The Richmond Rivalry – previewing this weekend with Sonia Green
It’s a break week in the Six Nations and normally this would mean a quiet week for top flight women’s rugby in general but thanks to a previously called off game we get a little bit of Tyrrells Premier 15s action as Saracens Women head to the RAG. We caught up with long-serving forward Sonia Green to talk about why this is always a special game, the season so far and her day job too.
“I’m itching to play actually, I can’t wait!” Sonia tells me when we catch up the evening before kick off. “The game got cancelled before Christmas, we were all fired up and ready to play on that Saturday and it got cancelled last minute because of the weather.”
Cancelling a game is always frustrating and Richmond would have been as disappointed as Saracens. For the visitors it has provided a surprising benefit though, with Bryony Cleall fit to take part after a year out. “It’s a big game for us, Richmond is always a big game. There’s a lot of rivalry between us so for her to come back in this game is great for her and great for us. She’s going to be propping as well, she’s moved forward from the back row and been working on that but she didn’t have much chance to develop that because of injury so it’s exciting for her and helps her development ahead of the next Six Nations games.”
The fixtures between Richmond and Saracens are always played with an intensity that may surprise recent converts to the women’s game. They sit toward opposite ends of the table these days but it’s a rivalry born out of Richmond’s days dominating domestic women’s rugby. “There’s a lot of history there!” Sonic tells me and I can hear the grin on her face from the other end of the line! “I’ve been at Sarries a few years now, I think it goes back to 30 years ago when Saracens Women were founded. There weren’t so many ‘big names’ involved then and it was Richmond and Sarries always at the top. Along with Clifton (now Bristol Bears) and Worcester, they were the big 4 teams when I first started playing. We were that London rivalry so it’s always been a derby. It’s been fiery on the pitch, you know when you go to Richmond there will always be a good crowd, they have a passionate fanbase who have always supported their women’s team well so you know there will be a noisy crowd which makes for a good game!”
“There’s always some drama too, this time with the game being rearranged, which makes it a bit more exciting. I think it’s important that the younger players at Saracens – and Richmond too – know about that rivalry because it makes for a better game, definitely!”
Given the history of the fixture it’s particularly sad that this may be Richmond’s last season as part of the TP15s. Losing so much history is always tough and rivalries are part of the experience for fans. “It is sad, there’s a lot of history at Richmond and to see that they’re had to retender must be quite difficult for the whole club and the players as well. But you take each game as they come and ultimately everyone will be focused on that rather than what is going on behind the scenes!”
For all the rivalry though, Saracens are clear favourites to walk away with a win and put themselves at the top of the league table ahead of the return to full fixture lists in the spring. “Of course we’re favourites, they’ve only won one game. But, it’s Richmond and when we played them the first time this season it was a really tough game and although we won it didn’t feel like we were ahead the whole game. Look at their game against Worcester a few weeks ago. Richmond came back, they got the first try. Worcester were outstanding and it’s great to see how they’ve been developing since Jo Yapp has come onboard and they’ve had support from the club, but Richmond made a comeback and I think if they’d had a bit more time they might have won it. You shouldn’t look at where they are in the table, they’ll make us work for every point!”
“I know we’ve got a big strong pack, but they’ve got a big pack too and some decent players in the backs. They’ve got experience too, with Ro Burnfield and Abi Chamberlain. I’ve played with both of them for a number of years for England and in 7s, they’re good players with real experience so it’ll be an interesting one!”
As much as she’s focused on the match a the weekend, Sonia is part of the club in her day job too, as vice principal of Saracens High School, a perfect opportunity to align her career in teaching with her club. “I literally have my dream job! I don’t there’s any teacher in the country with a job like this, there’s no other school aligned to a sports club! The fact that the club I’ve played for the last 18 years have a school now, it’s a happy coincidence and couldn’t be better so I’m very lucky!”
“It’s been tough at times, like juggling two jobs, but I love it. Seeing the kids at school in their Saracens blazers and with their Saracens bags. We live and breathe the values!” It’s a pretty special concept and for all that Saracens have come under the spotlight the amount they have put into their community cannot be underestimated.
After 18 years in the game I suggest this role might be Green’s legacy, that she’ll be remembered as the person who made a difference in the community as much as she has on the pitch “I hope so. When I first started teaching I set up a girls team at the school, but now girls are playing from a very young age. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to have that opportunity. The girls I teach have a tournament coming up on the first week back after half term and I’m going to be really proud to take them to Allianz Park. We’ve got some under 15s and under 13s girls teams playing before our game against Quins on the 18th of April and I’m hoping to get a team from the school down as well. It’s fantastic in the crowd after the game seeing kids that I teach in the crowd too. I know one of the governors from the school is taking some boys to the men’s game to watch and meet some of the players as well, it couldn’t be better really, it’s amazing for the kids!”
It’s clear Sonia is passionate about the work she and her colleagues are doing at the High School but this weekend she’ll be putting Ms Green aside for a couple of hours as Sonic lines up in the back row to take on the old enemy!