EXCLUSIVE: 'EmpowHER Project' - Emily Scarratt Talks Her New Mentor Role & Red Roses Return - Ruck

EXCLUSIVE: ‘EmpowHER Project’ – Emily Scarratt Talks Her New Mentor Role & Red Roses Return

Following on from the Red Roses’ sixth consecutive Women’s Six Nations title, England playmaker Emily Scarratt is now taking great strides in a new campaign. The centre is leading the way as a mentor for the next generation, as her podcast ‘the Good, the Scaz & the Rugby’ joins forces with Vodafone for the ‘EmpowHER Project’.

‘Scaz’ is one of a handful of the leading names, that are taking on this mentorship role and guiding through the young prospective players. Scarratt is joined by the likes of her Red Roses teammate Natasha ‘Mo’ Hunt, Scotland’s talismanic fly half Helen Nelson, and Scottish captain Rachel Malcolm in mentor roles.

Image Credit: EmpowHER Project / Vodafone

Speaking exclusively to Ruck, Scarratt discussed how proud she is to be at the forefront of such a pivotal project, for the future of women’s rugby. The 2019 World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year attended the EmpowHER Project’s official launch event in Edinburgh this past Friday, and was excited by the plans in place at the Scottish capital.

“Genuinely really proud. I think it’s probably not until you spell it out. And you come and do days like this, where you actually realize hopefully, the impact that these things can have. I am incredibly fortunate, obviously with the podcast going really well that we are supported so well by Vodafone and actually were able to really come and impact a university, the teams and the people within it.

Emily Scarratt of England Women during the Guinness Womens Six Nations Match between England Women and Ireland Women at Twickenham Stadium, London on the 20 April 2024. (Photo: George Beck/PPAUK)

“I think so often it’s easy to pay lip service to something, whereas, through Vodafone’s help with obviously the Player Connect app, with the bursary and having us guys as mentors as well, we’re actually able to hopefully, really try and make a difference to some of these girls. Which I think is really cool.”

The EmpowHer project has been enrolled at three UK universities, that are all leading institutions within women’s rugby. The EmpowHer Project is aiming to raise the game across England, Scotland and Wales, with bursaries contributed to Durham University, Cardiff University, and the University of Edinburgh.

Image Credit: EmpowHER Project / Vodafone

Also, as the Loughborough Lightning star mentioned, the University women’s teams will also gain access to the ground-breaking Vodafone Player Connect app. Scarratt explained the importance of the partnerships and the difference that this app can have upon better understanding women’s rugby, from a health, physiological and concussion-orientated perspective.

“That’s a huge thing at the moment (concussions in women’s rugby). The Player Connect apps have been used with the EmpowHER projects at the universities, which I think certainly at this level, being able to monitor the wellbeing, being able to monitor menstrual cycles, things like that which are so easily forgotten about and not looked at, at that level of rugby, sometimes.

Image Credit: EmpowHER Project / Vodafone

“But so important is these young girls are maturing 18, 19, 20 year olds. So I think it’s been brilliant. From that point of view. I think we’ll continue to see it being used. It’s great to have the technology, but it’s really important that we actually delve into it and and really get the most out of it. But having Vodafone to give us that opportunity to do that, is very cool.”

Emily’s mentee is 18-year-old Scotland breakout talent, Nicole Flynn. Currently in the first year of her studies at the University of Edinburgh, Flynn was recently called up into the Scotland squad for the 2024 Guinness Women’s Six Nations. The centre certainly impressed in the camp, as the protege was named on the bench for Scotland’s clashes with Ireland and France.

Already a two-time winner of the Scottish Women’s Premiership with Stirling County, Flynn has wasted no time in catching the eye of the national selectors. Despite not getting on the pitch for any test match minutes just yet, Flynn has certainly been impressing Bryan Easson and co, and has gained valuable experience in and around the squad.

Due to the geographical differences between Edinburgh and Loughborough, Scarratt and Flynn have spent the majority of their mentorship through remote communication. The 2014 Rugby World Cup Winner discussed her first conversations with Flynn, and how the young Scot is making great strides throughout her early career.

“So it’s just the one (mentee) at the moment. I’m up here with Helen Nelson and Rachel Malcolm who have also got a mentee at Edinburgh University. It’s just the one for now. I think, it’s quite important to make sure it’s given the proper time, and not just spreading yourself really thinly. That was always something that I was pretty passionate about and trying to do it properly.

Image Credit: EmpowHER Project / Vodafone

“It’s been really good. Nicole managed to get herself into the Scotland team, for the Six Nations. She didn’t get on the field, but being part of match day squads is an amazing achievement for her. She went really well in the Celtic Challenge, and at Edinburgh University as well. So yeah, I’m definitely not claiming that, and the program’s not claiming that, but I think that just shows hopefully the kind of the pathway that hopefully this is helping.”

“So we initially had just a zoom call, obviously, we’re quite far apart in terms of locations, but a zoom call initially, just to get to know one another, try and figure out where I could best help, what she wanted out of the program. Then we’ve followed up with text messages. She sent over some clips of either things that she wanted my input on, ‘you actually did well, how can she make that better?’ And questions on her behalf.

Image Credit: Guinness Women’s Six Nations

“We’ve looked a little bit around some of the confidence side of things. Being a young player, especially going into a senior setup, it can be quite daunting. So a little bit surrounding the the mentality stuff as well. I don’t know it all, but all I can offer is my advice from the experiences that I’ve been through, and just try and help a little bit.

“It’s been really cool. Hopefully, we continue to do this and move forward with it. But I guess she’ll give you the true answer because it’s for her. It’s hopefully for her getting something out of it and really benefiting and being able to move forward with it.”

Keep an eye on Ruck Rugby for an upcoming feature article with Nicole Flynn, who talks everything from winning the Scottish Women’s Premiership with Stirling County, to her experiences of the Scotland camp in the 2024 Women’s Six Nations.

Image Credit: EmpowHER Project / Vodafone

After an informative discussion on the Vodafone EmpowHER project, ‘Scaz’ then turned her attention to reviewing the recent 2024 Women’s Six Nations campaign. Scarratt was one of a trio of more experienced Red Roses players, who made their return to the England squad for the latest competition. Alongside Bristol lock Abby Ward and Saracens halfback Zoe Harrison, Scarratt returned to the England camp, that had seen big changes since her last involvement.

Scarratt last played for England in the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup Final defeat to New Zealand, with problematic ankle, knee and neck injuries keeping her on the sidelines. Since Scarratt had been away, England had entered a new era, with John Mitchell appointed as Red Roses head coach, and Scarratt’s long-time friend and teammate Sarah Hunter retiring from on-field action to take up the role as Red Roses defence coach.

“It is different.” Scarratt added. “Obviously, I missed the beginning part of those guys coming in. So it was a lot of learning the shapes and the structures and how they want to do things, and being in a new position as well (fly half to centre). So just trying to get to grips with that as quickly as possible.

John Mitchell, head coach of England A during England Rugby training session at The Lensbury Hotel, Teddington, London on 24 June 2021. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

“Only positive things to say about ‘Mitch’, he has been a brilliant impact on the team. You’ve seen that through the performances. I think it’s exciting for us, we’re trying to continue to grow and build towards (Women’s Rugby World Cup) 2025. Hopefully we’ve made it a decent start up that.

“With Sarah (Hunter) going into the coaching team, we have to differentiate when we’re chatting as friends and when we’re chatting as player and coach. Obviously, it’s always going to be that way, but she’s taken to it so well. She’s brilliant. She’s so well respected within the group from the role and the input that she’s had over the years. Anyway, she was probably a coach when she was playing, so it’s not really seen as too different. But, it’s still really nice to have her around the squad.”

Sarah Hunter, Captain of England Women arrives for 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)

The Red Roses appointed John Mitchell as head coach last Autumn, with the New Zealander joining up with the side for the inaugural WXV1 tournament in his homeland. Due to a lengthy recovery period for a litany of challenging injuries, Scarratt missed out on England’s maiden WXV campaign.

This three-week trip saw the Red Roses secure the first-ever title with a clean sweep of wins, and captain Marlie Packer was named World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year following the final round triumph over the Black Ferns. The Red Roses head out to Canada this Autumn for WXV1, and after watching on from home for the first tournament, Scarratt is eager to be involved when England push to retain their WXV1 title.

“Yeah, really exciting. I’ve not played in it yet. Obviously, there’s only been one. But hopefully, there’s a bit of water to go under the bridge before then in terms of finishing the the Premiership and onto pre-season, which nobody looks forward to too much! So we’ll get that in the bag first. But I think it’s really exciting.

“The WXV, we now know the Six Nations teams that are going to be there, (England, France and Ireland), and ‘PAC 4’ (Pacific Nations Four Series) is going on for the next month or so. So we’ll know the opposition, that we’re playing against. So we know how competitive it will be I know the girls coming back from the last one.

New Zealand Women thank the fans after the autumn international match between England Women and New Zealand Women at Sandy Park on 31 Oct 2021. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

“Every game is a proper contest against teams that you don’t get to play against that often. So it’s exciting. Playing in Canada is always cool, I know they’re really trying to grow the game out there as well. So another great opportunity to take the women’s game (to Canada).

Looking further into the future, and the 2025 Women’s Six Nations presents England with a unique opportunity to make history. The Red Roses have won the past six consecutive Women’s Six Nations titles, with their record for titles in a row standing at seven.

Witnessed from 2006 to 2012, Scarratt enjoyed this era of England dominance, as the likes of Maggie Alphonsi, Rocky Clark and Nolli Watermann ran riot on their opponents. Scarratt made her England debut in 2008 and has since accrued an impressive collection of eight Women’s Six Nations winners medals.

Emily Scarratt, Vice Captain of England Women warms up 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)

Scarratt admitted that the Red Roses had not been thinking about this record, but would love the opportunity to make some history, as the run up continues to the home-soil hosted 2025 Women’s Rugby World Cup.

“Well, I didn’t know that. So I guess my immediate answer is, it’s obviously not something that we’re talking that much about at the moment. Obviously, we’ve only just finished one (tournament) So it’s probably unlikely, but I think it’s hard, isn’t it? It’s never something you focus on in terms of records and milestones and things like that. But, inevitably I think it’s important to celebrate them and acknowledge them if and when they do come.

“I think certainly, our motivation isn’t driven around those things. It will be driven around trying to be better, after winning that Six Nations and huge prep goes into 2025. I guess if you pick up a few records on the way, it’s never too bad is it?”

The 2025 Women’s Rugby World Cup continues to come over the horizon at a rate of knots, with Sunderland’s Stadium of Light set to host the opening match on August 22nd 2025. Following their third place finish in the 2024 Women’s Six Nations, Ireland became the most recent side to qualify for next year’s tournament, as former Red Roses coach Scott Bemand now heads up the team from the Emerald Isle.

Scarratt certainly believes that the competition is only getting closer between the Northern Hemisphere sides, with the latest Women’s Six Nations being as competitive as it’s ever been. The England legend explained how the likes of Scotland, Italy and Ireland got a taste for winning in their 2023 WXV campaigns, with the Celtic duo even clinching their respective WXV2 and WXV3 titles. Scarratt believes this will only continue to elevate the global game, with the World Cup poised for an epic tournament in sold-out stadiums.

Emily Scarratt, Vice Captain 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)

“Well, it was super competitive, wasn’t it? I think, certainly, we didn’t know who was going to finish third and get that final WXV1 one spot until that last weekend. That’s the sort of jeopardy that you want in the game. Ireland have come on leaps and bounds in terms of their progression over this last year, winning WXV3 was huge for them. Then they’ve been able to continue to grow.

“Similarly, with Scotland had a brilliant tournament, I think they were frustrated with that last game (against Ireland), but nonetheless, they really put it out there. Then Wales, probably not having the tournament they wanted, but nonetheless, being able to come back and win that game at the Principality (against Italy) for the first time as a standalone.

“So I think all in all, like there’s been some amazing milestones and kind of bits of history within that Six Nations, which are been amazing. But yeah, fundamentally, the support of the game is amazing. And hopefully, that competitive bid will continue to grow as well.”