Amber Reed interview: ‘When you’re in your own head, things can spiral’
It is a testament to Amber Reed’s resilience that she will start England’s Women’s Six Nations opener against Scotland on Saturday. Ruptured ligaments in her ankle, surgery on more snapped ligaments in her foot and even a prolapsed disc have blighted – and at one point nearly ended – her career.
The Bristol Bears centre has overcome all those setbacks, not to mention the disappointment of missing out on selection for last year’s World Cup, to thrust herself back into an England shirt this weekend.
At the age of 31, Reed finds herself at the older end of the player spectrum at a time when a conveyor belt of young talent from the Premier 15s is being drip-fed into the Red Roses squad. But as she prepares to win her 63rd cap, on the back of a rich vein of form in the English top flight, she has never been more determined to prove a point.
“When I missed out on World Cup selection, I cried a lot. I found it really difficult,” Reed tells Telegraph Sport. “It was great to throw myself back into club rugby – the support network I had at Bristol was great. I felt like I wasn’t finished with international rugby so then it was about making that switch and thinking, ‘What next?’ It definitely wasn’t an easy process, but I know I’m not done yet.”
Five years ago, Reed was sitting in a hospital room and defiantly muttered those same words to the consultant who advised that retirement would be the only antidote for the slipped disc in her back. Her lengthy spell on the sidelines would see her miss out on the first professional 15s contracts the Rugby Football Union unveiled for the Red Roses at the start of 2019.
So when she finally got put back together by Bristol’s medical team and was made vice-captain for England’s autumn series in November 2021, Reed was buzzing – only for her world to come crashing down on the morning the team played New Zealand at Sandy Park, when she tore her hamstring in the warm-up.
“That was probably the darkest time,” she reflects. “It wasn’t even the worst injury, because I missed the autumns but was back playing for my club three weeks later. I was like, ‘Why me?’ I was working really hard off the pitch to stay on it. That’s the hardest part, trying to avoid that victim mentality.
“I had a rugby mate who was going through something similar at the time. We’re both characters who crack on and think things will be okay and that you’ll ride it out. But it’s when you realise it’s three weeks down the line and you’re not riding it out, we realised we had to talk to someone.
“So we used the Rugby Players’ Association, called their [mental health] hotline and spoke to someone because when you’re in your own head, things can spiral.”
Although injuries have marred much of her life on the pitch, Reed has been an omnipresent figure in England’s squad. Perhaps her steely attitude stems from the fact that rugby runs in her family – her uncle, Andy Reed, won 19 caps for Scotland and was a British & Irish Lion. “My Scottish grandma has told me we’re not allowed to win by too much on Saturday,” laughs Reed. “She text me the other day saying, ‘Let them score a try.’”
That even Reed’s own grandma, Marjorie, can sense another straightforward English victory tells you everything you need to know about the competitiveness – or lack of it – in the Women’s Six Nations. England have claimed the title for the past four editions, although there is good reason to believe the competition could be a lot closer this time round, with all nations featuring professional players for the first time.
As England look to dust themselves down from last year’s World Cup disappointment, outgoing head coach Simon Middleton has been forced to heavily rotate his squad due to injuries to key personnel. Reed’s fellow centre, Emily Scarratt, looks almost certain to be out for the entire campaign, while Helena Rowland is only set to feature in the latter rounds.
The Bristol Bears captain will consequently form a new-look midfield partnership with stand-in fly-half Holly Aitchison, who will front up at ten for the injured Zoe Harrison, and outside-centre Lagi Tuima this weekend as England look to give long-standing captain Sarah Hunter a fairytale send-off in her home city.
As someone who used to fill in at ten herself during the Katy Daley-Mclean era, Reed – the third highest point-scorer in the Premier 15s this season – is more than happy to shoulder some of the kicking duties. “It’s not much of a secret that at England level we want to have multiple kickers in the team, because it puts the opposition off and creates more space,” says Reed. “Lagi can also kick, as can Abby Dow. It’s something me and Holly can definitely chat through and work out.”
Given that so much time has been cruelly robbed from her, it is hardly a surprise that she is focusing on the bigger picture.
“As long as I’m still enjoying it and doing myself justice in terms of how I’m playing, then the 2025 World Cup in England is definitely on my radar,” she smiles, before hammering home her point again: “I don’t feel done just yet.”