Gloucester-Hartpury’s try scoring sensation, Ellie Underwood, never really understood rugby when she was younger and preferred playing football as she was growing up.
However, a taster session at the local rugby club got her hooked on the sport and the rest is history.
“I live on a farm that’s literally a mile from Drybrook Rugby Club but I’d always played football,” Underwood said. “They had a Nat West day down there that was basically to do the club up and paint the posts and stuff like that. My fiancé, Jim, plays a massive part down there and so we were down there with all of our farm equipment and some of the girls just said that they were starting up a team. I didn’t think anything of it because I hated rugby and had no interest in it whatsoever.
“I went home and told my fiancé that they were starting up a team and told him that I was thinking of giving it a go. He was like ‘no you won’t!’ or whatever, so I did!”
Proving Jim wrong turned out to be a great decision and apart from an early stint at lock, Underwood quickly got an appetite for the try line and settled into her position on the wing.
“I had a few training sessions and they told me I was a forward when I first went down there and said I’d be a second row because I’m tall. I went home and told Jim and he was like ‘what the hell is going on!’
“I trained as a second row and they were lifting me and then Jim kicked off. I didn’t have a clue! I thought it was a good thing and that being a forward I would do all of the running. Honestly, I didn’t have a clue. I didn’t stay there very long and I never played there but actually I quite fancy a game at backrow, I reckon I’d quite like it!”
Underwood quickly impressed and her raw talent was spotted quickly which saw her move up the ranks.
“It just went from there really and I played in a few friendlies down at Drybrook and then we got into the league which was good. We had to play nine games to get into the league which we did and we just grew from there. I was then scoring around 30 tries per season and I was literally loving it and trying to be the top try scorer every season.
“I then became captain down there which was good and ever since I’ve just wanted to better myself so as soon as Gloucester-Hartpury started up, I was umming and ahing as to whether I should join or not because it was a big step for me. I was 21 at the time and I’m 27 now and actually it isn’t that long to get into it really.
“I went to Gloucester to give it a go and I did their inner warrior day and that was a step up, everyone was really good but they invited me up to play a couple of friendlies, so I joined their A team and we played against Bristol and I scored two tries and I just worked my way through and then got into the Premier team.”
Underwood has excelled at this level and has gone from “hating” the sport to wanting to know everything about it.
“When me and Jim were first together, my fiancé, I think it was the World Cup and I can remember him watching it screaming at the TV and I was like ‘what the hell!?’ and I always loved football, I was a massive Leicester City fan so I loved sport but I just didn’t get rugby. Even though I was originally from Leicestershire when I was younger, football is big there as well as rugby so I just had no interest and my family wasn’t really interested, my brother plays football.
“For me as a sports person, as soon as I do a new sport, I then want to know everything about it and I want to be the best that I can be within that sport so I would then watch games trying to learn the rules because there’s nothing worse than a girl who doesn’t know the rules.”
Underwood has become an inspiration for many youngsters who are wanting to get into the sport and has had autograph requests on multiple occasions.
“We have some girls that follow us at Gloucester-Hartpury and they used to come on and get signatures and stuff and I think that’s so cute because for me I don’t think that I’m a role model but I guess I am. They’re growing up and they want to play rugby and I think they do look up to us and even when I’ve been to England training camps and we’ve had crowds people afterwards try to get my autograph and I’m like ‘are you joking?! It’s only me!’”
It’s this accessibility that many believe is key to growing the women’s game and there is still more to be done but the live-streaming of the games has been a successful way to get eyes on the sport.
“At the start of this season they said that we were going to be able to stream more games which is really good. We’ve had most games streamed now which is really really good and for people like my mum, who’s obsessed, she loves it! And so many people that I know that don’t necessarily like rugby, just because they know someone playing means that they want to watch it and they can’t believe it. It just helps grow the rugby community and I think it’s really important.
“My mum is my biggest supporter and my stepdad as well they travel everywhere so normally they’d travel up, I’d go up with the team on the bus but then go back home with them in the car. So they hate it at the moment because that used to be their day where they could be out watching me play rugby. They miss it but actually because they can watch the livestream, they’re pretty happy, they even bought a new TV especially!”
Gloucester-Hartpury Women are having a mixed season and currently sit sixth in the Women’s Allianz Premiers 15s league. Playing Darlington Mowden Park Sharks next Saturday, Underwood and her team will be hoping to get a good result and close the gap to Exeter Chiefs Women who sit one place above them in the table.