Photo: World Rugby / Caroline Deegan of Cayman Photography
Having recently retired from her international playing career, 32-year-old British-born Shaunagh Brown is now setting her sights on rugby in the Cayman Islands.
With Brown’s last test match at the World Cup Final in November, Shaunagh has started 2023 with a fresh chapter and a new challenge in the form of rugby development in the Cayman.
As the newly-appointed Female Rugby Development Officer, the former Harlequins and England Prop brings a wealth of experience to the role. She will be using her talents to take the sport into local schools to increase the awareness of rugby in the Cayman Islands, particularly amongst young girls.
Because her father is Jamaican, Brown is no stranger to Caribbean culture, and she is keen to return to her roots to give something back to the sport that has given her so much. Shaunagh says she wants to inspire not only the next generation of players in the region, but also encourage a more diverse ‘new generation’ of people to join the global rugby community.
Where it all Began
Before taking up rugby, a young Shaunagh was already a keen sportsperson and involved in high level athletics disciplines such as the hammer throw, shot put, and discus.
“I competed at the highest-level bar at the Olympics,” she says. “I also went to the World Youth Championships, World Junior Championships, European Junior Championships, European Under 23 Championships, Commonwealth Youth Games, and the Commonwealth Senior Games before retiring in 2014.”
Armed with a strong foundation of being able to catch and throw, as well as with elite training experience and the motivation to push herself to another level, she decided to give rugby a try.
“I started playing rugby at 25-years-old and played all of my rugby in England, aside from international touring,” she says. “I started off just with my local club, then went on to play six years for the Harlequins, and I was also lucky enough to play five years for England.”
Shaunagh says that for her, the attraction to rugby was very much the physical aspect of the sport.
“I love the contact element of rugby,” she says. “I love how it allows me as a woman, and women in general, to actively be more aggressive. There are not many spaces in society for women where we are told to hit harder, run faster, and be more physical. Often as we are growing up, little girls are told not to be too rough and to play nicely, whereas in rugby you are pushed to go harder – I love it. That is what brought me to the game, and that is what keeps me here.”
The Next Chapter
Shaunagh was invited to begin this next chapter in her career by fellow English rugby expat and Coach for the women’s and girl’s programs in the Cayman Islands, Mercedes Foy.
And, after only two weeks into her new role, she has wasted no time settling in. Given that Brown’s father is of Caribbean heritage, she says she feels a strange familiarity with the culture of the Cayman Islands.
“I’ve come here, and I feel like I am with my people,” she says. “In the UK, sometimes I can feel a little bit different just with how I am as a person and how I live culturally. But I have come here, and just feel more at home so far than I do sometimes in the UK.
Much of her role as Female Rugby Development Officer will entail going into local schools and delivering Physical Education (PE) lessons including rugby to promote the sport more widely in the Cayman Islands, particularly to girls, from the ground up.
“I have jumped straight into the deep end and am ready to make a difference here,” she says. “It has been really rewarding already just to see the smiles on the girls’ faces. For a lot of these girls, it’s the first time they have ever even heard of rugby, let alone played it, so to be able to introduce them to this lifechanging sport is something I feel proud of.”
When asked about her vision for rugby in the Cayman Islands, Shaunagh says she wants to connect as many people as possible with the game of rugby, especially (but not limited to) women and girls.
“My goal in the Cayman Islands is to essentially not only get more young people playing rugby, but to get more of a mixture of people involved in the sport – a ‘new generation’,” she says. “There can be a bit of stereotype that rugby is just for expats, but I want to show people that it is definitely a game for local people as well and is for people from all different backgrounds.”
She says she wants to be a positive role model in the Cayman Islands, and to break down some of these preconceived notions to get rugby on the radar of people who may never have even considered that it might be for them.
“I want to remind people that anyone can play rugby,” she says. “You don’t have to look a certain way, or be from a certain area, and you don’t have to go to a certain school. Rugby is for everyone and there is no one size fits all. If I can show them that I’m a girl, I’m mixed race, I’m not from a posh school, I know this will connect with a lot of people and hopefully get them to feel like they can have a go at rugby too.
Brown is working intensively with the Cayman Islands for the next few months and hopes her involvement will see a significant shift in the development of the sport, both locally and within the wider region.