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Former Commonwealth Games athlete-turned-boxer Shaunagh Brown now excelling with England ladies' rugby team

By Luke Cawdell

Less than two years after her first competitive rugby game, Shaunagh Brown was pulling on the England jersey.

She made the Red Roses squad last Friday for their opening game of the Old Mutual Wealth Series at Allianz Park, making her international debut as a substitute early in the second half in the 79-5 win over Canada.

It’s been a rapid rise to the top for Brown, who in July 2014 was representing her country in the hammer event at the Commonwealth Games.

Shaunagh Brown, back row second from left, with her Harlequins and England team-mates

Shaunagh Brown, back row second from left, with her Harlequins and England team-mates

After quitting athletics, she had a brief flirt in the sport of boxing, making her professional debut at York Hall in August 2015, before taking up rugby, making her debut in the 15-a-side game in December of that year.

Away from sport, the Gillingham all-rounder has been just as busy. She’s gone from being a gas engineer to a qualified commercial diver and it was only her training with the Kent Fire & Rescue service that stopped her from being more involved in the current three-game international rugby series.

“It’s not until I tell people what I’ve done that I realise I’ve done quite a lot,” she said.

“My instructors gave me special permission to take a week off and that meant I could join up with the England squad.

“There had been a few injuries and I was next in line and the forwards coach gave me a call to see if it was possible and surprisingly it was.

“My instructors have been so supportive and a lot of them are players and fans of the game themselves.

“There was a little tear in my eye during the National Anthem. When I got told I was going on, it really sunk in. I was about to go on and represent the Red Lions England team less than two years after first playing. It was a special moment.”

Rewind back to 2014, Brown was competing at a packed Hampden Park in Glasgow, in the Commonwealth Games.

She made the hammer final but had to settle for an 11th place finish overall, unable to get near to her personal best performance.

She had the Rio Olympics in mind at first but then decided she wanted a change.

“I got to the point where I wanted a new challenge,” she said, then aged 24.
“I had done athletics for 12-13 years and was looking for something new. I told myself that I was going to stop playing sport and that lasted for about three weeks!”

Brown was familiar with rugby, training with many players over the summer as they also took up the discus, hammer and shot put to stay fit.

Shaunagh Brown competes in the hammer throw at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Picture Cameron SpencerGetty Images

Shaunagh Brown competes in the hammer throw at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

She decided to get involved in training at Medway Rugby Club and took part in a sevens tournament soon after.

That would lead her down another route entirely.

She said: “While I was there I got spotted by a boxing promoter. I had done a tiny bit in the sport before and he asked how I felt about becoming a professional.”

Not one to turn down an opportunity, she was soon in the gym and training to box. There was a show at the end of August at York Hall which she planned to watch but ended up competing in.

Brown had just a few weeks to train for her first cruiserweight bout but when her original opponent pulled out, she was left facing 115 kilo heavyweight boxer Sarah Knight.

Despite facing a boxer 30 kilos heavier, Brown fought gamely, only losing on points.

“I was gutted to have lost, I hate losing,” she said. “But reflecting on it, she was a big girl, with years of experience and couldn’t knock me out.”

She was forced to put boxing on hold, however, as a week after her bout, she returned back to Scotland, this time spending three months training to be a commercial diver, a job she does now.

Upon her return, she rejoined Medway Rugby Club.

She said: “I could catch, I could throw, I could run and I was pretty strong, so I was quite suited to the game.

“I like doing what I enjoy and not afraid of new challenges.”

She enjoyed a good first season with Medway and then moved to Aylesford Bulls for the following year, who were in the process of merging with Harlequins.

Her rugby has continued to blossom and she is now a key player for the Quins side who sit top of the Premier 15s table, with eight wins from eight.

Brown’s long-term goal is to take part in the next World Cup in 2021. Few would back against that happening.

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