Abbie Ward: England Women’s Red Roses still fighting old stigmas despite rugby success

Fresh from the Red Roses’ second consecutive Six Nations Grand Slam success, second row Abbie Ward talks exclusively about fighting for respect and against old stigmas…

Speaking as a guest on this week’s episode of the Will Greenwood Podcast, Ward – formally Abbie Scott before her marriage in the summer to former Harlequins hooker Dave Ward – spoke to Sky Sports Rugby pair Rupert Cox and Will Greenwood in a wide-ranging chat.

The Red Roses defeated Italy 54-0 at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on Sunday to wrap up the Six Nations title and with it their second Grand Slam triumph in succession and third in four years.

Does Ward feel as if the Red Roses get the respect they deserve?

“Not always,” she says. “I think sometimes what we achieve can be played down to some people because of our sex unfortunately.

“I guess to those that matter to us, I do think we get the respect and acknowledgement. I guess with every sport, even in both sexes, there a people who won’t acknowledge or appreciate, but each to their own.

“I think we are still fighting old stigmas. Not as much as we were – things have improved – but I don’t think you can say: ‘Things are fantastic’, because we have improved but being grateful probably isn’t enough.

“We’ve still got some way to go.

“The stigmas are in there in terms of people who don’t know anything about the sport, who don’t watch it but just have a view regardless.

“Those people that watch the sport, know anything about the sport, know anything about the individuals, see the people as athletes, will know that there shouldn’t be any stigmas.

“Look at what we’re producing out on the field, and I think the rugby speaks for itself.”

Two topics front and centre to most discussions when talking about women’s rugby these days are increased coverage and increased participation.

For Ward though, the way to get more girls playing rugby is not by treating them any differently.

“Well number one, I think it’s about us being accessible, but number two I also think it’s not just about girls,” Ward says.

“How do we get more girls playing rugby? It’s by making it accessible and visual both men and women. How do we get more boys playing rugby? Well by making it accessible and visual both men and women.

“For me, I don’t play rugby or speak just to inspire girls, I speak to inspire anyone that wants to play: girls, boys, men, women, people that have never played before or people who have maybe thought once or twice about doing it but never had the courage to do so.

The support has been immense – thank you! It’s an amazing feeling to be back wearing the rose 🌹🙏🏼💛

36' | ITA 0 – 28 ENG

TRY ENG | A hugely impressive first half from the #RedRoses who score their fourth through Abbie Ward. Scarratt adds the extras.

Watch live on @SkySports Arena or YouTube 📲 #WomensSixNations #SendHerVictorious

“I think that should be the same for every squad.

“The men play hopefully not just to inspire little boys, but also to inspire girls.”

The other appropriate thing to note, according to Ward, is the difference – both in terms of timing and nature – in evolution between the men’s game and women’s game.

“The thing is, men and women’s rugby is evolving differently,” Ward adds.

“Just because the men have always done something one way, I don’t think it necessarily means the women have to follow the same pattern.

“Whether that’s the time of the year we play, or when and where we play.

“It’s quite nice that it’s just becoming an organic thing for us to have our games not at Twickenham.

“To play at Sandy Park or Doncaster, I think it’s been hugely helpful for the growth of our game.

“Also, we’ve got to put pressure on and encourage other nations to [financially] support the national team just as much as England do.

“Scotland need the funding. They’re not just suddenly going to start competing at a high level without the support which comes right from the bottom.

“Whether that’s then being able to be in camp and training as more full-time athletes, the coaching resources, the strength and conditioning (S&C) resources, there’s a whole network all the nations need to put a lot more investment into.”

To listen to all that and much more click play above for the latest edition of Will Greenwood’s Podcast!

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