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Focus: The Women’s Rugby stars working on the frontline

Focus: The Women’s Rugby stars working on the frontline

Agathe Sochat and her teammates have been helping those most in need (Credit: France Rugby)

Women’s rugby players from Ireland and France were among those who have been working hard to provide support to vulnerable people during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Claire McLaughlin swapped Ireland’s back row for the frontline as she put her status as a qualified doctor to perfect use in the fight against the global virus outbreak.

The Ireland international is a versatile customer, graduating with a degree in medicine from Queen’s University in Belfast before going on to don the green of Ireland 16 times.

The Ulster player – who has been struggling with an ankle injury – joined forces with Adam Griggs’ Ireland squad ahead of their expected clash against France on March 15, before the game was postponed owing to the spread of Covid-19.

But, while McLaughlin has been unable to put her skills on the pitch to use she certainly made the most of them off it, completing a full week of work in the Accident and Emergency Department at Belfast’s Ulster Hospital to help combat the disease.

And she’s not the only one, with France captain Gaëlle Hermet also assisting the vulnerable while several of her French teammates including Camille Boudaud and Agathe Sochat, who both work in the medical sector alongside their rugby careers, have been working on the frontline too.

While doing so the 28-year-old also lived in a local Airbnb to protect herself from the virus, and she said it has been quite the experience as she worked tirelessly to treat those in need.

“This week has just been mental – all the uncertainty takes its toll,” she said.

“I’d been listening to the news about Covid-19 and constantly refreshing my social media for updates – I was worried about what I’d be facing.

“That seems like ages ago now, and it’s such a fluid situation that it’s changed plenty since then.

“Everything has been happening on the go. We have had to restructure and there have been some logistical problems we’ve had to iron out.

“It’s difficult when you’ve been used to a way of working and things are suddenly changing on a weekly, if not daily basis. You just have to adapt and go with it.”

McLaughlin spent her foundation year as a junior doctor at Mater Infirmorum Hospital in Belfast, honing her skills before exchanging the ward for the rugby field.

And while she has gone on to reach impressive heights for both club and country, she is now acutely aware of the dangers the spread of the Coronavirus holds.

“There’s a growing appreciation of the new reality – I do think people are taking it more seriously, but there’s definitely plenty who don’t understand how bad this could get,” she added.

“They just don’t see how they can impact the situation or how the guidance might apply to them.

“Everyone has the potential to slow the spread of the virus – what each of us chooses to do today will impact the number of available intensive care unit beds in the hospitals over the next few weeks.

“When our backs are against the wall you appreciate how much we all do for each other – just like on a rugby field.

“Everyone can have an impact and change the course of its path.”

McLaughlin wasn’t the only player to be helping those in need, with Hermet joining the fight against the spread of the disease while the action on the field takes a backseat role.

The 23-year-old usually devotes some of her time to a nursing home in Cadours in conjunction with her rugby, but is ramping up her efforts during the current crisis.

“We try to take care of everyone,” she said.

“There is of course a lot of precaution to protect our elders and the nursing staff – everyone is aware of what is happening, we are all talking about it.

“We must respect all instructions given by the government – we try to take care of everyone, that’s the goal.

“We are waiting to see how it will evolve. I am waiting to see there are going to be needs. I am available, like all the caregivers I think.

“As we no longer have rugby, the goal is to help as much as possible with what is going on.

“We are several internationals in this case. We communicate with each other to find out how it is developing elsewhere. It is day to day. Rugby is no longer too much of a priority. We must take care of everyone.”

Hermet is not alone, with several other France players also offering their support to victims of the Coronavirus, and France Rugby tweeting a picture of those contributing to the efforts.

Boudaud and Sochat are among those also helping those most in need during this time of crisis.

The latter, France’s 24-year-old Montpellier hooker, is an occupational therapist by training but has been helping out specifically by making masks.

She said: “As we no longer have rugby, the goal is to help as much as possible with what is going on.

“We are several internationals in this case. We communicate with each other to find out how it is developing elsewhere. It is day to day. Rugby is no longer too much of a priority. We must take care of everyone.”