Friends United Harlequins Ladies

Imagine a mild damp Autumn evening in Guildford, the car headlights from the busy A3 dual carriageway, high above the floodlit pitches, reflect through the leafless trees, and shimmer off the illuminated bright green turf at a misty Surrey Sports Park.

Amidst the distant whining engine noise, cascading down from the vehicles of weary commuters heading home, Harlequins ladies start their Thursday night training session, warming up under the watchful eye of head coaches Gary Street and Karen Findlay.

The chemistry teacher, the office worker all arrive straight from their day jobs, something many of us forget when we watch their relatively pampered male counterparts go about their business.

It was here twelve months ago where a cynical old rugby hack discovered a rugby paradise.

I arrived to interview Quins and Scottish international lock Debs McCormack, after a wonderful hour with “The Flower of Scotland”  I stayed behind to watch training, and what hit me straight away about this group of players, and coaches, was their togetherness, their amazing friendliness and the total absence of any cliques in the squad.

I later found those humble and thoroughly decent qualities were matched by a steeliness and determination on and off the field by players, coaches, support staff and everyone involved with the team.

I only had one written assignment with Quins Ladies, but something kept calling me back, I found myself hooked, and before long I found myself at training sessions, the players and coaches who were once strangers, became friends, especially when I started bringing Welsh cakes for everyone.

The Welsh cakes have now become almost a weekly ritual, and in some cases an addiction especially for a red-headed winger and one particular strength and fitness coach, who shall rename nameless, for now.

The fact is, I found myself refreshed by the true rugby values that were on display from this incredible bunch, it gave me a journalistic lease of life, and wonderful contrast to the ever decreasing openness between press and players and coaches in the mens game,

When I lost both my parents, suddenly, this year, as you might expect they were there for me offering support, compassion and comfort in equal measure.

The women’s game has moved on in leaps and bounds since the Womens Rugby World Cup of 2017, Harlequins have been at the cutting edge of development and improvement, and indeed “professionalism” whilst maintaining the “old” values, which is not always an easy balance to strike.

So, as the Autumn light fades into winter darkness, there will be some huge battles ahead, times of joy and times of having to dig deep in an effort to ensure that when the days lengthen in early spring Quins are in a position to compete in the knock out stages of the Tyrells Premiership.

All that is a long way off, and the rugby road is a long one with many twists and turns, and I for one am delighted and privileged to join Quins on their journey.

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