Q&A: Wallaroos veteran Ash Hewson talks Super W & the future of women’s rugby

Wallaroos veteran Ash Hewson has experienced just about everything possible in women’s rugby during her 10 year career, but even she admitted she never thought she’d get a chance to play in a domestic female competition. 

Ahead of the opening round of the inaugural Super W competition, we caught up with Hewson to get the latest of her NSW side’s preparation and chat about the potential of women’s rugby in Australia. 

How are you feeling ahead of the start of the inaugural Super W competition this weekend? 

We’re all really excited at the moment, I honestly never thought this day would come. To be honest, ever since I started playing I’ve always known that the talent is there and that it would be a marketable product but obviously due to financial constraints and the inequality of sport at the time, it just never seemed like it would happen. The shift in sport, particularly women’s sport has certainly paved the way for this to be possible, so it’s amazing.

How much has women’s rugby changed in the last 10 years? 

It’s getting more and more competitive every year and the standard continues to improve. That has a lot to do with the pathways that are now there for female rugby players these days and the introduction of Sevens has had a lot to do with that, particularly with the younger girls.

You can see the massive shift in almost every code at the moment towards women’s sport and it’s fantastic. Almost every code now has a successful women’s competition and I think codes that don’t will need to get on board because there is so much potential.

How important has the success of Australia’s female Sevens team been for the sport? 

It’s been huge but in the past it was the other way around. The Sevens players for the first World Cup were actually taken from the XVs side and once they had success there, back in 2009, that program has gone from strength to strength. In terms of getting younger girls involved in rugby, Sevens is a great place to start because there is a little less contact but as you get older and your body shape starts to change, Sevens may be a little less suited to certain athletes. That’s the beauty of XVs rugby, it really is a game for everyone and it caters for all shapes and sizes.

What can you tell us about some of the players in the NSW side?

We’ve definitely got a lot of talent and a lot of experience. A few of the girls have been around for quite a few years now. Coby Jane Morgan has been playing for almost 10 years, she started from quite a young age and came from a touch football background but once she had a crack at rugby, she was hooked. Having that experience will be great for us. We’ve also got a lot of exciting young players coming through, the likes of Grace Hamilton and Emily Robinson, who have already played at a World Cup. You can just see their passion and love for the game and it really shows on the field, that’s something you can’t buy. Then we’ve got some younger girls, 18 and 19-year old girls who are fairly new to the sport but they absolutely love it. Their desire to one day wear a Wallaroos jersey is something that is going to be a huge asset to our team.

We got a glimpse of Super W at the Brisbane 10s, what can we expect from the other sides? 

That’s the first time I’d ever played 10s. It’s a very different format to XVs but we all really enjoyed it. Knowing some of the players that I’ve had the pleasure of playing with and against in the past, I think it’s going to be a really high standard of rugby. Not only will the standard be high, but all the girls are extremely passionate about the game. They are out there playing without any financial reward and that passion really shows through on the field. I think rugby fans and sports fans will really appreciate that, because you’ve got 30 girls out on the field playing their hearts out.

The pay issue has been talked about quite a bit. Should players be paid in year one or could the money be better spent on the development of the women’s game? 

I certainly think at this stage, the competition is very new and it’s been thrown together very quickly. Once people see the quality and the potential of the competition, then I think corporate Australia will get behind it and that’s when the financial reward will come. I think everyone is well aware that you have to be patient and I think it’ll come in time and it’ll come on the back of the success of this competition.

How important will this competition be for the success of the Wallaroos program? 

I’ve been to two World Cups before where we’ve had little to no preparation, so to be able to play this standard of rugby week in, week out, it’s only going to increase everyone’s skill level. In terms of training, the facilities that have been made available to us are fantastic, we’re in a semi professional environment and one day when it does become professional, you’ve only got to look at how successful sides like England and France have been to see the potential. When you’ve got more exposure to high quality rugby and more opportunities to play Test matches, which I hope will come on the back of the success of this competition, it lifts the standard and I think we’ll be able to mix it with the best teams in the world.

Where will Australian women’s rugby be in 10 years time? 

I’ve always thought that the Wallaroos have had the footballing talent to win the World Cup and we’ve certainly held our own at the last few tournaments. I’d like to think we can win the World Cup in 2021 and if not, certainly further down the track. With this competition, greater preparation and the chance to play more Test matches, we should be consistently in the top four at every World Cup.

At a grassroots level, how much can girls and women’s rugby grow? 

It’s only going to go from strength to strength, particularly through the Sevens pathway. As I said, when you get to the elite level of Sevens, it really only suits a certain type of athlete, so it would be great to see more and more girls transition to XVs after getting a taste of rugby through Sevens. We all know that once you start playing rugby, it sinks into your soul and it’s very hard to let go of. I think the XVs pathway can still improve. It’s starting to develop through schools and with things like the U17 NSW state side. The pathway compared to 10 years ago when I first started is completely different, but we still have a long way to go.

Who is going to win the inaugural Super W?

Of course, we will haha. To be honest with you, it’s going to be a very tight and tough competition. Every team has quality players and rugby is a pretty simple game, it can go either way. On past history, I’d think we (NSW) would be the favourites, but were not getting too far ahead of ourselves because we know every side wants to win the trophy, particularly in the inaugural year.