Despite already playing at one World Cup and on the verge of a second successive Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam, Leanne Riley is more concerned with the state of women’s rugby long after she has hung up her boots, writes Adam LeRoux.
The Harlequins scrum-half has featured in yet another dominant performance by the Red Roses at this year’s Championship, to add to her ever-growing reputation as one of the most feared players in the Tyrrells Premier 15s.
And as women’s rugby continues to grow year on year, Riley has her sights set on the women of today leaving a legacy for the next generation.
“The game itself is growing and it’s great for us to be part of that in terms of growing the game at grassroots level and having an impact on young girls trying the sport for the first time,” the 26-year-old said.
“It’s really good for us and women’s sport in general to keep growing and getting to a point where the professionalism comes in, not just with our unions, but at club level as well.
“We’re striving to make those changes so as we get old and retire it’s still filtering through, so teenagers that have the potential and aspirations to play for England have a stepping stone in place for them.
“Yes, we’re doing it for ourselves, but we’re also doing it for women’s rugby and its future, you’ve got to take it step by step and it’s got to come in gradually to make it sustainable.”
Once the Women’s Six Nations is done and dusted, Riley and her teammates will return to the bread and butter of domestic action, with her Harlequins side yet again locked in a title battle with Saracens.
The two sides are used to going head to head, after meeting in last season’s final in which Sarries tasted victory.
And although the pair continue to lead the race this year, Riley believes the Tyrrells Premier 15s has become even more competitive, with international talent spread around the country.
“Saracens is always really tough,” the scrum-half said. “We’ve been really good, but we’ve come up short in our two biggest games against them.
“It’s massively competitive, you’ve got the likes of Loughborough who have Katy Daley-Mclean and Emily Scarratt who kick the ball all day long and pin you back in your half.
“It has been Harlequins and Saracens first and second but actually the league in itself, you’ve got your Loughboroughs, your Gloucesters, there’s influential players within those teams that standout every game.
“I think that’s so good for the league, sometimes the scoreline might not reflect how competitive the game was but games are won on fine margins.”
— Leanne Riley (@leanneriley189) March 8, 2020
It might well be a competitive division, but Riley and her Harlequins teammates will have their eye on earning themselves some silverware this season, after coming so close in previous years.
And with such a close-knit team at The Stoop, the 26-year-old believes the squad has the perfect chemistry that brings the best out of not just her own game, but the group as a whole.
“If I relax more that brings out my personality, and I’ve managed to do that not only for Harlequins but I’m building that into my England game now,” she added.
“I play behind a great forward pack so for me, when they’re on it, it’s easy for me to play. I can give the backs the ball they want, we’re on the front foot and we’re playing.
“The plan will be to get into those playoffs and grab one of the semi-final spots, and hopefully we can get to the final, but we’ll have to take it game by game.”