THE UNSTOPPABLE FORCE: Joanna prepares to launch the battle while on England duty.
ENGLAND’S women’s rugby World Cup success this summer was no doubt an inspiration for the nation. But one Teesside student is hoping to follow in the team’s footsteps and compete in a future event…
Joanna Brown has been playing rugby ever since she took part in the local women’s side coached by her dad.
It wasn’t long until her time playing for the North Women led to her being called up to the England Under-20s set up.
And Joanna’s been in love with the game ever since, despite a bit of reluctance at first!
Joanna said: “I did it a bit when I was younger but my dad coached the local women’s side and he dragged me along.
“My sister was involved but she hated it. She asked me to switch so at least one of us could get involved so she could get out of it!”
“It wasn’t a choice and I never really liked it. I hated it when I started it, but it’s something that just clicked.
“When you learn that tackling isn’t scary it just clicks and tackling people becomes a lot more fun!
“You put your body on the line in rugby a lot more than in any other sport.”
Joanna kept up her rugby while studying Sports Therapy at Teesside University with the University team, which she now coaches.
She applied for the University’s Elite Athlete Scheme, which provides support in training and competition for its top sporting stars.
Joanna says she appreciates the support from others to take part in the scheme.
Joanna said: “I came to the open day and I mentioned that I was playing rugby to a few people in the university.
“One of the members at the gym suggested that I apply for the elite scheme and thought I’d get a lot out of it.
“I didn’t think I’d get in at the time, but I had a lot of encouragement from a number of people and here I am!
Joanna says the scheme has also helped her game not just because of the facilities and training it offers, but for getting the chance to work with our athletes in different sports.
She said: “Last year we were in the gym with the likes of swimmer Aimee Willmott and the boxer Louis Cunningham and I learned a lot. We’re all together and it’s nice to see how they focus on their sports.
“It’s more of a lifestyle wake-up call when I see how they cope with being at university and competing at high-level sports.”
KEEP ON RUNNING: Joanna gets past her opposition while playing for the England U20s.
She later joined the Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, playing alongside World Cup winners Tamara Taylor and England captain Katy McLean.
Joanna says she learns a lot from the experienced members of the team, who have both been in a number of World Cup finals for England before winning it this summer.
Joanna said: “Tamara and Katy are great when it comes to helping you out on the field.
“If you’re running a line and Katy doesn’t think it’s a great line she’ll take you to one side and say “Look this is the line you need to be hitting. Any advice if you ask they’ll help you along.”
Balancing her studies, working at the SU and playing the game she loves isn’t easy.
However, she says that the university has helped a lot with dealing with her busy schedule.
Joanna said: “There’s quite a lot of over-lapping but you get a lot of help on campus.
“It helps you organize your life around training because training at the university is very simple.
“You can just have your lectures here and you don’t have to drive miles to places like Darlington to train when you could just do it here with the university team.”
Joanna has been playing on an international level for the last few years, including playing at the 2013 Nations Cup and the World University Games.
Last season, she became a part of the England U20 squad and has even played against the likes of France.
Joanna described playing these teams as a pretty awesome experience.
Joanna said: “When you get a massive hit or a run against a team like France you’re like “Yeah. I got in a run against France!” which is a pretty good feeling!
“We got pretty thrashed in the game, but to play against girls that I’ve seen on TV playing for the U20s is quite cool.
England had a tremendous World Cup campaign, having made the final in August while favourites New Zeland were knocked out atthe group stages.
They beat Canada 21-9 at the final to end a run of three straight final defeats and bring the World Cup back to England.
Joanna says the win will inspire other women to get involved in the sport and for existing players to push themselves to perhaps emulate the team in the future.
Joanna said: “A lot of them still have never really took part in rugby before but as soon as I can show them clips of the World Cup and say “Look, you’ve got players from a couple of miles away that just won the World Cup” it does help.
“It makes a lot of the players already in the game think, “You know what? I’m not actually that far away,” and that’s a good motivator for them.
“We think there’s going to be a good legacy coming from the World Cup win. We did well and hopefully more girls will get involved.”
With teammates at Darlington, Tamara and Katy, coming home with medals, Joanna hopes to follow in their footsteps.
Joanna is hoping to soon break into the first team and play some of the best players in the world.
Joanna said: “I’m hoping to be pushing on the England door and be a prominent part in the set-up. If I keep improving at the rate I am, I think there’s a good chance of me one day being at the World Cup.”
“I’m practically in touching distance of getting into the team, and it’ll be a major boost for me!”