American Kristine Sommer on rejoining Quins, levelling the playing field with men and what she thought of the US election
Harlequins’ US star Kristine Sommer believes the standard in the Premier 15s gives players the opportunity to press ahead for equality in the sport.
And while she acknowledges the league has high quality training and facilities, she recognises there is still has a way to go to reach a level playing field with the men.
The only full-time professionals in the league are England stars and a few other internationals. The rest of the athletes work full-time alongside their rugby, including Sommer who works at a water treatment company.
She exclusively told NewsChain: "The women's game has so far to go. I think the women who are now in it are asking more questions. How can we make it more legitimate? How can we remove that gender gap, remove the disparity between the programmes?
"Which is good, especially when the team is playing well. So now that we are starting to create a platform I think we're starting to want to actually be professionalised. As opposed to this weirdly tiered, kind of professional while everyone else still has a full-time job kind of atmosphere that we are in right now.
“We are making it work. Most people think that we are professionalised even though we are working one other job, two other jobs etc. I think it's a really good start for women's rugby in the UK and outside of the UK to actually become a professionalised environment. Where rugby is the only thing that we do and focus on.”
The US international recently re-joined Quins after playing for them in the 2018/19 season. She left the club as her visa ran out and went to play in Seattle before returning to the London club in October.
She re-signed a few weeks into the start of the 2020/21 season and hit the ground running for Quins as they have continue their unbeaten streak in the league.
"I think we are just taking every week in our stride and working on little challenges, little changes and tiny errors from the week before.
"We have good competitive training sessions. We review, move on, review, move on. So we've been really fortunate and lucky to pull off some of the wins and continue the streak. Some of the wins haven't been pretty.
“But I think we have done a good job at continuing to push through that especially with so many games back to back. It’s always tough coming into the spring after we have had a break. People are gone. A lot of our players are out for the Six Nations so I think that will be a true testament as to how we come back as a team.”
Quins had been looking forward to their biggest challenge yet at the weekend as they faced defending champions Saracens.
The match would also have seen the return of fans to The Stoop, however, it was called off after a Sarries player tested positive for Covid-19.
“I'm glad they cancelled it,” says Sommer. "It’s honestly just the safest bet to cancel it. We don't have a whole lot of information we just know that there was a case.
"It's definitely a bummer because we were supposed to have people in the stands. But, for me, I'm just fortunate to be playing rugby. So fans or no fans, even if it was a 1,000 fans, it would have been great but in the end for all of us we are just making sure we are staying safe. The team are staying safe.
“If that environment isn't there at the time of play then we have just got to move on and get ready for the next time we can play them. So for me and us it's not something we can control at this time. It is what it is, move on and get ready for the next game.”
The re-introduction of fans is an exciting move for the game and for Sommer who has said they have reacted well to her return.
As well as supporters welcoming her back with open arms, Sommer says she also has a good rapport with her team-mates.
She moved to England just before the US presidential election last month and said politics had been a popular topic of conversation ever since.
"It was pretty good timing to get over here to be honest! I'm a Biden supporter. I got a lot of questions when I got here. Who are you voting for? What happened? What if that person wins? To be fair I couldn't anticipate what was going to happen. Still now, still now who knows what is going to happen.
"It's comedic to watch. Every morning here I grab a coffee and watch BBC just to see what people think about it. We [Quins] talk about some things like the issues with the police.
"I spoke to some of the players about that. We also spoke on the racial bias things that are happening, some of the BLM things. So we have spoken about things because they were happening here as well, it's just been way more expansive in the USA.
“We dip around politics. Here it's not as polarised as it is in the States. If you say you like Trump or you like Biden it's like a black and white discussion.
"I had a woman at a gas station [in the UK] ask where my accent was from. Then she asked if I liked Trump or Biden and my friend I was with joked and said I was a Trump supporter. I went blue. Even though the other woman just looked at me and my friend was like 'I was joking, she's not, she's not'.
“But I'm just so used to if you say you're a Trump supporter it's so polarising in the States. Or a Biden supporter on the other side.”
2021 won’t just be the year we see a new resident inside the White House, it will also be the year women’s rugby will have new world champions as the Rugby World Cup kicks off in New Zealand in September.
The draw last month saw Sommer’s USA be drawn with rivals Canada, Asia 1 and Europe 1. She says it is tricky to prepare for the tournament when they don’t know who two of their competitors will be.
"We have an idea who they might be. I know we will know in the summer so it will be a lot more cramming in for the other two teams because we have done so much work on Canada.
“We have one more game in between games at the World Cup. It's a really fast turn around to do your analysis. Get everything down in a way you understand how they play, how you're playing against them and then just go for it. The summer is going to be very, very packed. With games, with analysis, with understanding of our goals and how we enter a game when we are there.”
The tournament will be the last with just 12 teams competing as moving forward it will be extended to 16.
Sommer said ‘it’s about time’ the change happened.
"I hope there are more teams that can financially afford it. A lot of it comes down to money, to be honest. It’s getting more backing and support financially for the women's programmes so that we can actually compete.
“I love more people being in it. I hope more teams can get the support where we can play them and they can play us to see where they are at. Then they can continue to be competitive after grabbing a top 16 spot in the World Cup for the next three or four to come.”
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