Updated: Aug 28, 2019
Jackie Finlan, The Rugby Breakdown
Wendy Young, Your Scrumhalf Connection
WRCRA had the honor of connecting with Jackie Finlan, founder of The Rugby Breakdown, and Wendy Young, founder of Your Scrumhalf Connection, to learn more about their individual pathways to become the well-known and trusted journalists within women’s rugby that they are today. Both of these journalists have made a formidable impact on our sport and continue to use their voices to spread what’s happening both on and off the pitch to the greater women’s rugby community.
How long have you been involved in rugby? What capacities?
JF: I started playing rugby in 2000 at the Univ. Arizona and remained active (Suffolk, Village Lions, Philippines) until 2013. I now play for the old girls (HEAT). I held admin/leadership roles along the way, including VP, tournament director, captain and player/coach.
WY: I’ve been involved in rugby since 2001 when a few friends and I were handed a women’s football and rugby flyer at Pride. We chose to go to rugby practice first and were instantly hooked. As a lifelong athlete playing soccer, it was a natural fit for my competitive nature. I started with the Oklahoma Roses and retired from playing in 2011 with the Austin Valkyries. While still playing, I became a certified referee in 2008 and worked part-time when not playing. I retired from center refereeing in 2018. Along the way, I also coached the University of Texas Women’s team as well as the TRU & West U23 All-Star programs. I’m now active in new ways including as a USA Rugby Referee Manager for their International events, GU Administrator, referee coach, rugby commentator and super fan.
Who or what inspired you to start writing about women’s rugby?
JF: Good fortune. I took my English degree to NYC and worked any internship I could land – religious magazine, trade book publisher, mortgage newspaper. I started playing with Suffolk RFC on Long Island and my teammate, Jennie Munster, wrote an article about how to start a rugby team for Rugby Magazine (subject matter I’m actually interested in!). The publication was based on the Upper West Side, so I immediately submitted my resume with the note: If you ever have an opening, I will immediately put in my two weeks’ notice at my current job. Fortuitously, Ed Hagerty was looking for a new editor. I interviewed, and in July 2005, my rugby-writing days began.
I didn’t focus solely on the women’s game until later in my career, after Rugby Magazine shifted ownership and expanded its online presence and staff. Both Hagerty and Alex Goff, my mentors and bosses, didn’t divide responsibilities along gender but did accommodate preferences.
After 10 years, I was ready for a solo venture and a place where I could just focus on women, and thus founded The Rugby Breakdown.
WY: I’ve always been a writer filling boxes of journals with my thoughts. Writing on the internet was just taking off when I started, but I didn’t want to write a blog about my personal thoughts and feelings. So, I started by writing a blog about my adventures with the University of Oklahoma rugby team in 2006, and then branched out to covering the Western Rugby Football Union. I started to get quite a following as there wasn’t much women’s rugby coverage out there, so I expanded to cover more US domestic women’s rugby. In 2008, I rebranded with a new site under the banner Your Scrumhalf Connection and started covering international women’s rugby events. Our first international trip and international media credentials were at the 2010 Women’s Rugby World Cup in England.
What’s your favorite event to cover?
JF: Big high school championships. There’s so much engagement at the NITs, for example. Phenomenal talent is on display, all the scouts are taking notes, face-to-face introductions with interviewees punctuate the day, and then I find Bill LeClerc for all the exclusives he’s gathered from the sidelines over two days.
WY: Oh, this is a tough one! Of course the big events, Olympics, Women’s Rugby World Cups, and HSBC 7s are a blast. I think the best events have been the ones we could help promote and grow. A few examples would be all of the events in the US with Alex Williams, High School Championships, the Vegas 7s Invitational, and USA Rugby National Championships.
What’s the next goal for you?
JF: I want to build my monthly subscriptions so I can engage the larger rugby community. I would love to hire columnists to diversify the content behind the paywall, or finally pay photographers who generously donate their shots for a feature. I’d love to offer a paid internship to an aspiring rugby journalist.
WY: I want to continue covering the largest women’s rugby events. My family life has changed quite a bit and we’re raising a rabid rugby fan. At four he can call a scrum together and loves to chant “USA, USA, USA”! We’re really looking forward to watching the 2020 Olympics and attending the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand (bucket list).
Are you community supported or how are you funded?
JF: I’ve tried a bunch of different models and I’m now funded by paying subscribers. Readers pay $5/month for exclusive content and that forms the basis of my income. TRB is my full-time job. I supplement by freelancing for entities like USA Rugby, FloRugby, and Rugby Americas North, and take revenue from advertisers as well.
WY: YSC isn’t my full-time job and as such I rely on the generosity of the community through donations. My professional job as a project manager allows me the flexibility to continue my passion.
Were you the first women-focused site in the world (definitely the U.S., right)?
WY: Possibly, but I don’t think so. Some groups were still doing print but most of the content was geared toward men’s rugby. I do remember following Saturday’s a Rugby Day and Scrum Queens in the UK.
Can you compare/contrast 2006 with today in terms of coverage of and info available on the women’s game?
JF: Coverage has improved in that there are more entities featuring women’s rugby across more media platforms. But I’m unsure whether today’s community member is better connected or educated on the game than in 2006.
When I worked at Rugby Magazine, Hagerty was big on printed directories and records, and although maintaining that information was laborious and not “buzz worthy,” it provided a consistent, thorough understanding of the game in the U.S. – past and present. Information is easier to share today but it’s not necessarily consolidated or organized in a way that helps people understand how they fit into the U.S. game.
WY: There is SO much more coverage available now but I think we still have some of the same problems as before. Getting information from teams can be a struggle, either they have an awesome website, great social media or it’s incredibly outdated. I’d love a world where all teams had the resources and understanding that having an online presence is critical to their success.
What advice would you give to an aspiring rugby journalist?
WY: Find a topic you really want to write about. In the beginning I started small, then expanded and tried to cover everything. You have to find a balance and cover the events you’re passionate about. Then just try and try again, you’ll learn what your audience responds to and what they aren’t interested in.
JF: I agree with Wendy. Additionally, this industry is pretty small and connected, so if there’s a particular outlet or journalist whom you admire, then definitely reach out to them for opportunities or guidance. Women’s rugby in particular is so collaborative, and it’s just one of many reasons why WRCRA is so useful.
Is it ever difficult to balance the roles of fan/promoter of women’s rugby and critical reporter?
JF: Yes, but that tension is important. In two seconds a thought can travel from one’s mind through the fingertips to the entire world. And so I appreciate the process of considering the purpose and effect of my online contributions. I do like to focus on the achievements of women in rugby - and I fall embarrassingly short of acknowledging all of them - and carefully select where I inject criticism.
WY: Yes and no. I’ve ruffled feathers of a few rugby unions when I was too critical and then I’ve been chastised by my fans as being passive. I strongly believe in intention and try to act from a place of good intentions at all times. My goal has always been to help grow and develop the game we all love. Sometimes that calls for things to get a bit heated but in a good way!
Jackie Finlan began her rugby-writing career in 2005 with NYC-based Rugby Magazine and apprenticed under longtime publisher Ed Hagerty. While playing with the Village Lions RFC, Finlan transitioned to online journalism under the guidance of Alex Goff (Goff Rugby Report, FloRugby) and then launched the women-focused The Rugby Breakdown in 2016. Jackie, formerly from the east coast, now lives in Oakland, CA.
Wendy Young began her rugby writing career in 2006 when she was playing with the University of Oklahoma rugby team. At first her writing was on a blog called WRFU - Women’s Rugby, in 2008 she rebranded to a new website that was focused on covering international women’s rugby titled Your Scrumhalf Connection. In her 13th year, the site has again undergone a transformation and now curates women’s rugby stories from across the globe with a focus on large rugby events. Wendy now lives in Austin, TX.