Ash­leigh Hew­son: Rugby player.

Ash­leigh Hew­son, 38, rugby player Wal­la­roos, NSW Waratahs

The Saturday Paper - - The Week Contents - Richard Cooke

You might not ex­pect an in­ter­na­tional rugby player to be 38 years old and weigh 64 ki­los. I’ve al­ways been quite small, so I spent the ma­jor­ity of my child­hood tack­ling my broth­ers, who were al­ways a lot big­ger than me. I had to learn to ad­just with tech­nique and work with the size that I had. In terms of my age, un­for­tu­nately that’s some­thing that is a given and has to hap­pen. I think my love for the game is what keeps me go­ing and keeps me on the field.

The phys­i­cal as­pect of women’s rugby has changed dra­mat­i­cally. I’ve been play­ing for more than 10 years now, and when it’s a semi-pro­fes­sional en­vi­ron­ment, in terms of fit­ness and strength and con­di­tion­ing and ev­ery­thing like that, it’s def­i­nitely no­tice­able in the field.

When I was a lit­tle bit younger, soc­cer was my game. I grew up in Jervis Bay. Ba­si­cally the only three sports that were avail­able were net­ball, soc­cer and rugby league. I played rugby league as a kid with my broth­ers and guys from school, and when I wasn’t al­lowed to play with the boys any­more, there was only soc­cer and net­ball.

Soc­cer took me a lot of places, and I was part of the wider Matil­das squad in the lead-up to the 2000 Olympics. Un­for­tu­nately I missed out on that op­por­tu­nity, and then found my love for rugby again.

The most trans­fer­able skill, and what as­sists me the most, is my kick­ing game. My place kick­ing is at­trib­uted to the fact I played soc­cer for so many years – the way I strike the ball and so forth.

The more games you play of any sport, the smarter you get. You can see things hap­pen be­fore they ac­tu­ally oc­cur. I think the big dif­fer­ence in rugby is it’s a very team-ori­en­tated sport. That’s the rea­son why I love it so much. I’ve al­ways played team sports from a young age, but the feel­ing you get with rugby and know­ing that your team­mates are al­ways be­hind you – “we’ll get up for you and we’ll be in a ruck”. It cre­ates that re­ally strong bond be­tween peo­ple.

My best friends are peo­ple I’ve played rugby with for that ex­act rea­son – ca­ma­raderie. Know­ing that if you’re go­ing into a sit­u­a­tion that looks a bit hairy, your mates are go­ing to be right there be­side you, right there to save you, get the ball back and go again. It trans­fers into life as well. It’s a pretty spe­cial sport, that’s for sure.

The change in women’s sport came down to the suc­cess of our fe­male teams within the coun­try. Look

at the suc­cess of the cricket girls, the suc­cess of the Matil­das, mak­ing the semi-fi­nals of the World Cup a few years ago. As soon as you have suc­cess… Aus­tralians be­cause we love our sport so much, it’s very dif­fi­cult not to get be­hind that. We al­ways love to win, es­pe­cially be­cause we’re the un­der­dog a lit­tle bit.

Part of the change is bit­ter­sweet. I could prob­a­bly name about 100 girls who’d feel ex­actly the same. You know, I think there’s al­ways that “What if? If only I was 10 years younger.” A cou­ple of the older girls have ac­tu­ally had con­ver­sa­tions about it, but I think what brings so­lace to us is the fact that we paved the way for th­ese younger girls com­ing through. I’ve got girls in our squad who are 18, 19 years of age, and I can just see the love that they have for this game, ex­actly like I did when I first started play­ing. It’s only go­ing to make it more suc­cess­ful.

The con­ver­sa­tions were re­ally emo­tional. We had Tui Ormsby, who’s been to four World Cups – she’s one of the high­est-capped Wal­la­roos, and a re­ally good friend of mine, some­one who I’ve played against and played with, and some­one I re­ally re­spect – she came and gave our jer­seys out, for the first round in the Su­per W. There were a few tears and a few laughs, as al­ways.

A lot of the time with women, our pas­sion is to play the game. We don’t play it as our jobs. Peo­ple are moth­ers, peo­ple have ca­reers, peo­ple do this purely and solely be­cause they love sport, and that’s what Aus­tralians are all about.

For 10 years I was a prison of­fi­cer at Long Bay cor­rec­tional cen­tre. That was a very ex­cit­ing job. I’ve just re­cently changed my role to a wel­fare of­fi­cer, so now I get to work with in­te­grat­ing of­fend­ers back into the com­mu­nity. I work with in­tel­lec­tu­ally dis­abled in­mates as well, so that can be quite chal­leng­ing at times, but def­i­nitely very re­ward­ing. It’s a re­ally ful­fill­ing job.

Coach­ing is very, very high on my radar. As soon as I take the boots off, I think I’ll be putting them straight back on and be on the train­ing pad­dock as a coach. I’d find it very dif­fi­cult not to be part of this sport, and if I can’t do it phys­i­cally any­more, I’d love to be able to pass on any knowl­edge that I have to the younger girls com­ing through. Rugby just burns into your soul. As soon as

• you’re part of it, you can’t let go of it.

RICHARD COOKE is a jour­nal­ist and writer for tele­vi­sion. He is The Satur­day Pa­per’s sports edi­tor.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.