Monday, 17 March 2003

Backstage: Janette Shaw: Assistant manager of the England women's rugby team.

Janette Shaw

Although I'm only 24, doing something usually carried out by 30-year-olds and upwards, I regard myself as team mum, which is odd because I'm younger than most of those I'm managing.

My own time playing rugby came to an abrupt end at only 21. By then I'd already been in the England A team as a centre, but I had to retire after sustaining serious cruciate ligament damage during a university match. The lowest point was my entire left leg turning black and the doctors talking about amputation; at least it didn't come to that.

A few months later I got the chance to manage the England students side. For a while, if I saw someone falling over after a tackle, I'd think, "Oh God, she's hurt her knee", and avert my eyes. Then I'd look again and see she was all right.

Although there are full-time staff in team England, being assistant manager means combining it with my career as a PE teacher. I'm at a girls' school in Manchester and had to seek permission to apply for the role with England because I need to take a day off to travel to a fixture or up to three weeks away for tours. But my head teacher was just brilliant.

The current team manager is Heather Stirrup and the plan is for us to work together so I can learn the ropes, as preparation for when she eventually steps down. My age helps me to really understand where the newer players are coming from and I've been around long enough to know how the established ones are feeling, too.

We'll get together on Friday, the day before the game against Scotland. Pre-match nerves tend to surface about bedtime, with anyone who starts to doubt her ability just needing a little reassurance. Calming them by pointing out they wouldn't have been selected if they weren't any good can be enough to put them in a more positive frame of mind.

In the changing room as the kick-off approaches, I'm there to look after the little things for the girls: distributing chewing gum or hot water for gumshields. If I can help out then I will. I often hear: "Janette, will you look after my ring?" So I have all this jewellery on my fingers during the game and have to constantly check to see it's all still there.

We're not as fortunate as the men in kit arrangements. They have a few shirts for each appearance, whereas collecting ours after a match is another of my tasks, because they will all be laundered and worn again.

The women's aspirations are the same as the blokes': wanting to play at the peak of their ability and staying as fit as possible. There are 44 in our elite squad and each has lottery funding. You couldn't question their commitment: many would happily over-train and so they all need to be monitored.

If there is a downside to playing rugby at this level, it's that the players are always under pressure to perform. That's why I don't think it's so easy being a player in this era - they're under greater stress than I am in management.

Occasionally people ask me if I'd rather be out on the pitch. That doesn't bother me: I've been there and enjoyed it, but I love what I'm doing now. And it isn't as if I'm missing out. Win or lose, I'm with the girls and part of it all.

The Guardian (London, England) (March 17, 2003): p31

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