DCU’s Rugby Development Officer Sophie Spence says she is ‘thrilled and honoured’ to have been nominated for World Rugby Player of the Year for 2015.
“It’s a fantastic achievement and it’s an honour, a huge honour to be nominated. It’s something that I wouldn’t have expected to ever come across before”, she said, speaking to The College View.
“I’m still shocked but it’s an absolutely huge honour and it’s brilliant for Irish women’s rugby as well.”
The Ireland second-row has been nominated alongside New Zealand’s Kendra Cocksedge and French captain Gaëlle Mignot for the award, to be decided at the World Rugby Awards in London on November 1st.
“A lot of hard work has gone into it but there’s still a long way to go”, she continued. “It’s a long process to improve as a player but I have massive thanks for the nomination.”
Spence helped Ireland lift their second Six Nations title in three years back in March following wins over Italy, England and Wales on top of an incredible 73-3 win over Scotland to secure the Championship on a dramatic final day.
On the nomination, Spence explained that while it was certainly one of the highlights of her career so far, she is still coming to terms with the astonishing accolade.
“It’s definitely up there (with her biggest achievements). It’s something that’s kind of at the back of my mind. When people talk about it to me it brings it back and then I can talk about it.
“But then I’m kind of setting it back in my mind just because it’s such a huge honour that I’m probably a little bit nervous to think about it and talk about it myself.
“Obviously it’s up there with winning a Grand Slam and coming fourth in the World Cup, (which were) huge achievements for me as well, but I think (the nomination) probably just hasn’t sunk in yet.”
Spence was also honoured at the recent Rugby Writer’s Awards in August where she picked up the Women’s Player of the Year award, without neglecting matters closer to home. As DCU’s Rugby Development Officer she is forecasting another promising year for rugby at the college.
“I suppose this year the men’s and women’s teams have both gone up divisions, men’s into First and women’s into Division One as well”, she said.
“The leagues have changed a little bit now, so what I want to see over the next few years is to go really, really hard on recruitment and to (try and bring in players) that are Leinster U-18’s, U-17’s for men’s and the women’s teams and especially now Irish Sevens and (to hold) Talent Identification Days for the women as well.
“We want the next Jamie Heaslip coming out of DCU.”
Recalling that spellbinding 73-3 win over Scotland that ultimately clinched Ireland the Six Nations – meaning Ireland was the first nation ever to win both women’s and men’s in the same year – she said that while the result was considerable that she and her team-mates knew nothing but a win would be good enough.
“We knew the night before, after the England v France result, we had to win the game. So we knew what points we had to get and going into the game we already had our goal that we had to achieve.
“It’s something where we might be 30 points up but it’s still 0-0. It was a case of ‘we have to achieve’. We had to finish the competition right and to do that you have to stay focused and you’ve got to remain calm and I suppose go through the process according to what the game plan is.”
Noting that time was scarce in her schedule – she had been in the gym since 6.00am – she said that while trying to fit playing, coaching, meetings, training and a job into her week, that the thrill and honour of stepping onto the field representing her country was something she would not swap for anything.
“I suppose you’ve got to think ‘why am I doing this?’ I do it because I love it and I do it to prepare for a game, to be prepared with your team-mates. Not everyone’s going to get that opportunity to feel what it feels like to put an Irish jersey on.
“To step out onto the pitch and play for your country and get that buzz of winning the Six Nations, that’s not going to happen for everyone so that’s something that’s special for me and I suppose that’s what I’m going to go away with at the end of my career thinking ‘Wow, I’ve done that, that’s actually amazing’.”
Surely it must be a demanding schedule?
“The time that I get is precious. We’re not paid athletes so I have to work to earn a living so I’m fitting around my training in the morning, training late in the evening but then you have to fit the job in-between as well. And then fit things around that like the extra coaching.”
So why do you do it?
“I’m doing it because I love it, I enjoy it, I’m passionate about it and I want women’s rugby to develop in Ireland.”
Come November when Sophie takes to the stage in London in her nomination as World Rugby Player of the Year, we will know that the future of Irish rugby is represented in both a safe and reverent present.
Image credit: Sportsfile