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Emily Chancellor: Joining Quins, an awful lot of tea and 'hating' Saracens

By Claire Thomas
Emily Chancellor of Australia reacts during the Pool A Rugby World Cup 2021 match between Australia and Wales at Northland Events Centre on October 22, 2022, in Whangarei, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

This was meant to be a match report, which is what we’ll start with, sprinkled with insights from Emily Chancellor, who hustled for 80 ferocious minutes in Saturday’s London derby – as Saracens emerged victorious against Harlequins, winning 32-12, in ‘The Duel’.


Chancellor – who’s packed down in some pretty prestigious forwards units over the years: a veritably undefeatable NSW Waratahs one; an Australia pack who briefly looked consummate party poopers on the opening day of the 2021 World Cup – as the mighty Black Ferns found themselves on the ropes at Eden Park; and, as of January, part of a playoffs-hunting Harlequins back row in the Premier 15s. She’s a warrior of a flanker – relentless and formidably athletic – and Wallaroos Player of the Year in 2018, so it was quite the coup when Quins’ new signing was announced.

Chancellor – who’s part of a trio of Aussies who arrived in South London post-World Cup, along with Arabella McKenzie and Kaitlan Leaney – faced Saracens for the first time this weekend. The Wolfpack were, simply, much too good: voracious on the floor, relentless ball-in-hand, and able to flick the switch with devastating effect.

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With 15 minutes played, Alex Austerberry’s women executed the cutest of midfield plays to slingshot Jess Breach through a gap, and followed this deft uppercut with a quartet of blows. Within 20 minutes, they led 27-0, and that was that. Quins would rally, and win the third quarter 12-0, but you don’t need much in the way of maths to figure out that – if you concede five tries in the first half – two in the second doth butter no parsnips.

The defending champions treated a record home crowd of 2,992 to a ruthless display, and will head to Kingsholm next week with a bone to pick with Gloucester-Hartpury – who debagged them emphatically in Round Four, and have since had the audacity to occupy Saracens’ seat at the top of the table.

But let’s park the match report and rewind a little, because you can’t chat to the effervescent Chancellor without getting caught up. The 31-year-old grew up on the coast of Sydney, where – until the World Cup – she’d been balancing rugby with a second career: getting up at “some stupid time in the morning” to train, apologetically leaving work early, and cramming in more rugby. A tale, in women’s sports, as old as time. She’d been ready for “something quite different” for a while, and decided to target a full-time contract in England. It’s surpassed expectations: “the time that I have away from training is just for me now, and that’s amazing.”

It’s also come with surprises. “I’ve never drunk so much tea in my life,” Chancellor marvels. “Tea is something people just do for an hour. I’d happily sit with a glass of water, but –no– tea is the social option here.” I hold up my two mugs of the stuff (heaven forbid I run out mid-interview), and she bursts out laughing. “I love that for you.”


The tea has its perks, and she’s cherished the warmth – as an Oz native who’s only just started braving training without a full tracksuit on. “The cold’s been a shock, but I’m also loving that it’s so different. I’ll still complain about it, of course… but I am embracing it.”

She’s someone who has a tendency for embracing things, and whose Instagram is a technicolour blur of beaches, jerseys, beaming selfies, and – recently – European exploits. Every post is accompanied with #lifeofchance. The hashtag’s been a constant for years – “you have to scroll back a long way to not find it” – and was a no-brainer to concoct. “I live a great life… the ‘life of Chance’ is a good life.”

We’re speaking on Shrove Tuesday, an occasion which has not escaped the former Waratah. She now understands that “it’s what the English do”, and woke up to an announcement on the Quins WhatsApp group: there would be pancakes at training. There’s nothing unusual about that, though – Amy Turner’s side have fresh pancakes in their team room before each home match. Whilst the rest of us are wildly excited for this annual opportunity to splatter batter onto our kitchen floors and eat reckless quantities of Nutella, it’s a staple for the women in quarters.


Pancakes aside – why Quins? Having decided that playing in England was on the bucket list, she turned to logistics: locating each of the league’s sides on a map, and then narrowing it down to the three closest to London. Harlequins “are known internationally”, which was exciting, whilst she wasn’t too familiar with Wasps, she knew Saracens already had a pretty nailed-on openside.

“If you’re going over to a country to play rugby, you actually want to play, so going to the team where the national seven – the benchmark for that position – is, doesn’t make much sense. Do you really want to go and sit behind [Marlie Packer] on the bench?” Besides – something had just felt right when she’d found Harlequins: “I got a pretty good vibe straight away”. A flurry of LinkedIn DMs, and events had been set in motion.

What’s amazing is that the arrival of not one Wallaroo, but a trio of them, in South West London was entirely unco-ordinated. “I kept it really private. I knew that there were a couple of girls having conversations with clubs across the UK, but it’s a personal decision – and we had a World Cup to focus on at the time.”

Eventually, she sat McKenzie down in an airport before an Australia camp – having heard that the prodigious playmaker was in talks with ‘a club’ – and encouraged her to take the plunge. “She said ‘I’ve already signed! I’ve signed to play for Harlequins!’, and I was like ‘but… but I’ve signed to play for Harlequins!’ It was pure chance.”

Lock forward Leaney was the third to put pen to paper, and the musketeers were complete. These days, though, they’re part of a slightly larger collective: the ‘Scozzies’. Three Wallaroos and a pair of Scottish Thistles – Jade Konkel-Roberts and Sarah Bonar: the Premier 15s’ hottest new girl band.

The former had had the incredible good grace to head straight over to the Australians after their World Cup pool stage clash, and proclaim that they would be friends – despite the last-gasp heartbreak one side had just inflicted upon the other. She and Bonar took the Harlequins rookies beneath their wings, and they’ve been thick as thieves ever since.

It’s not just the Scots, though: “from the day I walked in, I felt welcome. It’s so refreshing to come to an environment and feel as though you’ve immediately got 30 friends.” The Australians’ bubbliness might have periodically flummoxed Amy Cokayne – “she’s like ‘you three constantly giggle: can you stop having so much fun?’” – but the Red Rose is another who’s embraced them, and got all three hooked on M&S’ raspberry yumnuts. Apparently, they’re a cross between a croissant and a doughnut, and they’re wickedly, essentially delicious.

We’re finally back at ‘The Duel’. It was just Chancellor’s second start in the famous quarters, but she’d been well prepared for the occasion. “From the day I walked in, I knew that we hated Saracens. It’s a derby which is talked about a lot – a beautiful rivalry where you love to loathe the other team, and love to step up against them.”

Unfortunately for Harlequins, the step up fell short this time around. After a bright start, “we dropped off meeting them physically, and gave them a little sniff of opportunity. Suddenly, we were on the back foot. I looked around the huddle at one point, and was like ‘I don’t know how to change this.’

“They won the mental battle over us with those clever, quickfire tries, which only highlighted that we haven’t got our own core detail covered. We spent the build-up trying to nail our basics, rather than specifics to target Saracens – while they’d really done their homework, and had built on top of a great game plan. They deserved to play like that in front of a record crowd.”

The dressing room at half time was “flat”, but Head Coach Turner presented her squad with a choice: they could roll over and let Saracens have things their own way, or they could fight – and prove that they’d worked hard enough to earn the right to perform. They listened, and they acted, but “27 point is a lot to chase – especially against a team like Saracens.

“It shouldn’t come down to a ten-minute break,” Chancellor reflects. “It has to come from within – not necessarily listening to words of wisdom from coaches: we should be able to turn things around behind the posts after we concede that first try.”

McKenzie was at the heart of a brief Harlequins renaissance – “she’s an exceptional young player. She sprinkles Bella-isms over the team, and- when she shines – we shine”– but the comeback never materialised, and they left North London empty-handed.

Consistency was discussed at length after the game: taking the flashes of Quins brilliance we’ve seen this season, and situating them within 80-minute performances. It has to happen soon: their next three matches are huge. Sale away. Exeter at Twickenham in the Big Game. Bristol, currently nipping at their heels in the table, on the road.

“We’re a top four team. We just have to make sure that we don’t take for granted the games that we should easily walk away with, and –equally– make sure that we step up and perform against the best teams. It’s one thing to be in the top four, but– if you can’t compete against the others- there’s no point in being there.”

So, to emulate Chancellor herself, let’s end this with a hashtag. Back to #lifeofchance.

Just how great is life – at one of the world’s most prestigious clubs, in the best women’s league, surrounded by friends, targeting the play-offs, and knowing that there are pancakes waiting at training today?

“I’m 31, in my first year of professionalism, and having a great time on the other side of the world: finding the fun in every situation, whilst never taking it for granted. It’s a sacrifice, financially, but life experience outweighs money nine times out of ten: I have no doubt whatsoever that this is a beneficial experience for me. There’s such a big smile on my face just talking about it now. I live a fantastic life: I’m pretty stoked with where I am.”


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