Women's Rugby: Anna Caplice on Harlequins' fight at the top and inspiring girls to play rugby

Anna Caplice is Ireland and Harlequin’s star flanker balancing her impressive first season at her new club with a dedication to inspiring young girls through rugby.

The 29-year-old Irish flanker has helped her new club Harlequins top the Premier 15s table in her first season, and is also contributing off the field in her role as Development Officer for the Harlequins Foundation.

Speaking to Caplice, it is clear that being able to give back to her local community using rugby and sport was a massive reason she made the move from Richmond to Harlequins.

“I decided that I wanted to move on [from Richmond], and look for a different challenge and Harlequins is very visibly promoting the women’s game, which I’m so passionate about, and I just wanted to be part of that.”

Joining the Harlequins outfit was a natural progression for Caplice who had previously been coached by head coach Karen Findlay whilst playing at Richmond. Making her move to the league leaders also opened the door to a role with the Harlequins Foundation that allowed Caplice to use rugby to inspire girls in west London.

“I’m the development officer for Kingston borough and I go into schools delivering rugby programmes to girls and also boys. I’m giving the opportunity of getting into rugby to people who might not normally get that opportunity.

“I work very closely with Old Emmanuels in Kingston where I’m giving girls especially the opportunity to come and join a rugby club and to learn the sport outside of PE lessons.

“Girls tend to fall out of the sport in secondary school and I love that age group and the challenge of getting them engaged and involved in something. I remember so well when I was seventeen, the first team that I played in we were the best of friends. I want girls to have that experience because it taught me so much.

“As well as exams, as well as learning your French Spanish German, which is what I teach, those skills are so invaluable in life. It’s not just the skills on the pitch, it’s skills like communication, problem-solving, leadership and teamwork.”

Caplice has always loved rugby and watching her beloved team Munster back home in Ireland, but it was when her local rugby club started a girls team that she started playing frequently aged 17.

It is because of these experiences playing rugby as a teenager, and her jobs as a teacher, that she wants to get more young girls involved with the sport.

“When I got to 17, quite late in most athletes most sporting career, a local rugby club set up a women’s team. My life actually changed that day when the principal announced on the intercom in school that there was going to be girls rugby training that evening.

“My jaw hit the floor and everyone turned around and looked at me and that was how it started… it just blossomed from there.

“Every opportunity since, like when I moved away to university, I was lucky enough to join a fantastic team and play with some of the biggest names in Irish rugby at the time, I learnt so much from them.”

The Big Match, Harlequins vs Saracens

Experiences playing alongside and learning from key players in Ireland have set Caplice up well for big matches, like the upcoming clash with Saracens this weekend.

Looking ahead to this Saturday’s game with north London club Saracens, Caplice anticipates great energy as her side play at The Stoop.

“Playing at The Stoop, it couldn’t be better. A Christmas fixture when it’s getting dark and cold with the atmosphere brings an extra element to the game.

“There’s a lot of tickets already sold and it’s going to be an amazing fixture and in terms of Harlequins against Saracens, it’s absolutely epic.

“To be that one point ahead it pretty nervewracking. Its all up for grabs this weekend and we can’t wait.”

Caplice believes that as her team and other women’s teams start playing at big stadiums like The Stoop, more interest is generated for women’s sports.

“It’s so impressive what they have achieved in football, they have obviously invested a lot, they have built that excitement and people want to be there.

“You can see that happening here, especially hearing the number of tickets that have been sold already. It shaping up to be a massively exciting weekend, not just for the players, but for the Harlequins supporters too. It’s set to be a great game of rugby.”

Clash with old rivals Leinster

Munster will forever be in Caplice’s heart, so Harlequins’ face-off with Munster’s historic rivals Leinster on 28th December at Twickenham will be another important occasion for the flanker.

“We are playing at Twickenham, another massive stadium in world sport and that’s going to be really exciting for us.

“Building the momentum into Christmas time will be great, I hope that people can come to watch us play Leinster, my team Munster’s big rivals.

“Usually, I get to watch the festive rugby from the couch, so playing will be really exciting.”

Highs and lows with Ireland and the Baa-Baas

Caplice was a key part of the Baa-Baas set up that beat Wales earlier this autumn, scoring a try in the 15-29 win in Cardiff.

The try-scoring flanker was also one of Ireland’s best players in this year’s Six Nations competition and has become one of Adam Griggs’ most reliable squad members. However, her Ireland career has not always been so easy.

“I was dropped from the Irish squad at the beginning of last year which was totally devastating but I worked hard, trained hard, got back into the squad, played versus Scotland and got player of the match.

“My family and my friends could see how devastated I was to be dropped and how close I came to just packing it all in and say I’m giving it all up.

“To have turned it around and scored a try that day and having my teammates there who were also happy for me I think that is up there as one of my proudest moments.

“You never know how close you are to success when the wheels appear like they’re about to fall off then you never know how close you are to achieving something great.”

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