Nations, 2021 qualifiers and that accountancy exam all on the agenda.
This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of Rugby World magazine.
Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.