Harlequins and England Women forward on life outside of rugby

Shaunagh Brown. Picture provided by GettyImages
Shaunagh Brown. Picture provided by GettyImages

Whether in her day-to-day job or on a rugby field, Shaunagh Brown has become accustomed to putting her body on the line for her team.

The Harlequins forward was one of 28 players awarded a central contract by England this season and played a key role as the Red Roses were crowned Grand Slam Six Nations champions.

But the 29-year-old is far from your average rugby player, balancing her time representing her country in the famous white jersey with her role in the Kent Fire and Rescue Service.

The similarity between playing in a rugby team and life in the fire station is not lost on Brown, who enjoys the camaraderie that underpins both environments.

“We face adversity every day,” she said.

“On the rugby pitch it is not quite so ‘life and death’ but we are always looking out for each other. At Harlequins we always say to put our body on the line for each other.

“You do not do it for yourself which makes it more powerful. Similarly, as a firefighter you know that you can rely on the other people on the truck to have your back no matter what.

“Everyone wants to be the hero and run into a burning building but if it is not safe you know you can rely on the rest of your team to make the correct decision.”

Brown’s talents do not just end at rugby and firefighting, though, she has also represented her country in the hammer at the Commonwealth Games and boxed professionally at York Hall.

But she stepped away from athletics after falling out of love with the sport and instead hoped to enjoy her life away from the commitment of a rigorous training schedule.

“I only lasted two weeks retired from athletics before I got bored of being normal and looked up my local rugby club,” Brown said.

“A few years later I discovered that Kent Fire and Rescue were recruiting for the first time in ten years. I applied for the job in early 2017 and luckily was one of the 24 people selected out of 5,000 applicants.”

Brown has gradually become used to fitting in demanding jobs around her training – she spent much of her athletics career also working as a diver in the Thames and North Sea.

“Commercial diving is not very glamorous, most of it was in the River Thames,” Brown continued.

“When you go underwater you do everything by feel. You get told what you are going to find but you cannot see a thing. It was mainly labouring and engineering but underwater and without eyes.”

And after being offered a full-time contract by the RFU for the 2019/20 season, Brown moved to an equality and diversity role within the service to accommodate her training demands.

“We arranged that I could continue part-time because I do not want to waste my opportunity for a career in the fire service,” Brown explained.

The south Londoner progressed to the England squad within two years of picking up a rugby ball and was recently named in the Evening Standard’s list of London’s most influential people.

“My background was in athletics before rugby so to be included alongside Dina Asher-Smith and Katrina-Johnson Thompson is special,” Brown added.

“Dina was at the same athletics club as me and we are still friends, so it is nice to still be on our sporting journey together.

“The success Dina is having is immense, but she still remembers her roots.”