‘Nothing beats playing’: Emily Scarratt shines in first match for 13 months and a new role at No 12

‘Nothing beats playing’: Emily Scarratt shines in first match for 13 months and a new role at No 12
Emily Scarratt is back after 13 months out with a neck injury - Pinnacle Photo Agency/Phil Mingo

Bristol Bears 33 Loughborough Lightning 17

Emily Scarratt aims to be centre of attention for England Women in this year’s Six Nations Championship after making a successful return to competitive action for the first time in 13 months.

The 34-year-old, who has been capped 108 times by her country, had been sidelined since January 2023 having undergone surgery on a neck injury.

However, her 48-minute return for Loughborough Lightning in their Premiership Women’s Rugby encounter with Bristol Bears at Ashton Gate on Friday night is a huge boost to Red Roses head coach John Mitchell, who is set to name his squad for the upcoming tournament on March 8.

“If I’m being totally honest, sometimes it’s nice to just get back out there and survive the first one,” said Scarratt afterwards. “The overwhelming feeling right now is probably a bit of frustration around the game, but personally it’s just so good to be back out there.

“Nothing beats playing and that’s why I am still a rugby player. I still love it and I still have a big appetite to get out there and play the game. Obviously, there was bound to be a bit of rustiness because all I’ve done is train and play alongside the girls and the systems I know at Loughborough, but I’m just thrilled to get back out there and enjoy my rugby again.”

With Scarratt deployed in a new midfield role of inside centre, the former World Player of the Year showed little sign of that rustiness, providing the catalyst for much of her side’s early attacking endeavours. Her handling and overall direction was certainly impressive, whilst a clever grubber kick in behind on seven minutes demonstrated that her rugby creativity is as switched on as ever.

Some ill-discipline within Lightning ranks, particularly in the first half, meant that Scarratt’s defensive resolve was frequently tested by the hosts, who led 19-12 at the break thanks to tries from Simi Pam, Lana Skeldon and Abbie Ward, two of which were converted by Amber Reed. Scarratt, though, appeared up to the task when called upon and was much the same for the few minutes she spent on the field after the break.

Mitchell, who will take charge of the Red Roses for the first time in the Six Nations, is clearly keen to exploit the talents of the experienced back, particularly in the No 12 role where he feels she can have even more of an influence on England’s grand plans.

“John and I have discussed playing at 12,” added Scarratt. “It’s just to try and get more of my handling game into how England want to play the game. Also, it suits the way Loughborough play. We’re pretty fluid anyway, so it doesn’t matter what number is on your back, but I enjoyed it.”

Scarratt, though, admits she is under no illusions when it comes to selection for the Six Nations, saying: “I know I’ve not played a lot of rugby and there are some who have – and who have done it very well. Right now, I am just trying to put my head down, do my thing, get back playing and see where that takes me. Obviously, the main aim is to get back into the squad and that is what I am going after.”

Indeed, her primary target to this point has been getting back to full fitness and she is thankful for the support she has received during this testing part of her career.

“Inevitably you have tough days, you don’t spend this long out of the game doing the job you love without having a few tough days, but I am a pretty level-headed kind of person whereby I understood what was going on. I don’t get too emotionally invested in certain bits and I just tried to keep my head down and look at the next thing.

“No injury is easy, but I had an amazing support network around me – family, friends, team-mates, medics and S&Cs – they all piled in to either help me get back here physically or get back here mentally with a smile on my face.”

The Bears, who sit fourth in the current standings, wrapped up their 33-17 win of the campaign with further scores from Skeldon and Evie Gallagher. Lightning countered with tries from Hallie Taufoou, Sadia Kabeya and Helena Rowland, who also added a conversion.

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