5 Women's rugby players breaking down stereotypes

4 min read

5 Women's rugby players breaking down stereotypes
The stories of five trailblazing women's rugby players, who are breaking down barriers and stereotypes to show there's a place for everyone in sports
Women’s sport is experiencing monumental growth of late, with both football and cricket recently seeing record crowds at women’s matches. To emulate that success, this season the Allianz Premiership Women’s Rugby league—rebranded to PWR—kicked off with a campaign to change perceptions of women’s rugby and showcase the remarkable players breaking stereotypes on and off the pitch.
From figure skaters turned rugby players, to deaf athletes, new mothers and women of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds, the league wants to show that all women are represented in the rugby XV, whoever you are. Here are the stories of five trailblazers from the PWR who are powered differently—born to break stereotypes.

Abbie Ward, 30, Bristol Bears

Abbie Ward reaches up for a rugby ball in a balletic pose
Abbie has marked a triumphant return to the rugby field this season playing her first match since the Rugby World Cup Final in November 2021, just four months after giving birth to her daughter, Hallie, and scoring a try in Bristol Bear’s opening win of the season. Abbie’s journey showcases a ground-breaking shift in the sport's approach to motherhood throughout her pregnancy, with Abbie training right until the Monday before Hallie's Thursday birth. Benefitting from the RFU's new maternity policy, which she helped establish, Abbie seamlessly resumed training with her daughter thanks to accommodations made by her club.
"I want other women to feel like they can do both: have families and be professional sports people"
~Abbie Ward
The birth of her daughter has transformed Abbie's perspective, elevating her focus beyond rugby and a focus on her legacy. Abbie is also keen to not just be seen as a mother, and wants to integrate Hallie into her playing life, to keep a sense of normality, maintaining a balance between being a mother and a professional sports person.

Shaunagh Brown, 33, Harlequins

A Commonwealth Games hammer thrower and an ex-professional boxer, a qualified commercial diving instructor and an international rugby player—there’s not much Shaunagh hasn’t done in her career. Despite previously hanging up her boots, this year she’s come out of retirement to continue her mission to improve inclusivity in the sport. And she does so as a record-breaker, as one of only 28 female rugby players to be given a professional contract in England. Before that, she was balancing playing rugby with being a firefighter, tackling opponents on a Saturday and fires on a Sunday.
Shaunagh Brown holds a rugby ball in her left hand and points upwards with her right, with a faux fur coat over her shoulders
Shaunagh says, “Just because you see me in one light doesn’t mean that’s the only light I exist in. I want to show that you don't have to look a certain way or sound a certain way or come from a certain school to achieve in life.”
Driven by creating change on and off the pitch, Shaunagh prides herself on being a mixed-race woman from a single parent family and is involved in a variety of projects to help rugby continue to be more inclusive and diverse. This even led to her being included in a Future XV list of gamechangers by Mastercard, following her work to increase inclusivity and accessibility for underrepresented communities within rugby.

Jodie Ounsley, 22, Exeter Chiefs

Jodie Ounsley smiles for the camera, with gold rugby boots hung over her shoulder
Jodie, despite not seeing herself as a role model, has undoubtedly become one, captivating audiences with her story as a deaf athlete. After a video she posted on TikTok during lockdown showing how she puts on and takes off her cochlear implant went viral, the supportive comments it received inspired Jodie to further spread awareness about playing sport with a disability.
She was the first deaf person to be selected for the England 7s squad, and in 2020 she won Young Deaf Sports Personality of the Year. Jodie detailed, "I’ve had parents messaging me saying ‘my daughter has a cochlear implant and because she’s seen you online playing rugby, she wants to do it too because she knows she can do it’".
"In 2020, Jodie won Young Deaf Sports Personality of the Year"
Authenticity is key for Jodie when posting on social media, as she feels it is often a place where comparison is rife, and can be especially damaging for young girls' confidence and body image. Her role as Fury on the new Gladiators TV show underscores her mission to redefine disability, as well as proving that strength and femininity can coexist.

Rachel Lund, 29, Gloucester-Hartpury

Rachel Lund sits in red workout clothes, leans on a boxing bag, and smiles at the camera
Rachel is proud northerner and an equally proud member of the ‘dual career club’, a nickname Rachel has given to the group of players within the PWR who do not hold professional full-time contracts and work other regular jobs around their training and matchdays. She dedicates herself to a full-time role as an NHS physiotherapist with her commitment to female sport extending beyond the field.
Rachel completed her Masters research on the often-overlooked topic of stress urinary incontinence in female rugby players. According to Rachel, “Research on female health is minimal at best, and a lot of health research generally is based on male bodies and research done by men. I feel really passionate about trying to promote the improvement of female health.”
Breaking the silence on this crucial issue, Rachel aspires to reshape the sports landscape by sharing her findings with women's clubs. Through this, she aims to enhance facilities and promote understanding, contributing to a positive change in the broader sporting community.

Amanda Swartz, 23, Leicester Tigers

Amanda Swartz sits and looks at the camera, leaning on a rugby ball
Amanda's journey from professional figure skater to a professional rugby player might seem unconventional, but for her, it was a seamless transition. As the Swedish captain, Amanda initially trained rigorously in ice skating until injuries prompted a hiatus. Seeking a new challenge beyond skating 'for fun,' she discovered rugby.
In Amanda's words, “When you say you’re a female rugby player, there’s a stereotype of what that means. And when you say you’re a figure skater, there’s a stereotype too, and they seem like they are at different extremes. But they're not that different, they both require discipline and, in some ways, you had to be tougher for figure skating than you do for rugby.” 
"Rugby and figure skating both require discipline; in some ways, you had to be tougher for figure skating"
The discipline and goal-oriented drive honed during her figure skating days became invaluable in her rugby transition. Amanda, proud of her heritage, has not only embraced her new sporting path but also takes pride in elevating the visibility of rugby in Sweden. Her unexpected shift from ice rinks to rugby fields shows the versatility and determination that defines women’s rugby and her athletic journey.
You can watch all the trailblazing women featured above and many more who are #PoweredDifferently every weekend in the Allianz PWR, live on TNT Sports, or check out their upcoming fixtures to get down to a game at www.thepwr.com
Banner photo: How 5 trailblazing women's rugby players are breaking down stereotypes (credit: Tara Moore at Getty Images for Allianz Premiership Women's Rugby (PWR))
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