Rugby Sevens Worldwide

Emily Scarratt: Rio Olympics brings ‘pivotal time’ for rugby

Story highlights

World Cup hero seeks Olympic gold

Scarratt captains England's sevens team

Being a professional "is less stressful"

CNN  — 

Imagine being a 12-year-old child standing in a muddy field, frozen with fear, being run down by a nearly fully-grown adult.

For most, it would be a nightmare – but rugby star Emily Scarratt relished it.

Now, on the biggest stage of all, the England captain will get to show the world how she went from the small kid in the scrum to the real deal in Rio.

“I never imagined I’d get the chance to go to the Olympics,” the 26-year-old told CNN’s World Rugby show.

“I remember watching Cathy Freeman in her suit in Sydney and watching all the camera flashes – it didn’t look real.

“Then in 2012, I went to a couple of things and the buzz and atmosphere in London, let alone at the events, was incredible.

“When I heard we could be going, there was a kind of disbelief. I started thinking, ‘Could we do that then?’”

Olympic glory

Rugby sevens will feature at the OIympics for the first time in August.

Its popularity has grown rapidly – countries that don’t have a big history in the sport, such as Russia, are making an impact after investing in the game.

“It’s a massively pivotal time for the sport,” says Scarratt, who was the tournament’s top points scorer when England won the 15-a-side World Cup in 2014.

“The inclusion of the game at the Olympics is huge, and nations which aren’t traditionally well known can and will play sevens.

“It’s a more accessible game because you need less players, and there is less contact. It’s more of a game for athletes – which we’re trying to be.”

Beating the boys

Rugby’s progression, particularly in the women’s sphere, has been significant in recent years.

“Within the country, I think there’s now 21,000 women and girls playing rugby – that’s huge,” Scarratt says.

When she started playing, aged five, there were no junior girls teams in her area – she had to play with the boys.

At 12 she was forced to join her local girls’ club – where she was thrown straight into the under-18s.

“I remember it was really a ‘sink or swim’ moment,” Scarratt recalls.

“It was quite daunting knowing there was a six-year difference, which is probably even bigger at that age but I’d always been slightly larger than average so I didn’t think it was as much of a big deal.”

Brought up in the rugby heartland of Leicester, Scarratt excelled at every sport she tried – even being offered a U.S. college basketball scholarship at the age of 16.

But it was always the oval-shaped ball which ruled her heart.

“I don’t know why I chose rugby,” she says. “I was sports-mad all through school and played all of them, but rugby encompasses a lot of them.

“It has the contact element, the agility, the team ethic – it’s almost an amalgamation of lots of sports.”

World Cup winner

After the 2014 World Cup success, it was announced that 20 central contracts would be handed out to female players for the first time in English rugby history.

It meant Scarratt could leave her job as a physical education teaching assistant and take up the sport full time.

“I never thought it would be possible to turn professional,” she says.

“It’s difficult trying to be a full-time athlete and a full-time employee. It’s tricky to juggle.

“It’s a lot more stress-free now because we only have to focus on the one thing because we get paid to do it.”

Scarratt is now focused on the second round of the Women’s Sevens Series in Sao Paulo this weekend, with 12 teams from across the world going for glory.

England, which came third in the opening round in Dubai in December, harbors aspirations of winning not only the Brazil tournament but the entire series – thus ending New Zealand’s dominance since its inception in 2012.

But with such a huge workload staggered over a couple of days, Scarratt is wary of expectations.

“It’s a lot of rugby within a couple of days,” she says.

“At the moment there are seven or eight teams that could genuinely win each tournament, which certainly hasn’t been the case in the women’s game before.

“That’s really exciting as a neutral but you know you have to be properly on your game if you want the results to go the way you want.”

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00:30 - Source: CNN Promos