A Conversation with Olympian, World Champion & England ‘Red Roses’ Rugby Player, Natasha “Mo” Hunt

A Conversation with Olympian, World Champion & England ‘Red Roses’ Rugby Player, Natasha “Mo” Hunt

Natasha “Mo” Hunt has represented England across almost every format and level of rugby. Hunt has represented England Under 20s, England A, England sevens as well as England in 15-a-side rugby.

She went on to start the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup final, earning her 29th cap and victory over Canada. Natasha then represented Team GB in sevens at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Returning to XVs, she was awarded with a full-time professional EPS contract in 2016 and was part of the squad that reached a second successive World Cup final in 2017. She represented England Sevens at the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens as well as winning a bronze medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, before returning to XVs with a full-time contract in January 2019 and joining Gloucester-Hartpury. Success continued in 2019 when she played in every game of the Women’s Six Nations as England won the Grand Slam. She earned her 50th cap in the November test against Italy. Hunt featured in the 2023 TikTok Women’s Six Nations Championship before retaining her spot in the Red Roses squad for the inaugural WXV tournament in New Zealand later that year.

In this interview I speak to Natasha “Mo” Hunt who has represented England across almost every format & level of rugby from the Olympics to the Commonwealth Games and major international competitions. We discuss the power of rugby, and what it takes to succeed at the highest level in one of the of the world’s most intense and competitive sports.

Q: How did professional rugby come into your life?

[Natasha “Mo” Hunt]: Rugby has always been a part of our family. Our grandfathers used to play and were quite well-known in their area, often appearing on television. However, netball was my primary sport. My mother played it, and I was involved in it at school. Rugby wasn’t accessible at school, but I was decent at netball, so I pursued it until I was about 17. I played in county and regional setups, practicing around four times a week. This was typical for me when I was younger, alongside other sports like football, golf, and tennis. I even dabbled in rugby at my local club with my sisters when I was around 14.

Netball was where I was truly driven. I aspired to represent England in a sport and thought netball would be my path. This changed after attending a couple of England netball trials, where my height became an issue. I couldn’t change it and felt disheartened. However, my PE teacher suggested I try rugby. So, I joined Malvern, a club I had briefly played for when younger. That same year, I got into the regional Midlands team. This success led me to under-20 trials, and I was selected in my first year of serious play, almost immediately entering the England setup.

The opportunity to try out for the England team came, and I was lucky to be selected. In 2007, when I started university, I joined an England squad for the first time. Representing my country in a sport had always been my dream, though I wasn’t sure which sport it would be. From there, I never looked back.

Q: How do you cope with the public profile of success and representing your nation?

[Natasha “Mo” Hunt]: When I first started playing rugby, back in 2007 when I was selected for the England under-20s, women’s rugby wasn’t as prominent as it is now. At that time, I wasn’t aware of many female players in the game. There were role models, undoubtedly, women who were fully committed to the sport, and we have learned a great deal from our past roses. Their efforts paved the way for us to be where we are today. However, back then, women’s rugby wasn’t as visible as it is now.

Now, women’s rugby is a significant part of the game, as you mentioned. I realize that I need to improve in recognizing my role as a model for young players. It’s humbling when young girls and boys, eager to play the game, are excited to meet me. It makes me understand the importance of being more open and accessible to them.

To be honest, I haven’t stayed as up-to-date with this aspect as I should have, considering the privilege that comes with playing for one’s country. As for the pressure of representing the nation, I don’t really view it as pressure. It’s an honour and an absolute privilege to be part of the setup, to wear the white shirt, and to be among other dedicated athletes pushing their limits. It’s not just the players; the staff’s commitment and drive to excel in their roles is also humbling. Being in such an environment, you can’t help but strive to be your best version. Anything less feels like letting the team down.

I’ve always regarded pressure as a privilege, and I still stand by that belief. Playing for England is more than just a responsibility; it’s an opportunity to excel and contribute to a legacy.

Q: What does it take to build a high performing team?

[Natasha “Mo” Hunt]: The culture in rugby varies across different setups. Currently, my home club is Gloucester-Hartpury. We don’t actively discuss culture because we’re surrounded by good people. When you have good people, the culture naturally thrives on its own. Everyone in our team is remarkable, with strong moral values, which ensures everything runs smoothly.

If anyone needs guidance, our close-knit relationships allow for open and honest conversations without any negative consequences. This camaraderie extends both on and off the pitch, akin to the bond you’d share with a younger sibling. Our effective working relationships mean a great deal to us.

Rugby is unique compared to other sports and aspects of life. It involves a physical intensity where you’re running full force into an opponent who’s doing the same to you. This element creates a deeper bond within the team, as you’re literally putting your body on the line for your teammates. This kind of solidarity is a distinctive aspect of the sport.

Playing for England brings its own culture, steeped in a tradition of winning and success. Being part of this legacy requires full commitment. Those who don’t buy in risk being replaced by others who are just as capable. Managing oneself effectively in all these environments is crucial, and I see it as one of the most important aspects of being a rugby player.

Q: How do you build the physical endurance and fitness needed to compete at the highest levels in rugby?

[Natasha “Mo” Hunt]: I honestly feel that I was fitter when I played netball four or five times a week, which might sound surprising given that I’m now a professional rugby player. The fitness required for netball is different from rugby, making it hard to compare the two. Rugby sevens, for example, is an incredibly demanding part of the game. I’ve never felt as physically exhausted as I did playing in sevens tournaments in Dubai and Rio. The fatigue is on another level.

My drive to excel comes from a desire to be the best I can, not just for myself but also for those around me. I aim to perform at my peak every time I play. The way we train, whether with Gloucester-Hartpury, England, or a combination of both, varies depending on the season and the competitions we’re preparing for. Our training regimens are determined by our strength and conditioning coaches (S&Cs). When they say run, we run. It’s part of the discipline and commitment of being a professional player.

Admittedly, training can be tough. There have been times when I’ve been on the sidelines, dreading a gruelling running session, wondering why I’m doing this. But then I remember my teammates are all pushing through the same challenges. That collective effort helps me to buckle down and just get on with it.

Q: How do approach the mental side of the game, and building mental resilience?

[Natasha “Mo” Hunt]: I believe I play rugby quite intelligently. I usually avoid direct contact, preferring to keep the ball alive or offload it just before a tackle. This approach makes my game different, focusing more on avoiding heavy hits. For instance, during a recent match against Bristol, Sarah Bern had me in her sights. In such moments, my priority is to do everything for the team. So, I did my best to tackle her, not wanting to let my teammates down.

This mentality stems from my competitive nature. I’m driven to win every time I step onto the field and to do everything I can to put any team I play for in the best possible position. This competitive edge is crucial in contact sports.

Regarding the physical toll, it’s true that we’re always a bit injured. I can’t remember the last time I felt no aches or pains. But that’s just part and parcel of being an athlete. Every athlete, whether a cross country runner or a hurdler, would probably say the same. We’re always pushing ourselves to our limits, and sometimes beyond. If we’re not, we’re likely not pushing hard enough from an athletic standpoint.

So, it’s just something that comes with the job. As long as you remember why you’re doing it and care about those around you, which is something I’ve found common in this sport, it becomes much more manageable. Knowing that everyone else is experiencing the same challenges makes it a lot easier.

Q: How do you deal with failure – and with the losses?

[Natasha “Mo” Hunt]: I believe being highly analytical is key to success in rugby. I’ve loved the sport since joining the England team in 2007, which marks a long career for me in this field. My approach involves scrutinizing everything – my own performance and that of those around me. This level of analysis is crucial. It helps in understanding whether the issues on a given day are related to mindset, technical skills, or tactical decisions.

I’ve been lucky to be part of very successful teams for the past year. However, the year before that with Gloucester-Hartpury presented some challenges. We were often close to winning but struggled to clinch victories, losing about six games by less than five points in the last 10 minutes. As a leader, it was tough, especially when our bench strength wasn’t as robust as it is now, or when our tactics were slightly off.

But I believe you learn the most from losses and tough times. These experiences teach you about decision-making and character. Our Gloucester-Hartpury team stuck together through these challenges, which I think contributed to our success last year. Having been the ‘nearly team’ for a few years made our eventual success even more meaningful. It motivated us to dig deeper because of our care for each other and our desire to avoid repeating past experiences.

Going through such challenges in a career is invaluable. As long as you view these experiences positively and frame them correctly, they become lessons you can always return to and learn from.

Q: What is it about rugby that keeps people so engaged with the game?

[Natasha “Mo” Hunt]: You’re quite unique for not staying in the sport. It doesn’t surprise me that they initially had you play as a prop without much training. In my opinion, it’s the people in rugby that make it so special. Everyone I’ve encountered, whether they’re working behind the scenes, playing on the field, or involved in any capacity, are simply incredible individuals. We share similar values, and there’s a sense of alignment in everything we do. We work extremely hard for each other, which is quite distinctive.

The commitment to putting your body on the line in rugby is a unique aspect of the sport. But more importantly, it’s the amazing character of everyone involved that truly sets rugby apart. That, I believe, is what makes rugby such an incredible sport.

Q: What does legacy mean to you?

[Natasha “Mo” Hunt]: Do you know what? I want people to be celebrated for who they are. That’s incredibly important. Being accepted, especially in rugby, is a significant part of the sport. It’s all about feeling welcomed and free to be yourself, which I think is immensely important. Regarding my own legacy, I hope people see how much fun I’ve had and feel inspired to follow a similar path. It’s no secret that I’ve faced tough times, but overall, I genuinely enjoy and love what I do. There’s truth in the saying, ‘When you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.’ I’d like people to see that joy in what I do and aspire to reach a point where they can experience the same.

Making sports accessible is also crucial. Coming from the Forest of Dean, where there aren’t many sports opportunities and accessibility is limited, it’s important for me to set an example. I want young boys and girls in the Forest to see what’s possible and to be able to follow in those footsteps. Now, having nieces and nephews, it feels even more special.

Thought Economics

About the Author

Vikas Shah MBE DL is an entrepreneur, investor & philanthropist. He is CEO of Swiscot Group alongside being a venture-investor in a number of businesses internationally. He is a Non-Executive Board Member of the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and a Non-Executive Director of the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Vikas was awarded an MBE for Services to Business and the Economy in Her Majesty the Queen’s 2018 New Year’s Honours List and in 2021 became a Deputy Lieutenant of the Greater Manchester Lieutenancy. He is an Honorary Professor of Business at The Alliance Business School, University of Manchester and Visiting Professors at the MIT Sloan Lisbon MBA.