Natasha ‘Mo’ Hunt never knew that becoming a professional rugby player was an option growing up. Now, having won a World Cup, the Six Nations and the rugby 7s world tournament, Hunt is hoping to use International Women’s Day as a chance for rugby fans to get behind the women’s game.
As a youngster, Gloucester-Hartpury’s scrum-half initially played netball before finding a love for rugby later on that would lead her to the success she’s had as a professional player.
“Netball was always my main sport when I was little,” Hunt says. “I was playing four or five times a week and then I got a little bit bored of it. I played a little bit of rugby when I was younger with my sister at Drybrook Rugby Club and absolutely loved it. My grandad was a massive rugby fan, he used to play up at Cinderford, so I used to go down to Cinderford bridge and practise with him so it’s in my blood a little bit!
“When I got to 17, I’d had enough of netball and I decided that I wanted to take up something new, so I got into rugby. In my first year I played for Malvern Angels, they were called at the time, and I managed to go into county trials and from there got into a high-performance academy. I then got into U20 trials so within my first season of playing rugby properly I’d been picked up for all of this stuff and then I got into England U20 the same year. It was a bit of a whirlwind but I managed to get through and I've never looked back!”
One of the difficulties many young women face when they try to get into rugby is finding a place to play and this was exactly the same issue Hunt faced growing up.
“At school we didn’t really play rugby. We had one tournament, which was actually played at Kingsholm in primary school which was awesome. I think it was touch or tag, I just remember a photo of me in a really massive rugby shirt with the guys! But there wasn’t much around. Drybrook Rugby Club were awesome. They started a girls team at U15 which was the first time that we were really aware of it but growing up I didn’t really know any female rugby players and I wasn’t aware that it was international or aware of anything like that until I started taking it up properly when I was a bit older.”
However, things are starting to change and thanks to role models like Hunt, the game is growing and becoming more accessible for young girls across the country.
“There’s a massive difference in the accessibility and the following as now most teams and clubs have girls section and there’s a lot of integration throughout the juniors and you’ve got ladies teams. Although not necessarily at U15 and U18 levels, I think that’s still a massive area for growth but other than that I think there is a lot more awareness around it and it’s one of the fastest growing sports at the minute which is just fab.”
One thing that has helped the growth of the sport is the fact that young rugby players now have female role models to look up to and the game is becoming more and more accessible. However, there is still more that could be done to help grow the game.
“It’s definitely something that needs to be pushed even more. The world that we live in now is very much social media driven so a lot of the stuff that people are engaging with is all on the social media front. There’s an amazing campaign going on in Ireland at the minute called ‘If you can’t see it, you can’t be it’ and I think that hits the nail on the head because until you see it as a young female, that you can be a professional rugby player, or a netballer, cricketer or footballer, I didn’t have any of that growing up.
“For me it all comes down to the media because if you grow the media then the revenue and the sponsorship and everything comes with it because there’s now something to invest in because people are seeing it. I don’t think you can ask for it the other way around. It’s definitely something that the media can keep pushing and they are at the minute but I just feel that more needs to be done.”
Recently there have been lots of comments on social media regarding women in sport and for many this would be a reason to avoid social media and keep a low profile. Instead, Hunt sees it as an opportunity to prove people wrong.
“I think as a female in a sporting context you have to work a little bit harder sometimes and in a way that’s something that I thrive on because I love a challenge. I enjoy proving people wrong I guess! I’m from the Forest of Dean and progressed into the England set up and went and won the World Cup. It’s not really been done before. The Forrest is quite a remote area and people don’t really put themselves out there. I think it’s so important for me to be able to do that and almost trailblaze in terms of not allowing people’s opinions to put you off.
“Other people’s opinions, obviously everyone is entitled to them but sometimes in this day and age I feel that people just say stuff because they want a reaction, or they want some kind of attention rather than them thinking about what they’re actually saying.”
Women’s rugby continues to grow each season but like most sports it has been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The hope is that when restrictions allow it the sport can continue to grow and more fans will attend the games to cheer the Cherry and Whites on.
“Get down and watch a game. Gloucester Rugby fans, come and watch a game at Hartpury when you’re allowed to because we’d absolutely love your support and honestly it would mean so much to us so please just get behind the girls.”