WHEN Katy Mclean finally gets the chance to sit down and look back on her rugby career in years to come, 2014 will be a pretty good place to start.
In January, she was awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours List for her services to the sport, an achievement she admitted at the time was a “massive shock”.
But things got even better for the Darlington Mowden Park Sharks fly-half when she led England to the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Paris after a 21-9 final win over Canada a fortnight ago.
Add in the fact she has just signed a contract to become a full-time athlete with the Rugby Football Union in a move that will see the national women’s team paid to play for the very first time, and it’s easy to see why Mclean can’t help but walk around with the biggest smile on her face.
“It’s nearly two weeks on now, but I haven’t had a lot of time to sit down and think about it all,” the 28-year-old said.
“Getting the MBE was such a massive thing for me and something I never ever expected. Then going to the World Cup and captaining my country to win it for the first time in 20 years. At the moment it is all such a blur.
“I don’t think I will actually appreciate it all until I’m 30 years down the line and I’ll probably say I should have made more of it at the time.
“It’s phenomenal, but I am really lucky in terms of the support I’ve had from family. They’ve been amazing ever since I was little and supported me in everything I wanted to do and I’m pretty grateful for that.”
Captaining your country to a World Cup win is a life-changing moment no matter what sport you play, and that is no different as far as Mclean is concerned.
Since taking over the armband from Catherine Spencer in the wake of England’s 2010 World Cup final defeat on home soil, the South Shields-born star has juggled her international rugby commitments with teaching a reception class at Bexhill Academy in Sunderland.
The 28-year-old has been on a sabbatical over the past 12 months to make sure she was in the best shape ahead of the tournament, but on Monday it will be back to the classroom for Mclean, if only for a short time.
Her decision to accept the RFU’s full-time contract means she will give up her job teaching, but not until after she’s shared her success with some of her biggest fans.
She said: “I’m going back to school on Monday and I’ll get to see the kids and share all this with them.
“I haven’t even had time to do my lesson plans, so I’ll just take my medal in and tell them we’ll spend the day outside!
“They’ve been fantastic. The amount of parents that have been in touch to say well done has been great.
“I’m going to have to break it to the kids that I’m leaving, but it was a really hard decision. The school has been great. I go back until October, then I’ll join up with the sevens programme.
“It’s been great to come home. I had so much support while I was in France so coming back and getting to share it with everyone has been brilliant. The North-East is a fantastic place to live and the public is so supportive of what we’ve done.”
It’s hard to imagine the likes of Steven Gerrard, Alastair Cook and Chris Robshaw teaching a class of four and five-year-olds through the week and then having to fit in time to train and play, but the RFU’s step to award 20 players centralised contracts in another victory for women’s sport.
It may have been a long time coming given the fact the national governing bodies for football, cricket and hockey have already handed their female stars professional contracts, but Mclean believes the decision will enable the squad to continue establishing themselves as one of the world’s most dominant forces following their win in Paris.
“We talk about building momentum and that’s happening in women’s sport right now,” Mclean said. “But you also look at local communities and how this can influence them. The fact myself and Tamara (Taylor) play at Mowden will hopefully inspire girls in the area and make them see they can do what we have.
“You look at the success of England women’s football, cricket and hockey. It’s really giving young girls people to look up to. You don’t have to be a model or a pop star, you can genuinely be a sportswoman, and now it’s cool.”
Having been awarded an MBE and lifted the World Cup, Mclean admits it will be hard to top the last eight months, but the fly-half has already set her sights on winning another top prize.
The players handed contracts make up the England Sevens squad that will compete on the IRB Sevens World Circuit and as they seek qualification as Great Britain for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, and Mclean revealed she will be enlisting the help of friend and England women’s football captain Steph Houghton after her success as part of Team GB at London 2012.
She said: “You talk about the Olympics and I kind of assumed I would be too old, but now I’ve got a contract that potentially gives me the opportunity to go to an Olympics.
“It’s amazing for the game especially when you look at what it’s done for cricket and football. That’s what it should be like. London 2012 did so well to put women’s sport on the map and that’s what young girls need. They need to be able to aspire to do that in whatever sport they chose.
“The Olympics is the next journey for me. The women’s football team did great in London and it’ll be good for us to see how they did it and how they coped, because it’s very different to anything we’ve ever known.”
DARLINGTON Mowden Park Sharks lock Tamara Taylor was back at work just two days after helping England lift the World Cup in Paris.
The 32-year-old played a pivotal role in the victory over Canada when her smart dummy led to Danielle Waterman crossing the line for England’s first try to make the score 11-0 in Stade Jean-Bouin.
It is third time lucky for the 32-year-old, who has lived in the region for almost a decade having studied at Newcastle University, after being part of both England squads beaten in the final of the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
After spending Sunday night celebrating with the squad in Paris, Taylor was on a flight home on Monday lunchtime before returning to her role as the RFU’s community coach for South Durham on Wednesday.
The Sharks lock admits it has been a whirlwind few weeks, but hopes the victory will have a positive impact on the participation levels in the women’s game.
“I went back to work two days after winning a World Cup, which is just insane,” Taylor revealed. “But what’s great is that I work in rugby so it’s been nice to wear my medal and show everyone, and hopefully we can inspire people in the area.
“It was my third World Cup. My first one was in Canada in 2006 and that was a fairly big loss to New Zealand. Last time it was much closer. It was unbelievable to be finally stood there on the champions’ podium.
“I still keep looking at all the pictures and thinking “we’ve finally done it” after years of trying.
“It’s got masses of potential in terms of us winning. The more we can get it out there then the bigger impact it will have.
“The Olympics really started that for female athletes so hopefully we can keep that momentum going as long as we can. We’ve got three years of holding onto the trophy!”
Taylor was at her domestic club Mowden for the announcement that they will be the training base for world champions New Zealand at next year’s men’s World Cup in England, and she plans to play her part in making sure the town is buzzing when the All Blacks arrive.
She said: “Having the World Cup in your own country is brilliant. I can’t believe the world champions are coming to our rugby club. As part of my job I’ll be going into schools to publicise it, so hopefully we can get plenty kids interested in the game.”