Amy Wilson Hardy: 'Sevens should be given the respect it deserves'
England women’s sevens have had a tough year of it after finishing ninth on the 2022 World Rugby Sevens Series and an excruciating fourth as a combined Team GB, at the Tokyo Olympic Games last summer.
RugbyPass spoke to long standing sevens player Amy Wilson Hardy about her daily life balancing sevens and 15s, the competition for ascendancy between the two formats of the game and how the team still have a fire in their belly to achieve a successful summer and qualify for the 2022 Sevens World Cup in Cape Town this September.
With the Premier 15s culminating two weekends ago with Saracens Women lifting the trophy for the third time, you may be forgiven for thinking the players involved in the league would get some time off. Not the case however for those representing England Sevens.
“When people ask if I get to have a break over the summer, or if I’m going on holiday I just reply, ‘are you kidding?’ There’s not really an off season this year. It’s just rolls into one!” said Wilson Hardy.
England have a busy few months ahead starting with the Rugby Europe Trophy Series which they won the first leg of last weekend and have the second leg to come this weekend.
The European Qualifiers for RWC Sevens then follow, taking place in Bucharest over the weekend of 16-17 July, with the Commonwealth Games just around the corner at the end of July and the 2022 Rugby World Cup Sevens being staged just over a month later.
Wilson Hardy splits her time playing for Wasps Women in the Premiership whilst on a contract with England sevens, but admits it’s not always easy to find equilibrium between the two.
“There are about five of us who play for Wasps who would pretty consistently be starting in the Premier 15s and have that split allegiance.
“It’s about getting that balance right and knowing the priority at the time. Giselle (Mather, Wasps Women Director of Rugby) is amazing because she always wants us to do well. But I think it can be tough because you don’t want to let people down.
“Ultimately, playing for your country is the biggest honour but the toll on the body can be tough and it’s important that you get the right medical and strength and conditioning support to make sure you’re not pushing your body over the edge.”
So how does switching between two teams and two formats actually work?
“We work on a two-week cycle. In a camp training block we spend Mondays to Thursdays in Loughborough and then do two weeks of home training. If we have a game with 15s, we would have a light Thursday morning session and then go back to training with Wasps to be available for the game on the Saturday.
“In the home training weeks you’re expected to join club training to get the rugby load, which works well with sevens as it means you’re getting ball in hand and not just running up and down the pitch which can get a bit tedious.
“But then obviously when competitions come in, you could be overloaded with one side of the game for example when we went to Langford in the World Series that was the focus, and then we were attempting to make the Premier 15s playoffs and had a couple of key games leading up to that. We’ve got to the end of the 15s season and honestly, sometimes I think ‘I just need a break!’”
For someone who’s played a combination of the two formats for the majority of her career, on asking Wilson Hardy whether it’s sustainable or if she’d prefer to focus on one side of the game, she replies candidly:
“I think it’s really hard. I’ve been around the block and played all kinds of different variations and I don’t think there’s necessarily a wrong or right answer. In many ways it is tough doing both, but I think especially in the last couple of years when rugby’s been limited it was actually integral for us to play both.
— Allianz Premier 15s (@Premier15s) May 17, 2022
“But I also think in the grand scheme of things, it’s such a short lived career that you just have to make the most of every opportunity so I don’t like to complain. I like to just try and make the most of every moment.”
Being part of both forms of the elite game for almost a decade, Wilson Hardy admits that sometimes there is an internal struggle within the sport between which format to prioritise.
“It’s a slightly contentious subject and there are lots of differing opinions. I think in England, 15s is certainly seen as the showcase version of the sport and I’m not afraid of saying I disagree with that. I think sevens is an Olympic sport and there’s some amazing athletes who play the game. If you look at other nations and how much they promote their sevens, much more than their 15s and how successful the sport can be, it’s kind of mind blowing.
“But I’m not saying sevens should be ahead of 15s. Just look at the role models our sport produces, I think it should be given the same respect and the support it deserves. I think the fact that sevens is an Olympic sport means that it should be put higher on the priorities list.”
With the mention of role models, in previous months, two core members of the England Sevens squad Ellie Boatman and Abi Burton have spoken out about body image and the struggles they have had. When speaking to Wilson Hardy she empathises with her teammates and gives her own account of what it’s like to deal with the expectations of others and often being in the limelight.
“I think Abi and Ellie have done so well, they’ve been so vulnerable and I know what that’s like.
“I think to be honest, in any sport, you can get trapped into comparing yourself with your team mates all the time and I think it’s that constant comparison and pressure on top of everything else which can transfer to having a negative body image.
“It’s not just your pass or how fast you are that you’re comparing, suddenly you’re comparing and asking ‘do my arms look as good as hers or do I have as many abs?’ and it’s really easy to get caught up in.
“But on the flip side of that, the wonderful thing about rugby, especially in the 15s game, is that everyone has completely different attributes and that has a positive knock on effect on body image. Sadly, there’s then the outside perception from other people. But we shouldn’t be judged on what we look like.
Body image is a bit of a taboo topic in sport but I can happily say rugby has made me the happier, healthier, stronger version of me. A little bit about my own body image struggles ?? pic.twitter.com/EKvfsGlilo
— Ellie Boatman (@EllieBoatman) February 9, 2022
“At the same time, I think it’s good that we’re promoting that we can be anyone we want to be, whether we wear dresses, whether we wear trousers, it really shouldn’t matter. And the fact that people are more interested in that sometimes than what we’re doing on the field is crazy.
‘But I think we’re all just really passionate about creating a safe space for our team to be exactly who they want to be and feel exactly how they want to feel and look.
“Especially with social media now, it’s definitely something we are conscious of, especially with younger players coming through. I lead a lot of the nutrition side of things for the sevens and there’s definitely some myths I like to bust, like teaching the girls, when you’re playing sevens the last thing you need is to be in a calorie deficit.
“It’s largely about education around fuelling your body to make sure you’ve got enough energy to be the best you possibly can on the pitch.”
Future generations of the sport may well have an easier ride when it comes to playing the format of rugby they want and not having to balancing the two so regularly.
But as Wilson Hardy explains, it’s about enjoying the ride, and with Commonwealth Games glory and World Cup qualification at stake this summer, it’ll be worth watching the team on the sevens roller-coaster whatever the outcome.
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