It took time for Katy Daley-Mclean to be able to disentangle the disappointment of missing out on a medal from the “phenomenal” experience of representing Great Britain at an Olympic Games.
Daley-Mclean started each of Great Britain’s six matches at Rio 2016, scoring a try in the 40-0 Pool C victory over Japan and kicking a further 12 points as rugby returned to the Games.
But, having topped Pool C and beaten Fiji in the quarter-finals, the team’s hopes of leaving Brazil with a gold medal ended with a 25-7 defeat to New Zealand in the last four.
Great Britain then lost the bronze medal match 33-10 to Canada, a team they had beaten 22-0 during the pool stage the previous day.
“Rio was absolutely phenomenal. I think the hardest thing probably for all the girls that played for GB was the result,” Daley-Mclean told World Rugby.
“Coming fourth is a pretty brutal place to come. I think it took a while to be able to separate the result and experience. For me, probably when it first ended in 2016, it was all wrapped up as one.
“But, actually [I was able] just to be extremely proud… to go represent GB in an Olympics, for us being so close to a bronze medal.
“But, just to experience a multi-sport tournament. It was absolutely phenomenal. I've never experienced anything on the scale that Rio was and to be in a Team GB block with the great Andy Murray, people like that, that you've just kind of grown up watching.
“To share an experience with them, that was huge.”
‘A huge honour’
Daley-Mclean and her Great Britain team-mates remained in Rio for five days after the rugby tournament had ended, which gave them an opportunity to explore and immerse themselves in what the Games had to offer.
It was an experience that had not been available to rugby players for almost a century, while Rio 2016 was the first Games to feature a women’s rugby tournament of any kind.
“A huge honour, a huge privilege,” is how Daley-Mclean describes being part of Team GB.
“I dreamt when I was younger about going to [Rugby] World Cup and captaining my country. But, rugby was never in the Olympics, so it was never something that was even on my radar.
“And, when it did come about, I was like ‘I'll probably be too old for this’. So, I think it's definitely one of the things that I look back at now with a massive sense of pride that I got myself into a place where I could even just compete to get a place, never mind go and represent GB and forever be an Olympian.
“That, for me, is really cool and a story that I'll enjoy retelling.”
It was an achievement that required a lot of hard work and dedication on Daley-Mclean’s part.
One of the best ever. An inspiration to the next generation (girls & boys) 👏🏼#icare— Sir Bill Beaumont (@BillBeaumont) January 16, 2021
Katy Daley-Mclean “overwhelmed” by reaction to England retirement | World Rugby https://t.co/nlogeW7bCq #rugby via @worldrugby
Having captained England to glory at Rugby World Cup 2014, the fly-half, who announced her retirement from international rugby in December, prioritised competing on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series over the next three years.
“Until you've done a season of sevens training I don't think you can realise the toll it takes on your body,” she said. “I have never experienced anything like it.”
Daley-Mclean readjusted well enough to the 15-a-side game to be able to guide England to another Rugby World Cup final at Ireland 2017.
But, she admits she found the transition back to 15s ahead of that tournament tough.
Daley-Mclean said: “Definitely for me, I found the crossover coming back to 15s from sevens quite hard, especially as an inside back. Your role is very, very different.
“So, generally as an inside back in sevens you're distributing to your quick people on the edges who go and take people on.
“Obviously, in 15s there's a lot more going on, so you're managing a lot more different moving pictures. And, I think for me, it definitely took me a while to get back into that groove of 15s.
“Also, just the duration of the game. I remember coming back and playing, it would have been [Premier] 15s, and just being like, 'Oh, my God, we're not even through a half yet, never mind through a game’."
However, Daley-Mclean believes that some players will be able to compete in sevens at Tokyo 2020 and handle the transition back to 15s for RWC 2021 in New Zealand two months later.
“The beauty for the girls who probably will do both and will crossover between GB and represent their countries at the World Cup, at least they've had this opportunity to play a chunk of 15s now,” she explained.
“So, when they do go and prepare for Tokyo, it's not like they've been away for two or three years. They've actually only been away maybe a couple of months. I think that could be really valuable coming back for the World Cup.”