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Women's Six Nations: Emily Scarratt's journey to 100 England caps

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Published in Rugby
Friday, 22 April 2022 14:28

Emily Scarratt's 100th cap will be very different to her first.

Instead of the approximate 100 fans at third-tier club Esher back in 2008, she will step out in front of a record crowd of more than 15,000 at a Premiership ground in her hometown of Leicester.

The nervous 18-year-old of her debut has been replaced by a calm, self-assured 32-year-old described as the "glue" that binds England together.

And crucially, this time the call-up came as she trained with a fully professional Red Roses side, rather than while she was on a post A-levels holiday in Cyprus with friends.

"It was that first holiday without your parents so you're having a good time basically," Scarratt says as she recalls the day Gary Street, England's head coach at the time, called to ask her to play for England.

The centre joined the Red Roses squad for the 2008 Nations Cup, making her debut against the United States.

"The rest of the holiday took a slightly different slant for me," she jokes.

"The rest of my friends still had a great time but I had to tone it down a bit."

Scarratt 'incredibly proud' to have grown game

It turns out having to endure muted exam celebrations has been more than worth it.

Remembering what it was like to play for England 14 years ago, Scarratt paints a picture of "big and baggy" kit and "old and stuffy" changing rooms in front of a crowd largely made up of friends and family.

A very different scene will welcome her at Welford Road on Sunday.

It will be the second game in a row the Red Roses have attracted a record attendance and Scarratt's role in that growth has been significant.

She is one of the side's stars as England's all-time top points-scorer on 652, with 51 tries to her name.

On the field, Scarratt's skill has helped her win eight Six Nations titles, a World Cup and World Rugby's player of the year award.

Off it, the Loughborough Lightning back is one of the sport's most well-known faces having made several appearances as a TV pundit as well as hosting a successful podcast.

England captain Sarah Hunter describes her as an "all-round incredible person" for "what she's done to bring the women's game forward".

Head coach Simon Middleton and forwards coach Louis Deacon have added their voices to the mountain of praise for Scarratt this week too.

Deacon says she is the "glue" that binds England together, while Middleton describes her as the "ultimate big-game player", adding "there's nothing she can't do".

It is a measure of Scarratt's humility that she takes Deacon's metaphor to mean that she has simply "been around a while", but she does accept she has boosted the profile of women's rugby.

"The game has come a long way and I'm incredibly proud to have been part of that journey and seen how it's grown," she reflects.

"Pulling on that shirt back in 2008 I never imagined I'd be sat here today potentially running out in front of thousands."

Welford Road 100 'the best possible script'

Despite being named in the starting squad for Sunday's game, Scarratt still says she is only "potentially" playing because she refuses to acknowledge her milestone until she is actually on the pitch.

Having suffered a severe leg break in September and made a remarkably speedy recovery to return in time for the Six Nations, she knows how quickly things can change in sport.

Scarratt's journey to her 100th cap has been one of many twists. She turned down a basketball scholarship in the United States aged 16 and, knowing her, probably would have been playing in the WNBA by now had she said yes.

She has also flirted with the sevens game, captaining Team GB at Rio 2016 and winning Commonwealth bronze with England.

Despite the many other options available to such a natural athlete, it seems Scarratt has arrived at exactly the place she was meant to.

Scarratt took up rugby aged five just five miles away from Welford Road and had a Leicester Tigers season ticket as a child, so winning her 100th cap at the ground is perfect.

"If you were to write it out and make it the best it could possibly be this would be the script," she says.

"I don't know who's writing my scripts at the moment but I definitely owe them a drink or two. It's going to be special."

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