As England men’s rugby union stars lick their wounds after their courageous defeat in France against South Africa in the World Cup Final back on our shores the England women’s team were preparing to select their squad for the upcoming season.
One girl who has reached the last stage of trials, ‘The Super 4s’ is 21-year-old Caroline Depledge. Already a fantastic achievement in reaching the Super 4s in the first place it gets better when Caroline admits that she only picked up a rugby ball two years ago. “While I was at university in Keele I joined the team in my second year as a joke really. I went along to one of their taster sessions and found that not only was it a great sport but I wasn’t actually that bad at it, so as they say the rest is history.”
From there Caroline’s rise has been a rapid one. While playing for university she was advised and put forward to trial at regional level for the West Midlands squad last December, after success there she was selected to go to the Higher Performance Academy (HPA’s) in the summer as she explains, “The HPA’s were a two day weekend in which players receive a high standard of coaching from England coaches. From there I was asked to go to the Super 4’s selection weekend, which lasted three days in August. Luckily I was successful again and I have just finished playing in the Super 4’s competition which is the final stages of England selection.”
To highlight how intense the trials are the Super 4’s is a selection system whereby after a structured system of coaching around 70-80 players are split up into four teams. These teams then play against each other on three separate weekends enabling the England coaches to pick players for the elite squad of 44. Although the trial environment can seem extremely harsh in all sports Caroline agrees with the process. “I think it is a good system when you think about it as it raises the stakes for all of the players as everyone is trying to work well within their teams whilst also trying to impress the coaches.”
But having come so far in such a short space of time and competing for places against players who have played the game all their life, it begs the question has the fact that she has played the game for such a short period of time held her back in trials. “In some ways I would definitely say that I am at a disadvantage when compared to players who have been playing all their lives because some things you can only learn through experience and no matter how good the standard of coaching that you receive is, it cannot change the fact that they know the game inside out whereas I don’t yet.” But Caroline is keen to point out the positives that come with being a relative newcomer to the game. “In some ways I can be seen as a blank canvas without any in depth bad habits that cannot be rectified so therefore I can be moulded as a player. Also as rugby is still fairly new to me I enjoy learning new techniques and I haven’t hit a plateau yet.”
Having graduated last year Caroline now has to juggle training with work something, which she says is tough. “I think rugby is a lifestyle as it takes up a lot of your time, money and effort but it is worth it when you play well and get the feedback that you need. I have had to make sacrifices to play rugby and I think if I was still doing my degree then it would be difficult to juggle but with enough dedication it would be ok.”
A typical week for Caroline is extremely vigorous and is based totally around rugby. “I train twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays for two hours each and play every Sunday.” As well as training for her club side Lichfield Caroline also attends the Elite Training Camp (ETC) where players participate in a high intensity training session focusing on handling skills, tackling and technique as Caroline explains, “Each session focuses on a different area of the game including breakdowns and set pieces. Once again it is a good place for coaches to see how players are developing.”
Even if Caroline fails to make the England Squad this time around time is definitely on her side. At just 21 Caroline has plenty of years still left to play and the acting head coach of the Women’s England squad Graeme Smith has had only positive things to say about her. “Graeme has told me that I have potential, especially considering the short period of time I have been playing the game for. He is particularly interested in my body shape as being tall I have potentially good building blocks to be a successful rugby player. The feedback I am receiving is good because it gives me things to work on.” Insists Caroline.
As she continues to climb the rugby ladder the pressure becomes greater and she understands that unlike most women her age she must keep the alcohol levels to a minimum. “It is certainly frowned upon to drink excessively and I would never drink the day before a game, mainly because I want to play well.”
After such a meteoric rise Caroline is looking for more of the same this season and wants to push herself even further. “I want to get more game time for my club side Lichfield in the Premiership and continue to attend the ETC training camps in order to become a more efficient and better rugby player. I want to continue to improve and hopefully play again in the Super 4’s this time next year to have another shot at reaching the elite squad of 44 and playing a higher standard of rugby.”
One things for sure even if Caroline doesn’t make the elite 44 of the England squad this season you can bet she will get there sooner rather than later.
Article Richard Bailey