Shaunagh Brown continued her remarkable rise with England last weekend, but the Harlequins prop will not be satisfied until she has a Rugby World Cup winner’s medal hanging from her neck.
Brown came off the bench to help England to a 54-0 defeat of Italy in Parma last Sunday that confirmed a second successive Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam for both her and the team.
It would be an extraordinary achievement for any player, more so for a 30-year-old whose first match came with Medway RFC less than five years ago.
Prior to that, Brown had represented her country at the hammer throw, finishing ninth at the Commonwealth Games in 2014. Her main interaction with rugby up to that point had been during summer training sessions.
“Once rugby season was finished, we'd just get big rugby boys come down to try and throw a shot put because they wanted something to do,” she told World Rugby. “I just knew it existed because I'd have these boys come down every year and slow my training session down.”
Both the interlopers and her athletics coach, John Hillier encouraged Brown to give the game a go following Glasgow 2014, and the opportunity for contact is something that immediately appealed.
Dedication has been required for the prop to become an international in two sports. Brown supported her athletics career by working as a British Gas engineer, and has been a commercial diver and firefighter since switching to rugby.
A full-time contract with England has enabled her to take a three-year sabbatical from the fire service, but the commitment required to get to the top is still in evidence as she works towards her Rugby World Cup goal.
“Definitely top of my bucket list is to win a World Cup with England,” Brown said.
“At the moment, everything I do in life is towards winning the World Cup. If I'm having a down day and I feel like I can't be bothered to go training, it’s about winning the World Cup.
“Gym session, do I put an extra bit of weight on? Do I take it easy? I want to win a World Cup, I'm putting a bit of extra weight on. Food choices, drinks choices, when I go out, when I stay home, everything I do at the moment is about winning the World Cup.”
Brown says that pulling on an England jersey at New Zealand 2021 would be “the ultimate dream” and she is also keen to show people that it is possible to compete at showpiece events in two different sports.
“I've done [IAAF] World Junior Championships, World Youths, European Juniors, Commonwealth Youth Games and Commonwealth Games,” she said.
“To top that off with not only representing my country in a second sport internationally, but then to do it on a world stage as well, it’ll be so satisfying for myself. But, also show other people that it can be done.
“So many people get caught up on feeling like they have to stick to one sport. And even if they fall out of love with it or even if they're not improving like they want to improve anymore, some people really just stick at things because it's all they know.
“Whereas, if I can go and smash it up in two sports, then it's just showing that it can be done. I'm nothing special, I come from a normal background. I'm a little bit taller than the average woman, I'm a little bit heavier than the average woman, but I'm not particularly gifted.
So let’s talk about this weekend.....— Shaunagh Brown (@ShaunaghBrown) November 3, 2020
Needless to say, it went rather well
Six Nations grand slam champions x 2 🥳🥳🥳🥳 pic.twitter.com/9vN9tPD9bf
“I mean, I've not gone to loads of great schools, I've not had rich people around me. I class myself as very much a normal person, but just a stubborn, hard-headed person who wants something and goes out and gets it.”
With the Rugby World Cup 2021 Draw due to take place on 20 November, Brown and her England team-mates will get the chance to test their tournament aspirations with back-to-back matches against France this month.
“I love playing against France, I love the challenge,” Brown said.
“You have athletes who are big and strong, but they are also very good technically and tactically at rugby. So, it's very much a game for the thinkers as well as the hard-hitters.
“It's just all elements of rugby put together. But yes, you always get a few hurt bodies after a French game.”
Away from the pitch, Brown played an active role in the discussions that took place within both the Harlequins and England squads in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Brown used her platform on social media to post daily stories during Black History Month and believes “having awkward conversations and making them become normal” is integral to combat racism.
“I almost take for granted how much I know and the kind of world I grew up inside. I grew up in south-east London, where we always had a mix of cultures,” she explained.
“I guess it's human nature, if you don't relate to something, then you're not really going to pay much more attention to it. But even that, I think, needs to change.
“Just because it's not something that you've heard of before, or someone that you know is affected by it, it doesn't mean you can't read into it. It doesn't mean you can't learn about it, especially as an adult.
“We’ve got the whole world of information at our fingertips, on our phone. [If] we don't understand or know what something means, you can find out within seconds.”