EXCLUSIVE: Emily Chancellor - WXV Will Help Women's Rugby Grow in Australia - Ruck

EXCLUSIVE: Emily Chancellor – WXV Will Help Women’s Rugby Grow in Australia

Harlequins Women star and Wallaroos international Emily Chancellor, believes that there is a long way to go for women’s rugby in Australia. The back-rower joined Harlequins as part of a trio of Australian signings, following the end of last year’s Rugby World Cup.

Chancellor arrived at the Twickenham Stoop for the 2022/23 Premier 15s season, along with her New South Wales Waratahs teammates Bella McKenzie and Kaitlin Leaney. Last weekend, Harlequins Women presented their ‘Game Changer’ event, which saw them decimate Wasps Women 80-7. Amy Turner’s side are currently fifth in the Premier 15s table, and are pushing for a spot in the play offs, with three games to go.

The back-rower has been thriving in the Harlequins set-up this season, since arriving from the Waratahs in Australia’s Super W competition. The 31-year-old has been enjoying the opportunity of being a full time women’s rugby 15s player with the London club. Such a professional career would not have been possible, had Chancellor stayed in her homeland.

“I think Premier 15s is ultimately, it’s the pinnacle of women’s competition across the world. And I think that was the perception before I got here, and well the reality has definitely lived up to the perception. The week in week out competition is so fantastic and it’s definitely leading the way in the game for the women.

“The season length is the biggest (different) one for us over in Australia. To be you know, a six-week Super W season for the Waratahs, versus I don’t know what round are we at, 26 for Premier 15s? it’s not comparable. So that’s been amazing. And also, for the three of us in Australia (Chancellor, McKenzie and Leaney), the opportunity to be a full-time female athlete is not an option in rugby union, in the fifteens game yet.

Emily Chancellor will join Quins after the World Cup
Image Credit: Harlequins

“So to be able to come over here, and live the dream and be full time athletes, it’s unbelievable. So we’ve absolutely loved it, and I do love playing for the Waratahs back home. And there’s just a long way to go in in the Australian Rugby landscape.

“But it’s amazing to be able to be over here, and get a taste of what it’s all like and hopefully be able to take some inspiration and suggestions back, in terms of professionalism and how we keep growing the game back home as well.”

Emily Chancellor (@em_chancellor) / Twitter
Image Credit: @em_chancellor on Twitter

Moving across the world to further any career, is a daunting challenge at the best of times. New faces, unfamiliar environements and culture shocks can make settling in to new surroundings quite the task for those who make the jump overseas.

However, Chancellor was fortunate to be joined on her journey by two Waratahs and Wallaroos teammates. The back-row forward discussed about how she did not know about her colleagues’ signings, until after she had already committed her future to the Stoop.

“We independently made our way over here. Bella and I both signed contracts, probably around August last year with Harlequins, but we didn’t realise that each other had. So it was a nice surprise when we were heading into a test match week, and we’ve come together at the airport. We both heard that each other we’re talking to clubs in the UK, but had no idea who.

“I was like, ‘I do think you should really sign, I think you should go and play’. And she was like, ‘Oh, I’ve already signed’ and I was like, ‘who did you sign with’ and she’s like, ‘oh Harlequins’. And I was like, ‘Oh, me, too!’ It’s a nice feeling, knowing that you’re going to have friend over here, so that we weren’t… not isolated, because it’s definitely not been an isolating culture or anything, but just knowing that you’ve got someone that knows who you are, inside and out, from playing a lot alongside each other for a long time, was really reassuring.

“Then to have Kaitlan sign, just before the World Cup, I think was a great bonus for us because the three of us get along really well. And so to be able to live in a little Aussie house, in the heart of Guilford has been perfect for us. It’s been a nice little solace, you can talk about home, and home doesn’t feel so far away when you’ve got other people that understand where you’re from, and have little snippets of culture that are slightly different.

“So it’s been really great to train alongside them, and have the friendship and the Aussie culture mixed in together instead of being the one standing alone amongst the Harlequins. It’s been really great to have three of us there together to go through this journey.”

Chancellor, McKenzie and Leaney will soon be heading back home, as the Wallaroos set out to compete in the Pacific Four Series, to decide Australia’s qualification for the first ever WXV competition. Australia take on the New Zealand Black Ferns, Canada and the USA, in a round-robin tournament, with the top three sides progressing into WXV 1, and the fourth dropping down into WXV 2.

The inaugural WXV competitions begin this October, with three divisions of competitions for the National Women’s sides. England, France and Wales are already seeded in WXV 1 after the 2023 Women’s Six Nations. Scotland are in WXV 2, and will be joined by either Italy or Spain.

Ireland have been added into WXV 3, with the three divisions of competition starting to take shape. the Chancellor spoke about how the competition is a progressive step forward for growing Women’s rugby on an international scale.

“Yeah, I think the principle behind WXV is really exciting, in terms of it being that you play regular games every year like in that tournament style, against teams that you should be able to compete against. You know, you see part of the media debate around the Women’s Six Nations, is the disparity between the teams. And for Ireland to be able to compete against teams that they will be able to compete against, it only helps grow your game as a country because you obviously perform better when you’re winning.

“Because you get to try things, you get your attacking game to have a bit more time with ball in hand. So I think the same thing for us back over on the other side of the world in Australia is, you know, there’s only so many times you can play against New Zealand or Fiji, before it gets a little bit… not boring because the rivalries are obviously there, but you want to play against a different style of rugby, and the WXV brings that sort of element every year.

“So you’re guaranteed that sort of Mini World Cup style tournament, where you’re playing against teams that you can compete in. So, happy days, I think it’s a really great initiative from World Rugby. And I mean, obviously, we haven’t seen it in action yet, but I’m sure that it’ll roll really well.”

If Australia are able to qualify for the WXV 1 Division, then Chancellor, McKenzie and Leaney will be re-united with their Harlequins teammates on the international stage. Quins Women have a star-studded squad of Red Roses with the likes of Lagi Tuima, Ellie Kildunne and Lucy Packer. Amy Turner’s side also boasts a duo of Scottish internationals, as Jade Konkel and Sarah Bonar have both recently committed their long-term futures to the club.

Lucy Packer of England Women on the break during the TikTok Womens Six Nations match between England Women and Wales Women at Kingsholm Stadium on April 9 2022 in Gloucester, England. (Photo by Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

Emily Chancellor discussed her excitement, at the opportunity of playing against her Harlequins teammates on the WXV stage.

“I haven’t really had an experience so far, where I’ve been able to compete, like, obviously, we train and we compete, and we’ve learn from each other at the moment being in the same team. But there hasn’t been that sort of (match). The excitement is building either way, whether in ‘Div One’ or ‘Div Two’, because the Scottish girls have been put into ‘Div Two’ based off the Six Nations.

Lagi Tuima of Harlequins Women kicks the conversion during the Women’s Allianz Premier 15s match between Exeter Chiefs Women and Harlequins Women at Sandy Park on 16 Jan 2022. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK.

So either way, we’ll either get to see our Scottish friends or our Red Roses friends, depending on which division we’re in. But I think the idea of playing against the girls, who have become our teammates is really exciting. Like, that’s the beauty of the international game that rugby union is, and that’s something that not all sports get.

“And the idea that we’ve formed such great friendships with players from around the world now from being at Harlequins, it’s so exciting. To think that you can go and play against a team like England, and obviously, it’d be a fearsome, competitive and professional battle on the field. But I know that straight after the game, you’ll be able to go up and give him a hug, catch up, because you know, you miss each other.

“So I’m pretty excited. Either way, whether it be ‘Div One’ or ‘Div Two’, hopefully ‘Div One’, to be able to rub shoulders again with girls that we’ve formed such great relationships with from being over here.