Meet the Harlequins’ rear rower and carpenter for Premier 15s glory
Emily Robinson has always intended to take unpaid leave this week. The Harlequins back rower is so determined to help her team secure their first Premier 15s title in their third time against the Saracens on Sunday, that her job as a carpenter simply had to take a backseat.
Carrying out large-scale timber repairs and renovations on listed buildings, she decided, would not bode well for the most prestigious fixture in top-tier women’s rugby.
It was an easy decision, based on past experiences in a breakout season that saw the 20-year-old included in England’s Six Nations squad earlier this year. Robinson laughs on the phone as she recalls her exhaustion trying to balance training camps in England with her day job last fall.
“I was completely overwhelmed,” she says. “I would be up at 6 am for work the next day, finish at half past four, then drive to practice, work out, come home at 11 pm, take a shower and I was doing the exact same thing the next day, ”she says.
“When you’re in the game, you’re just determined to do it. But looking back, I think, ‘Oh my god, I was probably sleeping five or six hours a night, that’s nowhere near enough for an elite athlete.’ “
This is the grueling reality that still faces the majority of elite female rugby players. Ironically, Robinson never set out to become a carpenter. As a schoolgirl, she remembers drawing a picture of Jessica Ennis-Hill, former British Olympic heptathlon champion, “and wanting to be like her”. Carpentry and rugby, however, became intrinsically linked throughout his life. She cites her early experiences at Hove Rugby Club, where she started playing with boys at the age of six, as a key part of preparing her for a traditionally male vocation.
“When I started working I was like, ‘Woah, I’m really the only girl and it’s different.’ But I get along very well with the boys. It’s a really good balance, it’s quite nice to play with girls in an all-female team, ”says Robinson, who draws similarities between her double life.
“I do a lot of repairs on old wooden houses, with oak sides, we have also done some new constructions. This is sort of the whole scope of construction and carpentry. You get to know everything that is going on – you may not be a part of everything, [but] you can see the full extent of what’s being done. Say if you’re a rugby player, don’t just do scrums, or watch the split, you can play the full 80 [minutes] you can do anything. “
Women working in carpentry and building may still be a rarity, but at Harlequins the profession is actually a popular career choice. Robinson is one of three to take part in the team’s semi-final victory over the Wasps last weekend, Katy Mew and Fi Fletcher also got down to their rugby and landed another job.
For Robinson, working in a male-dominated profession requires extra musculature to cope with the occasional sexism. “I don’t mind,” she says. “Whether it’s things like, ‘Oh, are you sure you want to take this load?’ or “Can you do that?” Most of the time it’s in good faith and I always choose to take it the right way. ”
It’s a mature attitude, even if one gets the feeling that Robinson’s days in the business may already be numbered: being surrounded by nine full-time professionals at Harlequins only dampened her appetite for professional rugby.
“Once you get a taste of it, and once you realize that you can improve so much when you’re in this environment because the standard is so high, you have to live up to it, you can’t give up,” she says.
“If I get to the point where I’m lucky enough to be a full-time rugby player, I’m not going to throw what I have in the locker. I will always have my carpentry skills and I think I can use them in other ways.