Shaunagh Brown column: Why World Cup selection didn’t seem to be in England’s favour


When I was younger, going to a Rugby World Cup was not something I envisioned in my future.

It doesn’t matter as a child; Even at 25 I wouldn’t have expected it.

I am 32 years old now. I’ve been a commercial diver, a central heating engineer, a firefighter, a Commonwealth hammer thrower and a boxer – now I’m going to my first Rugby World Cup.

I am part of the England team that travels to New Zealand, where we will play Fiji in our first group game on October 8th.

Ever since I left athletics eight years ago, I knew I would achieve more than I should.

I am a woman I am mixed race. I am from a single parent family. I’m from a council in Waterloo and grew up in a housing association in Peckham. I got my GCSEs but no A levels.

On paper, there is not much for me in this society.

That would never stop me; I knew I would always do more than the right.

I like to defy expectations. I love how I tell people I play rugby and they think I don’t look or sound like a rugby player.

“I play for girls who don’t know the power of rugby”

My upbringing and where I am now are worlds apart and it’s all thanks to sports and the support system around me.

I play for a little girl who looks and sounds like me, who is from the same area as me but who at this point doesn’t even know what rugby is or the power it can have to change her life.

Even though it’s emotionally tough, it’s the mentality of wanting to do things on your own because no one else in the room looks like you.

You can’t do it on your own. When I was working in the fire service I had to cover part of my shift to make it to training on time or to avoid missing a game at halftime.

Nine times out of 10 someone would come in early or stay an extra hour.

Brown with his mother Lesley Rickards
Brown with his mother Lesley Rickards during England’s match against the United States earlier in September

My mother, brother and sister cook, so I always have food in the house – I don’t have to consider time for it.

In my family, the world certainly doesn’t stop for rugby, but they are very supportive.

I got my nephew Tyler to read the teams announcement message when he arrived and my whole family was around me.

Everyone celebrated, except my six-year-old nephew Zach, who was busy playing on his game console and told us to be quiet so he could concentrate.

All the people who have helped me along the way have directly helped me make that World Cup team.

“Sadia Kabeya is a source of support”

Shaunagh Brown and Sadia Kabeya hugging
Sadia Kabeya, 20, beat World Cup winner Vicky Fleetwood for England.

An important source of support for me in the team is Sadia Kabeya.

I’d like to think that my time in the England camp has made life easier for other black and mixed players like Sadia, and that being there makes a difference to me too.

Me and Sadia share so many experiences. It’s not just skin color, it’s our culture.

Like me he grew up in South East London. It’s the music we listen to, the food we eat at home, the brands of drinks, the television programs.

Before I called Sadia, it was sometimes lonely when everyone was doing their hair on game day and no one felt confident doing my hair.

I should try to get my hair done a week before so it’s not fresh for the game.

When I saw Sadia on the lineup, I thought, “yeah, I’m going to have fresh hair.”

We have someone who understands and we can laugh together.

“I’ve been pushed back, but I’ve made it”

I’m 12 years older than Sadia, but I never felt it was too late to go to the World Championships.

Everything I did in my previous jobs and my athletic career built a foundation for something I didn’t know.

This is how I live my life. I don’t plan for the future, because as long as I make the most of this day, something good can eventually come out of it.

It was very easy for me not to be in this group. I did not play at all in the 2021 autumn internationals.

In the 2022 Women’s Six Nations, I only played about 55 minutes – one start and 10 minutes off the bench.

During training in July and August I had the selection on my mind every day. I had to attack every session as if I was playing for the World Cup team.

It wasn’t there for moments of rest, rough days or bad attitudes. It was about proving to myself, more than anything, that I could do it.

Since the fall I often thought ‘why am I doing this to myself?’ I thought I had a good time at rugby and I could finish there.

But I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. Physically I wouldn’t say there is too much uniqueness about me. I’m tall and heavy, but that’s about it.

Elite in me is my way of thinking, my attitude and my desire to make changes.

I’ve been beaten really hard, I’m not selected and I’m struggling with a neck injury, but here I am again and I’m in the World Cup.

Shaunagh Brown was speaking to BBC Sport’s Becky Grey.