SUNDERLAND teacher Katy McLean has jetted off to sunny Texas as her career takes a new turn, writes Daniel Prince.
The England captain has teamed up with England’s Sevens World Series squad ahead of a two-day tournament in Houston, which starts tomorrow.
The 27-year-old will miss the Six Nations championship as she makes her full international debut in the shorter format of the game and concentrates on trying to put herself into contention to play in the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow in June.
McLean, who lives in Gateshead and works as a teacher at Bexhill Primary School in Sunderland, led England to a seventh consecutive Six Nations title in March – but will have a different focus this year due to a radical selection policy by the Rugby Football Union.
The Darlington Mowden Park captain is among 17 regular squad members who have been made unavailable for the tournament due to their involvement in Sevens rugby, including the entire first-choice backs division.
This week’s tournament, which is round two of the Sevens World Series, is seen as part of a build-up to the World Cup, and McLean is part of a strong training squad.
However, the fly-half admits that although she is excited about the challenge which lies ahead, she does not have much experience of playing the shorter format of the game.
McLean, who will not captain the Sevens team, did feature for England in an uncapped tournament in France last season, but she is set to win her first cap in this format in the opening pool game against the Netherlands tomorrow.
“It’s amazing to be named in the squad,” she said.
“It is a massive opportunity to experience something new, and it’s leading up to a World Cup as well.
“I don’t have a lot of experience in rugby sevens, so it is a new challenge for me.
“I’m gutted I’m not going to be involved in the Six Nations, but I’m excited by this new challenge. England are really strong and should still do well in the Six Nations.”
The format of rugby sevens is radically different to what McLean has been used to. Matches are split into two halves of seven minutes each, while there are a number of other rule variations to the full version of rugby union.
In Texas, England have been drawn in a pool with the Netherlands, Trinidad & Tobago and New Zealand, and will face each team tomorrow.
Should they progress to the knockout stages, they will conclude their tournament on Saturday.
McLean, capped 58 times by England’s rugby union side, sees this as a chance to win a place in the Rugby World Cup Sevens squad. But she is not looking too far ahead, despite the fact rugby sevens will make its debut at the Olympics in 2016.
She added: “This is my chance to stake my claim to be there. That’s all I can do and it’s a huge test.
“I think you enter every tournament to win it, so that is our goal.
“I’ll be pushing 30 by the time the Olympics come around, so I’m not looking that far ahead.
“The two big focuses for me at the moment are the Sevens World Cup in June and the Women’s World Cup next year.”
McLean describes her school as “absolutely amazing” in helping her rugby career continue to flourish.
She will miss a week of school due to the tournament in Texas, but McLean says they are fully supportive of her sporting ambitions.
“I am really lucky with school,” she added. “They are absolutely amazing. They arrange cover for me, and the parents of the children are so supportive as well.
“A rugby player’s career is short, so that is my main focus at the moment.
“The kids are aware, although they are too young to really understand what I’m doing.
“They think it’s absolutely hilarious.”