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What does it mean to play for Leicester Tigers?

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“It is a lifelong dream! I’ve been a supporter since I was 8 years old and have always dreamt of playing for Tigers, but there was never the opportunity."

Ahead of the Championship play-off final this Sunday, we asked members of the Leicester Tigers Women’s squad about what it means to them to pull on those famous green, white and red stripes.

Natasha Jones was one of the first to respond; as someone who grew up in Leicestershire, Jones recognises what the club means to the local community and, as someone who has played and coached at several local clubs, just how many dreams she is currently living to not only wear the badge but to call Mattioli Woods Welford Road home. 

"The fact it has come true is amazing. To know I am part of the first team ever in history and having the honour of captaining the team is something I will never forget and will always be proud of" said Jones.

"We are all now trailblazers, for future women and girls who want to play rugby in Leicestershire.

“It’s an honour ... I have to pinch myself every time we get to run out to smoke on the water in front of our amazing supporters. There is no feeling like it! To play where so many great players present and past have step foot on to is crazy.” 

It’s a fairy tale feeling that is echoed across several players; hooker Samantha Williams saying that playing for the club “means living my childhood dream of getting to run out with the tigers badge on my chest every weekend” whilst No.8 and vice-captain Becky Noon talked about how the experience “brought the love of rugby back to me, it is amazing to be playing for the team I’ve grown up supporting!”

2022/23 will have always been marked as monumental as this season was the first ever to see a women’s team play under the hallowed banner of Leicester Tigers.

However, what has been readily apparent in their results is that the squad assembled to make history had no hesitation in seizing this moment in time and using it to make a statement of intent.

For many of these women, Leicester Tigers represented a beautiful dream, one equally as inspiring for their rugby journey’s as, it seemed, just out of reach. To be the first of anything can be simultaneously exciting and daunting in equal measure, knowing that you’re being looked up to by so many aspiring players.

Flanker Zoe Warrington is another local player, starting out at Hinckley RFC before Tigers began recruiting.  

“It’s very surreal that I get to play for Leicester Tigers. Growing up all the boys at school would say they wanted to play for Tigers but there was never a women’s team for me to look up to. I never thought it’d be a possibility but now that it’s here, I feel very honoured.” the forward said, before adding “I used to come to games when I was younger and be amazed by the crowd and all the players. The fact that I now get to experience what it’s like to run out and play on the same pitch is crazy”.

Although Ofure Ugiagbe was born, fittingly, in Rugby, her journey within the sport began in Leicester, where she attended the University. It was here that she joined the University team and attended a game at Mattioli Woods Welford Road for the first time.

In our chat, she recalled Ed Slater running out as captain of the side and feeling overawed at the drive and intensity of her fellow forward. 

“It is a very cool place. The stairs out of the tunnel still terrify me, but then I hear ‘Smoke on the Water’ and I get all the feels. It’s where I first fell in love with rugby, and I’m confident it’s where my rugby journey will also come to an end. It’s very special to me.”

The prop played for a variety of clubs across the county but almost fell out of love with the sport following injury troubles. “When I had my injury all those years ago, I had no support from my club. Leicester Tigers didn’t even have a women’s team then, but from absolutely nowhere, they were offering me support and couldn’t do or say enough to help me in whatever way they could. I’ll never forget that.”

Although the club and the area are eternally linked to one another, the club’s influence spreads across the whole of the rugby world. Hailing from Grimsby, nearly three hours away from the city, Kat Turner is another outsider who, even if she doesn’t live here, is now able to call Leicester home.

“It’s a dream come true” said the forward “I never thought I’d get the chance to play at championship level. Coming from a small area of the UK, everyone wants to play for Leicester Tigers and I can now say I was part of the first season of the club. Playing at home just has a feeling you can’t describe, it helps make me ready for the game and the atmosphere is just amazing”. 

Finally, centre Katie Childs recognises the significance of the achievements of the squad and you can feel the infectious energy and passion the Swedish international brings to the club. “The only way I can describe it is that I get a fire in my belly every time I hear anything related to Tigers. Every time I’m on my way to training I get excited, every Wednesday I’m waiting for team selection I feel nervous, every weekend we have a gameday I feel extremely happy, and every time we win those games, I’m over the moon. 

Playing for Tigers allows me to feel every emotion a rugby player should feel. I feel like I’m part of a big family which to me is the most important part of rugby. This is something I’ve dreamed of my whole rugby life and never did I think it would happen to me.

"Tigers has allowed me to progress into the player I’ve dreamed of being and I’m so excited for what the future holds”.

When the team steps out onto that Twickenham field on Sunday, they won’t just be doing so in service of themselves and their own burgeoning careers in a sport they love. They won’t just be doing it for this tight-knit group, a group that celebrates one another and pushes one another to be better. They will be walking out on that field to represent Leicester Tigers and to live the dream of an eight-year-old girl from Leicestershire.