23 May 19
‘I remember playing Superleague games in front of a couple of hundred people’ (Picture: Eliza Morgan)
Rachel Dunn is a veteran shooter, England Netball legend and genetic scientist. At 36 she is playing the best netball of her life and has just been named in the Roses squad for this summer’s World Cup in Liverpool.
She wasn’t included in last year’s Commonwealth Games squad, but she has more than proved her worth to any doubters.
A near faultless performance at the Quad Series in January made Dunn an undeniable option for selection – she scored 25 of 26 shots against South Africa and was named player of the match – her experience, physical strength and unorthodox style mean she’s a serious threat for any opposition.
‘I’ve been a part of this sport for, well, a long time, and since I first started out, both domestically and internationally, it has boomed massively,’ Dunn tells Metro.co.uk.
‘I remember playing Superleague games in front of a couple of hundred people, and now – well, I just played the Superleague final at the Copper Box, it was a sell-out, the crowd was amazing, and there was full TV coverage. It’s a whole different world, and the progress we have made is incredible.’
Dunn has played more than 200 Superleague games across her 16-year career, and she first donned the iconic England dress in 2004. She has two Commonwealth bronze medals to her name, so a medal from a home World Cup would top off a stellar career.
‘It’s great to be in netball at this moment. The opportunity to have a home World Cup and build on the momentum of last year’s gold medal – it’s really incredible,’ says Dunn.
‘When that crowd roars for us it feels like there’s another player on court’ (Picture: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images for England Netball)
‘I know the crowd are going to deliver. The Quad Series in January was the perfect example, both in the Liverpool and at the Copper Box, the crowd was just electric. I know what it’s like to have the home crowd behind you – they really are like an eighth player, and that can be really invaluable.
‘I think the UK, generally, is really good at supporting when we are the home nation – we saw it at the Olympics in 2012 – people just love having something to get behind. When that crowd roars for us it feels like there’s another player on court.’
This January’s Quad Series was Dunn’s calling card, giving her the platform to show England coach Tracey Neville exactly what she can do. But missing out on the win makes it a bittersweet memory for the shooter.
‘The fact that we beat both New Zealand and Australia, then had a blip against South Africa – it came down to just goal difference, so that was really annoying for me,’ says Dunn.
‘But to put in a couple of stellar performance against the top nations – it was a critical time to do that, it was really important.’
[metro-fact-box title=”The England Roses World Cup squad” colour=”blue” icon=”exclamation”]
Helen Housby (GA, GS)
Joanne Harten (GS, GA)
Natalie Haythornthwaite (WA, GA)
Rachel Dunn (GA, GS)
Serena Guthrie (C, WD)
Jade Clarke (C, WD)
Chelsea Pitman (WA)
Natalie Panagarry (C, WD)
Layla Guscoth (GD, WD)
Eboni Usoro-Brown (GK, GD)
Geva Mentor (GK)
Francesca Williams (GD, WD)
She may have missed out on last summer’s gold medal glory, but consistent performances for her Superleague side, Wasps, have kept Dunn in contention. She knew she had more to give on the international stage.
‘After the World Cup in 2015 I was kind of on the edge of the England programme, I took a step back from it. But, I’m not getting any younger and I’m still playing OK, so I decided to come back into the fold again and see what happens.
‘I had the opportunity against Australia in the Quad Series and I just really, really enjoyed it. The team was playing really well, it all just clicked and we managed to get that result. It still gets to me that a couple more goals would have got the win.’
Dunn is a master of the double life. Alongside weekly Superleague matches and now, intensive England training camps, she is also a genetic scientist – in her day job she works on the latest DNA techniques for non-invasive pregnancy screening.
So how on earth does she balance such a demanding career with the schedule of an elite, international athlete?
‘I have very accommodating employers, and accommodating coaches basically,’ explains Dunn.
‘I do think that I skirt along the border of craziness sometimes, depending on how busy it is – but it’s just something that I have always done.
‘I came up in an era when there wasn’t a full-time programme available. You had to have a job, otherwise you wouldn’t survive. And there are still a lot of Superleague players now who are in that situation. We do still need more funding.
‘Right now, excitement levels in the England camp are sky high’ (Picture: Eliza Morgan)
‘Hopefully, as the game progresses, we will be able to get more Superleague players to go part-time – then they will be able to train more and that will increase the standard of the entire league.
‘But for me – I just got used to doing it. You get used to being tired a lot. My one weakness is that I’m not very good at replying to emails – that’s the one thing that kind of goes out the window. So I’m definitely a bit slacking in some areas.
‘It’s all about early mornings, late nights and just having decent organisational skills – that’s what’s helped me survive up to this point, and that’s what enables me to get my work done and my training done.’
It sounds exhausting. You have to be a certain kind of person to take on this challenge and deal with the relentless pressures and responsibilities. For Rachel, she couldn’t imagine missing out on the highs she gets from playing.
‘You’ve got to grab the opportunities in life,’ she says.
‘I had the opportunity to work in a field that I love, and I decided to do the netball thing as well. I just wanted to make the most of what was available to me at that time. It’s not always easy – but I make it work with work and my coaches, so you just carry on.
‘But taking breaks is so important too! When I have downtime, I really enjoy it. I enjoy getting out in the countryside, trying to switch off.
‘I do find it actually helps doing both – working and playing elite netball. When I’ve had a really hard day at work, I can go and hit the netball court and you forget everything that’s happened.
‘It’s the same the other way – you might have a bad game, but at work on Monday morning, they don’t really care how you got on at the weekend, as long as I’m getting the work done. So mentally, that does really help me because it allows me to switch from one thing to the other – and not get too bogged down in either.
‘You can’t train all the time, so it’s important for the younger generation to think about what skills they can develop while being an athlete.
‘Things that can help them in their future careers, and as athletes, there are so many transferable skills that can be applicable in a workplace – so it’s just about focusing in on that, and thinking about what you enjoy and what you can realistically manage alongside training.
‘Right now, excitement levels in the England camp are sky high. The thought of a home World Cup is just unbelievably exciting. Everyone has been playing for their domestic clubs for quite a while and to have everyone back together feels brilliant.
‘This is such an incredible time to be playing netball – this World Cup will be monumental, whether you’re playing or watching, it will be huge for the game as a whole.’
Rachel Dunn is a member of the Vitality Roses, Vitality Health and Life Insurance and Investments are proud sponsors of the Roses and Vitality Netball World Cup 2019.
There are exactly 50 days to go until the Netball World Cup. The action kicks off on 12th July and Sky Sports will be live streaming every single match on Sky Sports’ YouTube channel.
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