Swimming with the Sharks: Jess Wiesheu in at the deep end with new club Durham while starting uni during Covid
It would be fair to say it’s been a pretty tough start for Jess Wiesheu at DMP Durham Sharks - heavy defeats in the Premier 15s and yet to pick up any points.
Couple that with starting university at a time when coronavirus has turned the entire experience on its head, and you begin to get a feel for how focused and determined this 18 year-old is.
Wiesheu signed for Sharks in September from Worcester Warriors as she began studying geography at Durham University and despite the bumpy start to the season, she explains to NewsChain how rugby has helped her cope.
"It's been quite strange from both sides, starting uni during Covid has been quite hard with all the restrictions around university and all of my lessons being online and everything. But in some ways I've probably found it a lot easier than other people because I still had rugby through [the second] lockdown.
"I've been able to train and go to the gym and play matches every week where other people haven’t been able to. The support system from both the uni and Sharks during this time has been amazing. They've been checking in and making sure that everything is okay and it's been sometimes hard to juggle both of them but it's something I'm sure I'll get better at as the seasons go on.
"It's been very different, so I have a very nice flat that I am living with at the moment and they are all really friendly so it's been more staying in and getting to know them. In some ways it's meant that I can focus more on rugby because there's less going on in university, apart from lectures, there's less of the social side as it is so hard to do it with social distancing and most of it is online.
“So yeah it's just meant I've spent more time focusing on rugby which I've enjoyed massively which is good.”
Sharks have suffered in the Premier 15s so far with Harlequins beating them 103-0 and Wasps inflicting another heavy defeat, 105-0.
But despite the disheartening start, the teenager says the team are ‘progressing’.
"It has been hard so far. Obviously it's tough losing by a lot constantly in matches but we are progressing a lot and our team is improving. In training our team and our match work has got a lot better it's just taking a while to put that into matches but I know it will come at some point.
“We are a very young team and we've got new coaches and with Covid it's been harder to put everything together but it is coming along in training [it’s] just people haven't quite seen it yet in matches. So it's a long process but I'm sure it will come together at some point.”
She says a look up at the scoreboard can be disheartening but the senior players at keep morale up.
"It's obviously tough but we do have a point of looking at the positives from each match and making sure we focus on what we did well and not just what we need to improve. There's no point just focusing on the negatives because otherwise you won’t improve.
"It's hard to keep morale when you're losing a lot but we always knew this was going to be a tough start especially with the Sevens girls [England Sevens players joined the league after the Rugby Football Union cut their programme] coming into the mix in lots of the other teams.
"Standards have improved a lot and unfortunately we don't have quite as many experienced players so that's been hard to keep going. But our coaches and the more mature girls we have in our team have really tried to keep morale up and keep us improving which I think has worked so far.
“Our last match against Exeter [which Sharks lost 31-6] has shown that and even though we're losing we keep fighting which is good.”
Wiesheu also believes when it comes to the second half of the season the score will be much closer between Sharks and the likes of Harlequins.
"We're hoping to be a lot more competitive with those teams in the second time round of playing and we have a few other teams coming up [that I think we could challenge]. I think in two weeks we're playing Sale which we're hoping will be a really competitive match.
“We'll progress a lot from playing these matches and then move on to Saracens, Harlequins and Wasps later in the season which should be a lot closer hopefully.”
It’s not just defending champions Saracens and top London clubs Quins and Wasps who are competing well this season, the Premier 15s has seen a higher level of competition throughout.
"It seems like it is the highest standard it has ever been which is good. It shows the progression of women's rugby which is definitely needed. It seems to be a lot more professional and as I said a heightened level which is what the women's game needs.
“With the introduction of the Sevens players it definitely has improved the standard of the game. We had quite a rough start to the season, with all three London teams away which for us are long journeys and very competitive matches. I'm sure as the season goes on all the teams will improve but hopefully we can catch up to them.”
And that catching up process has a chance to get off the ground this weekend as Sharks come up against Loughborough Lightning.
Wiesheu said: "I'm very excited to play. Loughborough is always a very strong side which is good and tough opposition is always fun to play against.
"We know it's going to be challenging but we have our key points that we've been working on that we've been building on for the last few matches and we're just hoping to show improvement.
“Hopefully we can put what we’ve done in training into matches more and maybe convert it into points.”
Loughborough v Sharks will kick off at 2pm on Saturday.