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'He's canned all of our fitness testing': The shake-up in England camp

By Lucy Lomax
Amy Cokayne of England looks on during the Autumn International 2nd Test match between England and New Zealand at Franklin's Gardens on November 07, 2021 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images )

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Considering both teams Amy Cokayne plays for, the 25-year-old hooker is used to having opposition (especially underdog teams) bring the best version of themselves to the field when coming up against her teams, the number one international side in the world England, and the reigning Premier 15s champions, Harlequins.

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“Being reigning champions in the Premiership, there is a target on your back and every week teams bring their ‘A’ game and we welcome that. At Quins we want to play tough fixtures and we have to be at our best the whole time. Some weeks depending on who we’re playing, it feels almost harder than an international, so the fact that we now have a league that’s really competitive where we can play high level rugby week in week out, has helped me be a better player and probably helped England be successful too.”

However, it’s not just the standard of the domestic league that the RAF cadet believes accounts for England’s incredible 18-match unbeaten run.

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“The biggest changes from an England point of view has been the inclusion of our Strength and Conditioning coach Alex Martin, he’s amazing! If you ask any of the girls, he’s the favourite person in camp and has come in and made some huge changes and is challenging us.

“He isn’t just a numbers guy, he’s canned all of our fitness testing which is very welcomed by the girls but he’s more about training for our actions on the pitch. It’s not how fast you can run in a bronco test because if you can’t translate that effort into physical rugby play then what’s the point in just being fit or just being strong? He’s come in and given us a good shakeup which has been really welcomed.”

With the Red Roses being full time professionals and receiving the best sport science, medical and strength and conditioning care, Cokayne explains she does see the point people make when they suggest having Premier 15s sides with multiple Red Roses means the league is less competitive.

“It’s a really difficult one because we’re in the weird area of some players being professional and some people not. I‘m professional and I play for England and Quins, but I also own a house down here and my life is here so if the RFU then said you need to go and play for Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, it’s difficult. If you spread out all the England players, and then a team like Exeter for example still has a whole host of overseas internationals, where’s the fairness in that, so then are you going to say that all internationals need to be spread out per team? It’s a really difficult one.

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“I do feel for teams like DMP who are obviously struggling. I’m not really too sure on what the solution is. I think people think that players are driven by money and they think the London clubs pay the most but for players and especially England players it’s our full-time job so we want to be in an environment which is going to support us to be the best we can be.

“For most players, the draw isn’t how much you’re going to pay them it’s about access to physios and strength and conditioning. If the RFU can help clubs with those things, then we could see what happens.”

England’s TikTok Six Nations campaign begins away against Scotland on 26th March, and every nation will have their sights set on disrupting England’s success. But there are more domestic matters to be dealt with before then, with Cokayne admitting Harlequins need to address their inconsistencies on the pitch.

“We obviously haven’t performed well in every game this season. We haven’t been consistent; we can beat Saracens who are the most constant team in the league at the minute but following that we lose to Exeter or only beat Gloucester-Hartpury in the last minute. That’s on us as players, we’re the only people who can have an input on that. As a team we’re not happy with it, we know we have good moments and have a very talented side but it’s about doing it for larger parts of the game.”

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However, despite results being important, Harlequins Women have a bigger goal.

“Recently, we’ve been working as a team on what our bigger purpose is, of course we want to win the title again but we’re looking bigger than that. We’ve come up with a strapline of what we want to do and how we’re going to achieve that and that won’t just be this season but in the seasons and years to come.

“Throughout the seasons we won’t just be judging ourselves on whether we’ve got the trophy it will be about whether we’ve inspired people to play the game.

“We have the TRUE Quin acronym, and each letter stands for something different and it’s about holding ourselves accountable to that. For example, the E stands for enjoyment and that’s an important part of rugby, it’s our full time job and you’ve got to turn up to work every day and enjoy it otherwise what’s the point? So it’s about going back to our core values and why we play the game.”

The team will be displaying those values as Quins’ Game Changer fixture returns this weekend. A record crowd of 4,837 visited The Stoop in April 2019 to watch Quins beat Gloucester-Hartpury and the fact that the opposition this rime round is 2020/2021 league runners up and current table toppers Saracens, makes the prospect of playing in front of a large home crowd even more thrilling for Cokayne and her Harlequins team mates.

“Quins are so good at putting on these massive events for us and something as players we’re pushing for and we want to be leading the way on. When we get spectators in we always hear them on the pitch and afterwards about how great an event it is. It can only be good for the game. It doesn’t get much bigger opposition than Saracens on your home patch!”

It’s obvious that if a club looks after their players by publicising the team and their fixtures, putting budget into marketing and creating brilliant spectacles filled with fans as Quins do, then the players will stand by their club through thick and thin. This is a quality Cokayne displays when asked about the wider media and social media’s reaction to the women’s team wearing men’s shirts for their recent Big Game 13 at Twickenham Stadium last December.

“Obviously, when we put the shirts on for Big Game in the changing room they were a bit big, but we did feel a bit hurt that the only chat of the game seemed to be about the kit. As players we played in front of a huge crowd, we’re at Twickenham and we have some girls in the team who would never have the opportunity to play at a stadium like Twickenham ever.

“For us, we were like ‘it’s a bit big but it’s got a Quins logo on and we’re going to run out at Twickenham’ so we weren’t too fussed by it, and I think the positives of that day outweighed the fact that our shirts were a bit big.”

To purchase tickets for the Game Changer at the Twickenham Stoop this Saturday against Saracens, please click here.

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