England Women captain Emily Rudge speaks to Sky Sports as she prepares to lead the team in this weekend’s Test match against France; watch Saturday’s international double-header at the Halliwell Jones Stadium live on Sky Sports Arena from 3pm
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 17/06/22 1:50pm
Versatility is a key asset for any player in modern-day rugby league, although there are perhaps few who have made the transition from scrum-half to second row.
That is exactly the road Emily Rudge’s career has taken her down though, and it has led to her becoming the most-capped player in the history of the England Women’s team.
On Saturday, Rudge will extend that record to 26 caps when she leads out England in their Test match against France, live on Sky Sports, and the St Helens player is in no doubt those early experiences in the halves have helped her in her role in the pack.
“When I was younger, I was quite quick and a bit more agile, and played that role because I was the more experienced player in my girls’ team,” Rudge told Sky Sports.
“That was the role I fitted into, a ball player, probably because I’d played a bit longer than some of the other girls.
“But as I got into a bit of a more mature environment, I found running with the ball was more my strength. I’ve grown into that position, but I’d say I definitely enjoy playing second row more than scrum-half!
“I’m grateful for being able to play different positions when I was younger, and it has led me to this point now where I’m happy with the position I’m in.”
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One of the other biggest changes for Rudge during her career has been the evolution of the women’s game, with the landscape now looking vastly different to when she made her England debut as a 16-year-old at the 2008 World Cup in Australia.
Much of that time has seen a slow evolution, but recent years have seen rapid growth on these shores on the back of the launch of the Women’s Super League in 2017, with Rudge and her St Helens team-mates now the standard bearers in that competition.
The England Women’s team now have regular training camps outside of matches too and this year’s Rugby League World Cup will see them front and centre alongside the men’s and wheelchair tournaments, including the final being played at Old Trafford.
Rudge is amazed by the progress which has been made in the past 16 years of her career and hopes this year’s World Cup proves to be a springboard to even more growth.
England captain Emily Rudge previews the World Cup ahead of the competition in November
“The women’s game has grown massively, and I’ve been lucky enough to grow up inside that evolving environment,” Rudge said.
“So, to look back see a completely different side of the women’s game to what it is now, I feel really lucky to be part of it all.
“This World Cup is so, so exciting for the girls. Everything so far – the build-up, the stadiums we’re going to be playing at, the coverage it’s going to get.
“The opportunity we’ve got there to really make an impact on women’s rugby league, to get some success in the World Cup is just going to make the sport grow massively. That, I think, ultimately is the end goal for all of us.”
England go into Saturday’s match against France at Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium having been given a stern examination by Wales last Sunday, securing a 32-6 win over the hosts who they had previously beaten 60-0 this time last year.
That notable improvement from Wales 12 months on from their first Test match is, Rudge believes, another sign of the progress being made and she expects old rivals France to give England a tough work-out this weekend too.
While matches against their fellow European teams are becoming more regular, the England captain wants to see opportunities to face the southern hemisphere powerhouses outside of World Cups, having been part of the two-Test tour to Papua New Guinea in 2019.
“If anything, hopefully it will grow and get even better and the support we’ve got now is unbelievable in comparison to what it used to be,” Rudge said.
Highlights from England’s win over Wales last year
“I think that will continue to grow and hopefully after the World Cup we’ll get more opportunities to play and we’ll get regular fixtures.
“We had the Papua New Guinea tour, now we’re playing Wales and France, and hopefully in the next couple of years we’ll be able to play Australia and New Zealand outside of a World Cup because that hasn’t really happened.
“To play Australia in maybe a couple of Tests would be an amazing step forward for the women, to go on tour and play a couple of games out there.”
Watch England Women against France followed by England’s men taking on the Combined Nations All Stars in the international double-header at the Halliwell Jones Stadium live on Sky Sports Arena from 3pm on Saturday.