World Rugby’s Women’s Player of the Year 2019 Emily Scarratt – A Tribute
Did she deserve it? You bet!
To at least one observer’s mind she has been the greatest female player in the world for many seasons.
Of the four categories I suggested recently
Influence on team
Influence on results
Ability in their position
Personal favouritism – surely not!
– she fits all four.
It is the breadth of her skills that marks her out. She has played 15s and 7s with equal distinction. In those two formats she has been a forward and a back, a runner, passer, jumper, tackler, kicker, organiser and captain combined.
She rose quickly to international recognition, playing her first game for England at the age of 18. She hit the headlines by scoring a dozen tries in a dozen appearances; this was a star in the making. She was the babe of the team that appeared against New Zealand in the 2010 World Cup final in London. If that enterprise finished in failure (10-13), she was the decisive figure in gaining a second World Cup four years later in Paris. She totalled 15 points in the 21-9 victory over Canada, including a remarkable solo try to seal the result.
Since those early days in an England shirt she has played at full-back and outside-centre with equal aplomb. It was her coach, Gary Street, who moved her into the No 13 shirt, and there she has become the sharpest tool in her team’s offensive systems.
She hasn’t relied simply on her physique to produce results. She is tall, strongly built, with a ball-player’s gift for choosing the right option at the right moment. But she has gone on adding to that skill-range. When asked to stand wide at kick-off in sevens tournaments, she was willing to charge forward, leap high in the air and deny the receivers the ball. No matter whether she landed safely on two feet or painfully on her back, she has always been ready to give her all for her team.
In the Red Roses’ most recent tournament, the Super Series in California, there were times when they weren’t purring like the Rolls-Royce engine they often are. It needed Scarratt’s quality to put them right. Twice she placed herself out wide to collect cross-kicks and score vital tries. Against France it needed a kick from just inside the opposition’s 10m line to ensure victory from a 17-18 deficit.
She is generous in her approach to the game. Like all great centres, she is happy to provide the decisive pass to the winger outside her. Kay Wilson, scorer of seven tries in a single 6 Nations match, is aware that four of those passes came from the accurate hands of her friend Scaz.
Her kicking is world-class, matched only by her long-time partner in arms, Katy Daly-Mclean. Both off the tee and out of hand she can kick the ball immense distances or angle it perfectly for a grateful team-mate. One of the most magical moments in the recent 6 Nations was her running kick against France at Doncaster. She received turnover ball moving left, glanced up and sent it down the left flank. From there her speedy winger, Kelly Smith, could take it at full pelt as it bounced up into her hands.
It’s the tributes from beyond English shores that give us the true measure of her achievements. After that close defeat to England in San Diego, one French commentator wrote: ‘Thanks to the devilish kicking game of Emily Scarratt, England pinned France inside their own half. Let’s state again, the English centre three-quarter has the finest kicking game in the world.’
Her opponents will recall her defensive powers with pain. In that same Doncaster match she stopped the great Lénaïg Corson in full flow and deposited her into touch. She reads the game so well that she will often turn up out of position to snuff a dangerous attack out with a crunching tackle.
In receiving this high honour Emily becomes the fourth English player to be selected, after Shelley Rae, Maggie Alphonsi and Sarah Hunter. And next weekend she’s likely to be facing up to last year’s winner, Jessy Trémoulière.
To all these rugby talents she adds a becoming modesty and a high intelligence. A worthy winner of this year’s top prize.