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Transcript of the Tough Girl Podcast with Catherine Spencer - Former England Women’s Rugby Union pla

Sarah: Hello and welcome to The Tough Girl Podcast. I'm your host Sarah Williams.

The Tough Girl Podcast, as you know, is all about motivating and inspiring women.

As you may have noticed, there's been a lot of information in the papers recently about the rugby world cup, which is being hosted by England. I wanted to take advantage of that, because rugby has been seen as this male dominated sport, but is it?

I've got a very special guest with me today, Catherine Spencer, who is an English rugby union player. Captain England at the 2010 Rugby Women's World Cup, and she's had over 51 cups for England, which is absolutely fantastic.

We are going to be talking all about rugby.

Catherine, welcome to the show.

Catherine: Hi Sarah.

Sarah: I want to go back to the beginning. What first got you inspired about rugby?

It has traditionally been seen as a man's sport. I think it was only ... I can't remember when it was early 20th Century, women weren't allowed to play it.

Catherine: Yeah, it is a relatively new sport if you look at it in context. It has seen growth, massive growth really in the last 5 years even.

I started because I have 2 brothers that both played rugby, a dad that played rugby, and a mom that was really sporty and would have played rugby if it was around. One of my brothers, actually my twin brother, so I played mini rugby with him at my home club in Folkestone, without giving my age away, about 30 years ago, and I was probably one of the only girls playing mini rugby at that time.

It was very very unusual, and parents and coaches were quite bemused when I was still on the pitch when the starting whistle would go.

That's how I started, through my family really. Then my home club folks had actually started a women's club when I was about 14, 15, and I've played since then, really.

Sarah: With mini rugby, is there an age that you can play up to?

Catherine: There is indeed, and 12's the last age group, so you can play up to 11 in mixed teams with boys. Of course when I was playing there was no girl's rugby or such. There was no age grade rugby or not, I was just very lucky that my home club started a women's team.

When I finished the under 12 season, I thought I wouldn't be able to play again till I was 18 when I went off to university, or found a senior club.

Now it's very very different. Girls and boys can play mini rugby together, and now there's under 13's, under 15's, and under 18's teams for girls. It's a lot more girls will be getting on in clubs, and in schools as well.

Sarah: Which is really fantastic to see. I suppose as well at that age, if you were a boy you'd always had played rugby with girls, it wouldn't be seen as something different or something odd, it would just be seen as normal.

Catherine: It's definitely becoming more normal now, girl's rugby.

When I used to stay about I played, there was definitely a few raised eyebrows and a few funny comments, but it's much more accepted now. It's much more widespread through the country, and there's still more potential for growth, most definitely.

There's still a lot of clubs that don't have women or girl's rugby. There's lots and lots of schools that don't play women and girl's rugby, but looking back 5, 10, 15 years, there's much more availability for girls and women that want to play now.

Sarah: Why do you think it's suddenly become so much more popular over the past 5 or 10 years?

Catherine: I'm incredibly biased, and I think it's the best sport in the world. I always say, and I've always said this, and I always will.

One of the best things about rugby for males and females is that it's so inclusive, and that is a position on the pitch for anyone regardless of your shape and size. You could hate running, and you could hate cross country. You could not be great at football, but actually could go and be a star of your rugby team, and I think that's what's so great about it.

We could go with the growth in women's rugby. I think I've seen a growth in women's team sport, generally. If you look at cricket, and football as well, and also netball to a degree with a back to netball program, there does seem to be a growth in women's team sports over the last few years.

Fantastic to see, and alongside team sports the, "It's okay to be a woman and be strong." I think there's people who struggled with the idea of that oh, 5, 10 years ago, and it's actually becoming pretty popular now.

Sarah: You headed off to Cardiff where you continue to play rugby, and I suppose one of the comments that I was wondering if you get, because rugby is a physical game. You are tackling each other, I imagine you get comments of, "You're not going to get hurt?" How do you cope with how physical the game is? Do you think that's a misconception?

Catherine: I think so. It is a contact sport, and I don't think we should shy away from that. It is also a sport of evasion and agility. It brings in so many different skill sets, but yes. There is tackling, and there is contact in the game of rugby, which I personally love.

Actually a lot of those comments come from women themselves. I think rugby's a sport that looks a bit tougher than it actually is. It doesn't feel so tough when you're in the middle of it.

There have been comments over the years by women and men, but I say it's all relative, really. We're not going up against men and we never would. We're playing against women, and yeah there are some massive hits that go on.

That's a good thing for it, that's a good thing about it.

Getting back to my comment before, if that's okay. It's okay to be strong and be female. I don't think there's anything like it. I don't think you can replicate the sport very well. I know friends of mine that used to play and have now finishes playing for various reasons, and they say they really miss it. They really miss the contact side of rugby, and struggle to find that in any other sport.

Not every male is suited to rugby, not every male likes playing in a contact sport, and that's okay, and that's the same with females.

Sarah: I am going to ask you a question though, because I've never played rugby. I've always thought, because I've seen some of the tackles, what happens if you get a shoulder in your boob? It must really hurt.

Catherine: Yeah sometimes. I'll tell you what happens more actually, is sometimes if you get the ball kicked to you, or a really strong pass or something, and it just lands in that particular area and on the boob, it can be sometimes quite painful.

To be honest with you, when you're playing in a game, you don't really notice stuff like that.

Quite a few girls and women now wear pads and shoulder pads and stuff like that. I never have, I've got enough of my own padding, but actually during the game, you don't tend to notice those knocks and bruises and stuff. It's quite often in the shower afterwards you notice a bruise or two.

Sarah: I think what was interesting is when you talked about this massive growth in women's team sports, which I think is so fantastic. I think what you have is you have a lot of males who will always continue to play football every Sunday. You'll go down to the park for some 5 a-side.

They may not be very good at it, but they have a kick around, and they have that male bonding, and it's the relationship building you learn from that. You can learn so much from team sports.

You went to Cardiff, you started playing rugby for the university, you obviously did incredibly well. How did you progress, or how did you move forward with your rugby to get to the professional level?

Catherine: I really developed as a player at Cardiff uni. We had two great coaches. After university I went back home for a year, played club rugby again for a year, played county and regional rugby.

Then I went off and did the whole traveling thing for a year. I wanted to see the world. Took a year off rugby, but it was during that year that I really thought, "Do you know what? I think I'm okay at this. I think I'm all right at rugby. I think I can give it a bit of a go."

When I got home from traveling, a week later my coach put me forward to some trials. I got through those trials, and attended these summer training days, and from that was selected to attend effectively England trials they used to have back then called the 2 for 4s, which involved the top 80, 90 players in the country, including the current England players at the time, came together, put into four different squads, and played a series of games like the two or three weekends.

I did all right in those trials, and got into what was then called England Academy, which just sat just below the England elite playing squad, and was in that for a year and then moved up to the elite squad.

Yeah, it was just a series of training and trials that got me eventually into the elite squad. Then I got my first cap because a player who played number 8, which is my position, got injured.

Sarah: You mentioned rugby, it's a really inclusive sport, so depending if it's for all shapes, it's for all sizes, so depending on what you want to do, there will be a position available for you.

You mentioned that you play number 8. Can you tell us a bit more about position and your role and why it suited you?

Catherine: In rugby, to speak fairly simply. A team's made up of 15 players, and within that you have eight players that are called forwards, tend to be a bit bigger and stronger, which I was one. Have seven players that make up the backs, who tend to be generally a bit faster, a bit more agile, and they tend to be the players that given a bit of space can sprint down the pitch.

I played in the forwards, and if people can imagine there's something called the scrum. They probably would have seen it on TV recently when eight players from each side are packed down against each other. I play number 8 which is the player at the back of the scrum, so you're included in the scrum, but when the ball comes out the back, you control the ball with your feet before it gets further out to the backs.

Number 8 I think is the best position ever, but you get to be involved.

You're quite in the middle of the game, get the ball in your hands quite a lot, you get to run with the ball, and you're in the middle of everything, really.

I love it, it's a great position. When I became captain, it's a nice position to captain from, because you're always on the front foot, if you like. You have an ability to get the team to go forward.

Sarah: How old were you when you got your first cap?

Catherine: Oh I was actually relatively old, if you like. I was 24 when I got my first cap. Nowadays, players seem to be a lot younger. Even though I've been playing for a long time, longer than most other people. I chose to go to university, I didn't want to do any uni rugby stuff there, and I chose to go away traveling. It's after that that I then went and worked to get into the setup, and looking back, I'm really pleased that I did it that way.

Sarah: First cap, let me just clarify. First cap is basically you put the shirt on for England, but you weren't captain of the squad.

Catherine: No, so in sports, and it's similar to other team sports as well, every time you go out, you run out and represent your country at the full senior team, you get what's called a cap. You get actually given a physical cap on your first time that you play. Mine's at home at my parent's displayed in a little cabinet. It's a purple velvet cap if you like, but you don't actually get given a cap every time you play. You get given a cap on your first cap, but you count the amount of times you play for your country as caps. I actually went on to get 63 caps for England in total.

Sarah: Representing your country is a huge honor. You've obviously, you've been playing rugby since such a young age, and you've worked your way up through the ranks, through the super teams, through the elite squad into the England Academy, in the elite squad. You're now representing your country. Can you describe what that felt like?

Catherine: I can remember it really vividly, actually. England women like the men have every year, in February and March, have the Six Nations Championship, which is a tournament which competes us by England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, and Italy.

We always have the same fixtures honed away, fixtures as the men. It was during the 2004 Six Nations that I got my first cup. I was asked to travel out to Scotland, we had an away game with Scotland. Because of injury I got selected into the squad, so you have 15 players starting on the pitch.

Well now you have eight, but back then you had seven players on the subs bench that are there either to cover injury, or for tactical replacement. I was on the bench for this Scotland game.

First time I'd ever been called away with England. Pretty nervous, and back then our coach, there wasn't much of a turnover of players.

He didn't bring many new players in very often, so it was quite daunting for me. I was still playing [inaudible 00:12:07] and I didn't know any of these players, but nonetheless traveled up to Scotland with this squad, and was part of that weekend. Another tradition that we do within the Englands when we set up is every time you get your first call up, so you travel away with the senior squad, you get presented with a rose the night before the game, along with what we call shirt presentation. Everyone gets presented their match shirts for the next day. It was a really special occasion, I got presented with this rose, I was part of the squad, but I didn't actually get on the pitch the next day.

I traveled all the way to Scotland, but didn't play any rugby. Went home and thought, "Well if nothing else happens, it was a pretty good experience. Got this rose, I was part of the squad. Not many people get to do that."

Went back to work, and then the following week the coach phoned me up and he was like, "We need you." This is on a Friday. He told me after the Scotland game didn't need me, the other player was fit again, I wasn't needed. I didn't think much more of it, and then about 4:00 on a Friday, he phoned me up. He was like, "Oh my goodness, the other player's injured, we're going to need you back on the squad." I had to whiz home, get me my stuff, and meet the team up near Richmond in London ready for a game against Wales the next day.

I really didn't think I'd be playing, I thought it'd be similar to the week before against Scotland. I really thought I was there just to cover any injury. We were playing at the [inaudible 00:13:23] Steep. About 20 minutes to go, I was on the bench. We were beating Wales fairly well, and then I heard my name and I was like, "Oh my goodness."

They said, "All right, Catherine Spencer, I want you to go on."

I remember vividly standing on the side of the pitch waiting to be called on, waiting to swap with the other player, and I remember thinking, "Oh my goodness, this is incredible."

My parents had come to watch, and then I ran onto the pitch.

As I ran on, I remember thinking, as some of your words saying, "Oh my goodness, I'm representing my country. I'm representing my country. I'm representing England at rugby."

I just kept thinking that over and over in my head as I was running onto the pitch to take my place.

Then the next 20 minutes were a bit of a blur, if I'm honest. We won fairly well against Wales, and I got a little try on my debue which was quite special.

Then I was just on an absolute high for about a week after that, and my parents as well. Talk about proud parents, they were definitely that.

That week what was really nice, by dad bought a bottle of Port for each of the coaches that had coached me at my home club at Folkston, so leading up to that is the coaches that coached me when I was 8, 9, 10, 11. We went round to see them all and took them a bottle of Port.

It was an amazing, amazing moment running onto the pitch, and then an amazing few days after as I was on an absolute high, and I was like, "Wow, if that never happens again, I've played for England." Of course I definitely wanted more.

Sarah: Fantastic, and I think that is such a lovely touch as well. It's so nice to look back and thank the people that have helped you on this journey and developed you from when you were 8, 9, under 11's, under 12's, and all the way through to actually playing for your country.

It's a huge honour, and just absolutely fantastic. I could actually picture myself almost in your shoes, going to the stadium and seeing the crowds. I could imagine how proud my parents would be if I'd done something like that.

One of the areas I just want to go back to is actually you mentioned about the teamwork, that you didn't know the other players when you first got called up to Scotland, and then you're playing Wales.

How does that work if you haven't played with them before, you haven't been training with them in the buildup to something like the Six Nations?

Catherine: I had trained with them to a certain degree. I was in the elite squad, and I didn't play against them week in, week out. I didn't play in the same cup as any of them, they were all playing the [inaudible 00:15:47] and I was playing the Folkestone. I knew of a few of them.

Then into the elite squad I was playing for the A team, which was the team below the senior team. Then when I was called up into the squad you're right, I'd never actually played ... I played alongside a couple of them in trials, but I'd never played in the England team with them, and I hadn't trained as a squad with them. It was quite difficult, actually.

As I said before, the coach at that time didn't bring a lot of new players in. It was difficult, and I was someone that I guess I did struggle with confidence in the early days and had to really build that as a player and rugby certainly helped me to do that.

It was a bit of a challenge definitely, but the coach was really good, and he selected me for a reason, and he selected me for my strength, my ability to carry the ball forward, and I just went on and did the things that I knew that I did well, and built on that over the next year or two.

Initially yeah, it was hard, but the other girls in the squad were brilliant. There were people that I looked up to, they were my role models really. Some of them particularly, and to take to the pitch alongside them was an incredible moment.

They were fantastic, and I think that's something you develop playing in a sport like that is how to interact with people, how to build relationships with people quite quickly sometimes.

When you go on a pitch, when you go on a rugby pitch, everything you do is to help and support the people around you, so you have to quickly gain each other's trust and respect.

It was hard, it was a tough process, but it was one that was brilliant and made a little bit easier by the players around me.

Sarah: In terms of confidence, you just said it yourself. You lacked that little bit of confidence and you built it as a player, and obviously scoring your first try in your debue match must have helped build your confidence.

How else have you developed your confidence over the years?

Catherine: Yeah, it's really difficult. I would say I was necessarily an un-confident person when I first started playing, but I found it difficult.

Again, because the club I was playing for wasn't in the [inaudible 00:17:49], and for ages I had to get over this, "What am I doing here? Why am I here? I shouldn't be here. I'm not good enough." I eventually realized actually by the way that I played on the pitch, I was good enough, and there was a reason that I was there.

It was difficult to growing that confidence. Playing in the sport helped me with that, and it became more and more apparent actually when I became captain.

I had to begin the process again of developing that confidence, and probably more as captain I talk about this quite often, I have had this ability to pretend that I was this really confident leader.

You don't actually get trained how to do it. No one gives you lessons in how to captain your country, so for the first couple of years I developed this kind of ability to pretend, I think, that I was that really, really, confident leader.

After a couple of years I realized that I just was. I wasn't pretending anymore, but I was definitely learning on the job most definitely.

I think the way I developed the confidence was just to make decisions. Just make decisions and go for them and do them, but it was definitely difficult. It's definitely helped me now in what I'm doing now. It was a long process, I think people need time to develop their skills.

Sarah: Absolutely. I just want to pick up on something that you said, that you have these thoughts where, "I'm not good enough, why have they picked me?" I think a lot of women suffer from this. Not necessarily in sports, but in life, in jobs, in their career, where ... I know that I've done it whenever I was promoted Id be thinking, "Am I good enough? Can I actually do this job?"

It's interesting what you said about almost fake it till you make it, that you just pretended and then suddenly one day you realized that actually, "Yes, I'm good at this job. I'm doing this job, I'm making the decisions, I'm making this happen." Becoming captain and leading the team, new responsibilities that you had to take on as that leader. How did you take on those responsibilities?

Catherine: Again, that was a hard job. We'd had our world cup in 2006 and had quite a few player retired. We had a couple of players that continued through to 2007, including Sue Day, who took over the captain C for a year after 2006, it was [inaudible 00:20:04] prior to that. I knew that Sue Day was retiring after 2007 Six Nations, and and there was myself and probably a crop of four or five other players who'd suddenly become the senior players.

Sarah: Can I just ask, did you want to become captain?

Catherine: Yes. To answer it, the short answer.

I'd taken time to really think about this, and I understood that I was one of the senior players, I was playing pretty well. Id won the player of the year award the previous year.

I was doing well in my position, I'd really developed as that player. It was three years in now into my own career, and I knew there was four or five of us that would need to take on that senior role.

I really thought about it, and I was like, "Actually, do you know what? I had this quiet confidence that I could take on this leadership role."

After some encouragement from Sue Day, the former captain, I actually phoned the coach, our [inaudible 00:20:58] coach, and said to him that, "I want to put my name in the hat. I know there's a few players around that could do this job."

We had this really long phone call and actually spoke about all the other players on the team that would make a great England captain, not really about myself. That didn't go to plan, or I didn't think it did. Didn't think too much more of it.

We had a summer off where we didn't have anything on that summer, then in about the September, October I think it was, Gary [inaudible 00:21:22] coach phoned me up and basically told me I was the new England captain.

I put the phone down and I basically texted him straight back and was like, "Did that actually happen, or was that a dream?"

No, it actually happened. When it was finally announced that I was the new England captain, it was quite difficult.

I definitely wasn't the natural choice for a lot of players and a lot of former players, because I was quite quiet.

It was a choice that wasn't automatic for other people. Gary [Street 00:21:50], the coach, went on to tell me that he'd had a list of about 36 different criteria, and he'd ranked myself and four other players that were in the frame against his criteria, and I ticked the most criteria, which is why I became England captain. I'd love to see that list, I haven't.

It's quite difficult again, because I wasn't necessarily the natural choice for a lot of people.

The first game I captained was an autumn international against an American. America that had come over touring in autumn in 2007. Going out to play for your country is very special, and a massive honor, but leading your team out is another level, really. I feel so honored to have had that privilege to have done that job for three years for England.

Sarah: There's two things I just want to go back and discuss there that you said.

One, I really love the fact how you really thought about becoming the leader of this team, becoming this captain, and that you took control of that situation, and you called the coach up. You took steps to make that happen, which I think is fantastic because so many women are afraid to take that step, and I think it's so good that you did that.

The second thing which I'm really interested in is that you said you weren't the natural choice because you were quite quiet. I think what can happen is, I admit it, I'm a massive extrovert. I will talk to anybody, I'm very loud.

I think what can happen is that the louder people who are extroverts can dominate the conversations.

They can be seen to have the right answers just because they shout the loudest, which is not necessarily true all the time, it's just that they've got that confidence to put it across.

Being a quieter person doesn't actually mean that you're not as confident. It's just a different style.

How did you get the other people on side who maybe thought, "Is she right for this job?"

Catherine: Yeah, it was very difficult.

I'm actually going back to your first point when you said I took the initiative and I made that phone call.

I will tell you now I've never been so nervous about anything before in my life before I phoned the coach.

Yes, you're right, and actually I think that translates into work. A lot of women won't apply for a job unless they tick every single criteria and say five out of five, whereas generally speaking, a massive generalization, a lot of males will if they only tick one or two, and that seems to be a similar trait.

Yeah so when I got there, when I got the captaincy, I was very much like ... I spoke through actions on the pitch, and we talk about leading by example.

That's definitely something that I did. I thought I led by example in the pitch. It's very important as captain you've got to really focus on your performance.

First and foremost, you have to be selected in your position. [inaudible 00:24:32] you're selected as captain four months as a rugby player, as an England player, is magnified really when you're captain and you've got to make sure you're on the top of the game through that way. I really wanted to lead by example on the pitch.

Then off the pitch as well, I was very ... Just the small details off the pitch,

I was very into punctuality, and wearing the right clothes, and things like that. It's that attention to detail off the pitch.

I led by example, but also I had to have the difficult conversations with the people that were turning up late to meetings and stuff like that, which wasn't the England way for us.

It was difficult because actually a lot of the people I was leading and captain of were my friends, so having to go from a peer group to suddenly leading that group was quite difficult.

At times it was quite lonely, it was hard, but actually those things you have to learn to accept. One of them was that actually, "You know what? I wasn't going to please everyone all of the time," Which is what I tried to do when I first took on the captaincy.

In a team sport, especially like rugby, there's so many different people, and characters, and personality that come together to create that team.

No one is going to respond to the same leader all the time. That's another thing that I learned as captain.

Being a good captain, as you say, is not necessarily shouting the loudest. It's actually being aware, being perceptive of the people around you, and utilizing the strengths of others, which was key I think in the team, and just a basic example, at halftime of matches, I'm not the sort of person to shout and scream.

I wouldn't suggest that's the best thing to do, but sometimes in matches at halftime I felt that we needed a bit of a waking up.

I would always go to one of our props, Rocky Clarke, who's still playing now over 100 cups, she's absolutely incredible. She would be the person that I would go to at halftime if I felt that the team needed waking up.

She'd be the person I'd ask to talk to them, because the way she said it, and the way she spoke. That's just one example, but being a good captain is being able to recognize strength in others. Delegating leadership to others, that doesn't make you a bad captain, it makes you a strong captain.

Sarah: Absolutely, and great, great tips there. Thank you for sharing them as well.

One of the things I would like to just discuss is the pressure.

You've now become the England captain, you've obviously got to perform well on the pitch, you are leading by example.

There is a focus on your own individual performance, people are now looking at you for support.

There's a lot more pressure around you and around how the team performs. That can happen a lot when women do take on these leadership roles.

There's suddenly all of this pressure, all the eyes are on you. How did you cope with that pressure?

Catherine: Yeah, I don't know. I think I just did. I'm a very calm person, and I think that was probably one of the reasons that I got awarded the captaincy, a very composed person.

I actually really enjoyed the other aspect of the pressure on the game, and lots more media attention, and lots more demand on your time.

I'm actually saying that the pressure to perform yourself as a player is much more intense.

As a team actually, we were always under quite a lot of pressure because we were always ranked number one or two in the world. We were always expected to perform well.

There was this building pressure, especially leading up to the 2010 world cup and world cup final. I think as a squad and as a team and as an individual, we learned to enjoy that and to relish that and actually not to see that as pressure, but to see that as fuel, I think, to carry us forward and to push us forward.

I think we managed ourselves, we managed our time well, but I always, always made sure that I took some time out away from rugby, and away from training, both physically and mentally.

I'd quite often go and see friends. I had friends away from rugby, which I think is very important. I'd go out [inaudible 00:28:35] often drinking because I was playing, but I'd go out for an evening, or go and see a friend for lunch and I'd say right at the beginning, "Right, we're not talking about rugby. Not talking about England rugby.

I'm just here, I'm just Cath sat here having lunch with a friend and not talking about rugby." I'd always set aside these times where I could just get away from rugby for a bit, and the same with my family. Very, very supportive, and I think that's something that's really, really important.

You can deal with the pressure, but you can't deal with it 100% of the time. You need to take some time out occasionally, and that's absolutely fine.

Sarah: No, that's really good advice because I think so many people end up burning themselves out, and actually rest is recovery is so, so important whether it's in your personal life, in your sporting life, and all of the different parts of your life.

You're playing at rugby at this incredibly high standard, you're representing your country, you're leading your teams, but also you're holding down a full time job as well, aren't you?

Catherine: Yeah. That's exactly right. We're not paid then, and we weren't professionals, so having to lead this very well managed life for me 7, 8, 9 years playing England rugby, which is like a full time job in itself, well they're not paid.

As you say, I had bills to pay, a mortgage to pay, and so holding down a job at the same time. For us really, it was that's what we did, it was normal. I became to I wouldn't say enjoy, but used to lots of early mornings. I was living down in Bristol for a majority of the time after I moved away from Folkestone and [inaudible 00:30:04]. I did most of my training at Bath University. I had to get up very early in the morning, travel to Bath, be in the gym probably by 7:00 in the morning. Do an hour, hour and a half training, have some breakfast, get to work, do a day's work, and then more often than not do another session in the evening in the gym, or out in the pitch, or I'd go club training with [inaudible 00:30:24] and the Bristol who I was playing with down there.

Be incredibly organized with your training schedule, but little things like making sure you had the right food in the house, you're organized with your nutrition.

It was difficult, it was very difficult, but that's just what we did, and at the time it was just normal. I never particularly felt bitter about that. Then it allowed me to reduce my hours building up to the 2010 world cup, so they were great to work with. Following with 2010, I actually then got a job with the Rugby Football Union.

Sarah: The Rugby World Cup, 2010. Tell us more about that whole experience.

Catherine: The first world cup I played in was in 2006 over in Canada. We'd got so far and then when we played against New Zealand women, the [inaudible 00:31:09] and we lost about 8 points.

England women had also got to the finals in 2002, and lost to New Zealand as well. Heading into 2010, New Zealand were the world champions, but it was very much expected that we were going to get to bar against New Zealand. In 2009, the New Zealand team came over to England to tour England, which was quite unusual. They didn't do that a lot, so it was a great time.

We played against them at [inaudible 00:31:35] after then in 2009, and we beat them 10-3.

It was the first time that they'd been beaten by any team since 2001.

This was a massive result in women's rugby, and it really pushed us more into the media limelight, if you like, and gave us huge confidence going into the world cup the following year in 2010, along obviously with the added pressure, if you like.

Leading into 2010 world cup, it was very much expected that it was going to be an England/New Zealand final.

It was tough, it was not an easy thing to do, but we got to the final. It was coming down to this moment, this game between us and New Zealand.

This is what we'd been working for for 4 years, 8 years some of us, and longer. This was it.

To cut a long story short, we lost that game by 3 points.

We lost 13-10.

I always say to people in 2006 we could have won.

We could have won that world cup final, but New Zealand were the better team on the day, I think.

In 2010 we should have won, and that's what the difference was.

I think if we went back and played that game, it would have been a different result. A few different decisions, or a few different individual skills or errors that happened, if they didn't happen again.

It was a great day of rugby. It was the biggest game that happened.

It really pushed the sport onwards, but it was absolutely devastating, absolutely gutting to lose by 3 points in the final.

It was a really, really difficult time, and speaking very honestly, I will never get over that.

I suppose it's slightly different now that the men have gone out, not even reached the knockout stages, but they will be absolutely devastated, the guys.

From us, we'd got so far and again, we'd lost by 3 points. It really got the nation to really come onboard, and actually for the sport, and for England women's rugby, we'd done a fantastic job, and it was a fantastic time for the sport.

For those of you that don't know the women's team, after I retired went on to win the world cup last year. I just wasn't on the pitch. I was in the studio watching it, which was quite difficult as well.

It was a massive, world cups are absolutely huge for rugby. It is our Olympics, and whether you're male or female, that is what you base your life around.

Sarah: Thank you for sharing that and actually putting the history behind it in the context of how many years it had taken to get to that point, and to lose by those 3 points like you said, it was devastating to lose, and you're not going to get over that.

What would you say to the England guys? They obviously are completely gutted that they haven't even progressed through the pool to make it into the next round.

For women who are listening who are maybe struggling with failure, or losing, or things not going their way, what advice would you give them?

Catherine: It's really difficult, it's incredibly difficult.

I remember actually early in the Six Nations in 2009, we as a squad lost to Wales in the Six Nations, and to put that in context, England and Wales had been playing each other, the women, for 20 years, and Wales women had never ever beaten England women.

I was the first captain to lead England women to defeat against Wales in that Six Nations. We had few players away, and this and about that, but at the end of the day we didn't play well in that game, and Wales definitely deserved to win that game.

It was absolutely devastating at the time. It was really, really tough.

Myself and the coach had really took a lot on our shoulders, found it really hard, and then actually looked at the game, looked at the decisions that we made on the pitch, really analyzed it, and used it to turn things around, and went on to actually win that Six Nations championship.

We didn't get the grand slam obviously, but that was probably the most valuable Six Nations championship I think we won, and then went on to beat New Zealand later that year, and had one of our best seasons ever.

At the time, there was a lot of the girls were playing in an England shirt. I've never lost in an England shirt, and as cliché as it sounds, I think you do need to experience the lows to know that you never ever want to go back there.

Obviously I got to the world cup final twice, lost very marginally in 2010, went on to play for another season, then retired in 2011.

It is difficult. I never achieved my dream if you like, but I achieved a lot as an England player and as an England captain, and think for me I've re-challenged myself now I suppose and reset my goals, and used a lot of the skills that I'd gained as that leader to help me now in life and business, if you like.

At the time, it seems like something that you'll never get over.

Things happen I suppose that make you you, and make you you as a person.

As hard as a bitter pill as it is to swallow at the time, things do turn around.

I always think now, I always say this and I'm very confident of saying this, but actually, if we had won in 2010, as much as I would change I think to go back and get that win, if we hadn't I'm not sure that I would be pushing myself in the way that I am now, taking on challenges, taking on challenges [inaudible 00:36:45] business.

I'm not sure that I'd be doing that now in the same way that I am. For me, I've had to re-adjust and put a reason to it, and use it to fuel me.

For the guys that have just been knocked out, it's going to be a really, really tough time.

For most of them though however, there's no reason why the majority of that squad couldn't stick together and get through to the next world cup in 2019.

There's no reason at all, and they will take so much from this. At some point when they can, not yet because it's still very emotional, but at some point they'll need to look back at the games, need to look at the reasons.

Is it personal? Is it the way we played? Is it the amount of training we did and did too much? Did we do too little? They'll be looking at all these different things, there'll be an extensive review of it, but I think for many of the players they're young enough to go on for the next 4 years.

Certainly for me, when we lost in 2006 we lost by 8 points. That really was the fuel and the motivation for me for the next 4 years. I developed so much as a player, and then obviously took on the captaincy. If we had won in 2006 I may well have retired then.

Thankful in a way that we didn't, and I had a huge four years because we lost in 2006 in a way.

In England, some of those guys will never, ever want to feel like they are now, and I think that will make them better players in the future.

Sarah: Very wise words.

I like what you said about the analysis, you look back about what went wrong, you learn from it, and then you put that into the future, and you can change it.

I think the key thing is that to anyone who's listening, is everybody fails at some point.

It's how you handle that failure, what do you take away from that. You made some excellent points about how it drove you on, it re-focused you, it gave you that next challenge, and obviously you've taken that forward into setting up your own business, which is fantastic.

Now, can you just explain a little bit more about what you're doing at the moment? I know it's related to challenges, and the outdoors, and getting physical and active.

Catherine: Yes, so my life's fairly busy at the moment. Eventually I started up a business called Inspiring Women, which is essentially a speaker agency, if you like.

I have about 20 women on my books from various sports, or adventure, or military backgrounds, and they go and speak in businesses or schools, and deliver motivational talks, if you like. That's part of what I'm doing. I also do various other things.

Sports coaching, rugby coaching, but I've also taken on a new challenge aspect of my life. Last year I was challenged by a outdoor lifestyle brand [inaudible 00:39:24] called Endure to take part and Endure 6 challenge, and to summit to 4 1,000 meter peaks in 48 hours, and I think I did it in 25 hours. That was really putting myself in an environment I'd never been in. I've climbed Snowdon when I was about 14.

This is in the Swiss Alps, I'd never been in that environment, so that was a great challenge. This November, in about 6 weeks time in fact, along with some other members and team leaders, we'll be trekking across the [inaudible 00:39:53] Desert in Namibia, 150 kilometers unsupported from the [inaudible 00:39:58] land towards the Skeleton caves.

Again, an environment I have never ever been involved with, and again that's with Endure, who supports 6 different charities.

One of them is the David Shepard Wildlife Foundation, so they're making a documentary film as part of this to raise awareness of the illegal trade of wild animals. It's definitely going to be a challenge, so opportunities like this have really been born out of my career as a rugby player and captain.

It's fantastic to ... From a very individual point of view, it's very nice to be able to challenge myself. I think when you've played sport, or when you've done anything at a high level, may it be in business or sport, you've got that desire inside you.

That hunger to always want to push yourself, or always better yourself. It's great to have the opportunities to do this in such a different environment.

Sarah: Absolutely. I am such a big person who likes to support people who do challenges. I think it's so important for getting people outside of their comfort zone.

My challenge is going to be running across the Sahara Desert, 6 marathons in 6 days in the marathon des Sables.

I suppose the message that you're trying to do with Endure, and what I'm trying to do with Tough Guy Challenges, is to inspire people.

Not necessarily to go and run across deserts like how crazy we are, but in terms of what do they need to do, what are the small challenges that they need to face everyday? Is it just getting out of bed and having a shower, or tidying the house, or de-cluttering, or is it doing something a little bit active, or is it trying to get past that failure or that setback, or following your dream and doing something where people have turned around and said, "No, you can't do that."

It could be going after a degree, it could be going back into education. There are so many things that challenge you, and challenges come in all shapes an all different sizes.

It's all about growing and expanding your comfort zone, and building that self confidence.

6 weeks to go, how are you feeling about it?

Catherine: I'm not sure. I'm going to be honest, I'm a bit nervous. I've never been to the desert. I've never been in that environment, so I am a bit nervous, but I think that's okay. I think that would be weird if I wasn't. I always used to say that to the girls before England games, and actually it's a good thing.

I'm at the same time extremely excited. Can't wait to get out there and just see what it's like. It's an amazing area I think, and an opportunity to see some incredible wildlife, hopefully if we're lucky. There's elephants being one of them. It would be an amazing, amazing experience.

One of the things I'm most looking forward to is at night just looking up and just seeing the stars like you never would have seen them before in this country. I think that would be quite a poignant moment.

I am nervous, I am excited. I'm aware that it's going to be quite tough. It will be physically challenging, carrying all our own equipment for the trek, which will probably be about 10 days. That's not going to be easy. There's going to be really high temperatures, high heat because of the time of year we're going. We'll be trekking in the morning, having to put some shade up in the middle of the day, and then trekking later in the day. It will just be too hot for us to trek in the middle of the day.

That's going to be tough. I think it's going to be more mentally tough than anything, and it's going to be getting up and getting into these routines, and just what I say is just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and just keep moving forward.

It's going to be great, and we're going to have people coming into our teams not necessarily know that well at the beginning of the trek, but we certainly will, I think, towards the end of the trek. I'm a little bit unsure because it's a new environment.

Yeah, I just can't wait.

Sarah: Sounds super, super exciting. You do have a website, do you just want to give a shoutout to your website?

Catherine: My business website is

Sarah: Obvious, and you're on Twitter as well, what's your handle?

Catherine: My personal Twitter handle is @cathspence8.

Sarah: @cathspence8. Absolutely fantastic.

Catherine, it has been such an honor and a pleasure to talk to you today. Learning so much about rugby, about your story, about the different skills that you've learned from becoming a part of a team, to representing your country, to becoming the captain, to dealing with the pressure, and what you've gone on to do.

I think one of the most interesting ones was actually was talking about how to deal with failure, and you gave some really top tips and great advice.

If you are listening, please do send Catherine a tweet @catherinspence8. I'm also on Twitter as well, @sarahwiliiams @_tough_girl.

As always, all of the information and everything that we've talked about will be in the show notes, and that will be available from the Tough Girl Challenge website, so

Catherine, thank you so much for being on the Tough Girl podcast, and best of luck with your future challenge, or your next challenge across the desert.

Catherine: Thank you Sarah, it's been an absolute pleasure. Thank you.

Sarah: Hi everyone. I really hope you enjoyed that episode with Catherine. What an inspirational woman. I've so enjoyed listening to all of her conversations.

We have got a fantastic month of women coming up on the Tough Girl Podcast, and I can't wait to get these episodes out to you.

Next week we've got Robin Baldwin, who is an alpha female and OCR specialist, and also an MS warrior. She is suffering from multiple sclerosis, and it's how she copes with that and continues to do what she does. She's very, very inspirational.

I've then gone on to speak to Natalie Vie, who's a US fencer. This was recorded while she was sat outside a café in New York. It's very authentic, you can hear the taxis driving past, the New Yorkers shouting, and horns blaring.

Again, an incredibly inspirational woman hearing her story and how she got into fencing.

Then finally, we've got Helen Russell, who is a world champion duathlete and triathlete.

I can't wait to get these stories out for you, but I also want to do a couple of shoutouts.

I want to say a massive thank you to Nicola Spears, who has been amazing. She has been sharing the Tough Girl podcast, she's been telling all her friends about it, which is just ... It means so much to me, I just want to say a massive thank you, Nicola. I really appreciate it.

It's fantastic when I get tweets from you guys saying how much you loved it, and it's really helped you get through your run or your training, and it's really motivated, and it's really inspired you. Which is what I want, I want you guys to be enjoying this and taking away useful pieces of information.

I also want to do a little shoutout to M. I don't actually know her name, but her Twitter handle is @readeatwriterun. Hugely supportive, she's been reading my blog, she's been re-tweeting, and also given me loads of suggestions for future or potential interviewees for the future, so thank you Ann, I really do appreciate it.

It's been a really exciting month, and yeah, I can't wait to share the next couple of episodes.

If you've enjoyed what you're listening to, please do tell your friends about it. Share the podcast, let's get these messages of motivation and inspiration out there.

As always, if you want to get in contact with me, I would love to hear from you. I'm available on Twitter @_tough_girl. You can also send me an email,

Tough Girl Challenges is my website. I also have my blog on there, where I talk about health, fitness, training, meditation. Loads of different and interesting things, so please do go and check it out.

Have a great week, and I look forward to speaking with you next Tuesday at 7am when the next Tough Girl Podcast episode comes out.

Speak to you soon, guys.

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