INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY - FEATURE ARTICLE

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International Women’s Day is an opportunity for us to shine the spotlight on CCA Director Alicia Lucas.  Ahead of a very big year we asked her to share some insights into the life of a professional female rugby player and give us some reflections on the sport. 

This is an incredible year for both me and the Australia Women’s 7’s team with the Olympics commencing in Tokyo in late July and the World Series finishing in Paris in late May. We are currently sitting 2nd on the World Series Ladder and looking to create history winning back to back Olympic Gold medals. 

We are currently in a mini preseason/training block as Hong Kong was recently cancelled due to the Corona Virus. To fill the void of preparation games we are seeking out other opportunities to play as our next World Series leg isn’t until early May in Langford Canada. 

In our normal week to week schedule we train Monday to Friday with Thursday’s being our allocated day of rest. We also have additional sessions on Saturday mornings every second week. We start the day at 7am and finish by 3:30/4pm most days. 

Our days consist of field sessions, gym sessions, skills session specific to our position or a certain area of the game (lineouts, kicking etc), recovery, analysis and review meetings, team logistical meetings, physiotherapy, massage and most importantly lunch/food! The days go very quickly when you are trying to complete all of those to your best effort and to a very high intensity. We have a daily and yearly calendar that we live by. 

As a result of those big days of training I don’t make it past 9pm most evenings as sleep is so crucial to recovery. I eat at home most nights during the week, cooking a lot of healthy nutritious meals to keep my body fuelled and ready for the training days ahead. I try to go for a swim most days after training as well to aid in backing up for the next big day of training. I try and maximise how much sleep, good healthy food and good company I keep as I believe it contributes to helping me stay fit, healthy and happy whilst playing footy. 

A big non-negotiable is a night-time FaceTime to my husband who is currently living in Japan. He keeps me grounded, focused and determined to do my best every day as a result. 

Away from the field I am a qualified Physiotherapist, but I have put working part-time on hold for the next 6 months to focus solely on footy. We are a fulltime program and I love having something away from Rugby that keeps me challenged and upskilled. As well as my involvement as a Director of Cauliflower Club I am an ambassador of Bankwest and ANZ Stadiums, People and Culture Strategies Law Firm and also working on a new and exciting business venture so I keep myself very busy away from the Rugby field as well. 

A perspective across both games

Both my husband (Australian 7's player Matt Lucas) and I have professional goals outside of Rugby and both have had equal opportunity through RUPA (Rugby Union Players Association) to study and develop our professional skills away from the field. Majority of the players in my team have either completed a degree, currently studying or have upskilled in some facet away from Rugby. 

I completed the majority of my degree before coming to Rugby as we only went professional in 2014, whereas my husband has had to continue to complete his degree throughout his whole Rugby career. Now when women are contracted to the 7’s program they have access to this opportunity to develop their education straight away. 

Training schedules for both the Men’s and Women’s 7’s program are just as intense, with the Men only having 2 more World Series legs than the women. The women however have the AON Women’s 7’s Series which is a domestic competition in Australia that the men don’t have. This is very different to when I first started playing in 2011 and there was a large gap between the Men’s and Women’s 7’s circuits

Did you always want to play rugby?

I honestly had no idea what rugby really was until 2011. I was playing touch football at the time for the Australian Open Women’s team and we had just competed and won the Touch World Cup. When I returned home from overseas, I was greeted to a letter in the mail from Rugby Australia asking me to come to a camp at the AIS and try the sport of Rugby. Rugby 7’s had just been included in the Rio Olympics for 2016 after some incredible background work from former Australia Women’s 7’s captain Cheryl Soon and other Rugby 7’s greats. 

I went to my first camp and wasn’t necessarily hooked but loved that opportunities Rugby was presenting for me. I gave it a crack and haven’t looked back since. 

It wasn’t easy in the slightest starting out. I was 10kg lighter than I am now, had never made a tackle in my life, had to move twice to put myself in the environment of the best coaches and players (From Albury/Wagga to Brisbane and then Sydney) and got questioned regularly about playing “tackle” and whether women should be doing that. But I loved proving people wrong, I loved working hard and I loved challenging myself. 

I made my debut for the Australia Pearls in 2011 at a domestic tournament at debuted internationally for Australia in London 2012. I played club Rugby in Brisbane for 1 season with Sunnybank Women’s 15’s team to upskill my physicality and rugby knowledge and then became one of the first ever professional contracted Women’s 7’s players in Australia in 2014.

How are young females engaging with the game?

  

One of the biggest take outs for me from the Olympics was how much young girls loved watching rugby and how much they just wanted to play. We were overwhelmed with messages from young girls, their dads, their mums, all asking us how we got involved and how their daughters could do the same. We had girls dressing as us as book week characters, starting little fan clubs and inspired to pull on a headgear and give rugby a crack. 

We love playing for our young girls and female fans and one of our biggest goals at the Olympics was to shift perceptions around Women’s rugby. We wanted to play a brand of rugby that was fit and fast and physical but also feminine and showed off us as individual women. We wanted to show girls you could absolutely smash someone on the field but also wear ribbons in your hair if your wanted too as well. 

The capacity of programs and pathways wasn’t there initially post the Olympics when the demand was at it’s highest but the game has taken huge steps in ensuring girls can now play from under 8’s all the way through to open women’s with fantastic competitions and development pathways through all the ages. There is a huge appetite for women’s rugby and unions as always need to continue to foster and develop that appetite with appropriate funding and grassroot initiatives, continuation of competitions, higher representative honours and equal and fair playing opportunities and exposure. Girls are so keen to learn and love the detail around the game. They also require lots of encouragement to try something new and have confidence around being physical with their body. But once they do they are unstoppable. I love seeing that side of younger players develop 

Do parents react different to their daughters wanting to take up the game than their sons?

Initially some parents did have hesitations with letting their daughters play but after meeting a lot of our women’s 7’s team in person and knowing a lot of our touch backgrounds and short time in the game of rugby they were more willing to let them play 7’s. I have even had some past wallabies share their hesitations with letting their daughters play but in the end how they just couldn’t stop them. After seeing them pull their boots on they were so proud to have a daughter who played the same sport they grew up loving. Today it is less a debate as it has become such a norm in society for females to play contact sports at all levels.s.

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As a player who has already achieved a lot in the game, what are your reflections on the state of th

 The game has grown to support women in so many levels. From my perspective of playing there is still a lot to fight for but in a professional space it has improved rapidly over the past 7 years and will only continue to do so. The professional landscape of women’s sport in Australia will force the game to increase its financial assistance of female players and nurture their want to stay involved in Rugby as the lure of other professional sports will only continue to grow.

Having greater female involvement in coaching at all levels is the area I would love to see the game grow in in the next 5-10years. 

Moving towards a more inclusive and equal sport only can grow fan base, fan engagement and create a more sustainable culture for the game of rugby overall. 

What are the unexpected things that have come with a higher profile and success in the sport?

 Being stopped in the street for photos or autographs is something that still blows my mind when it happens. I was a country girl who only ever played rugby to fulfil her lifelong dream of going to the Olympics. And to have something so important to me, truly mean so much to other people is something that is really special to me and I value with very high importance. 

What are your hopes for the game?

  I hope that the game of women’s rugby never stops growing and evolving and developing. There is no limit for women’s rugby in the future and I can’t even begin to predict what it would look like because I could never have imagined it being where it is today.