Katie Shillaker celebrates a try with her teammates

Harlequins star Katie Shillaker makes flying start

With electric feet and twinkle toes, it should come as little surprise that Harlequins winger Katie Shillaker was a dancer before turning her attentions to rugby.

What is more unexpected was that her ballet skills left so much to be desired that it was the physical side of rugby that drew her in. 

The 19-year-old has burst onto the Allianz Cup stage this season, scoring three tries in the first two rounds for Harlequins and earning a nomination for RPA’s Under-23 MVP of the Month.  

But as she explains, her entry to the sport was unconventional.   

“I did ballet for three years,” she said. “I was that girl that would run on flat footed, not knowing what she’s meant to be doing, just dancing around clueless.”  

Shillaker was then introduced to rugby at Burgess Hill RFC by her dad and immediately found her passion, progressing to Horsham RFC and Worthing College before finally landing in Harlequins’ Centre of Excellence.  

She added: “My dad used to play and he said just give it a go. I played one training session at Burgess Hill and it was the most amazing experience.  

“When I was eight I started doing contact, I loved it – I was just running into people.  

“At rugby I felt at home. With ballet I was just dreading it every time I went.  

“I used to do different sports all the time: rounders, netball, everything, but I dropped all of it to focus on rugby because there was no question.”  

Shillaker’s electric pace and potential caught the eye of Quins and she made her senior debut at the tail end of the 2021/22 season.  

“I made my debut on the 25th of March. My birthday is on the 18th so they had to wait for me to turn 18 so I could play,” she said. 

“I got so much support from the CofE girls, they all turned up. It’s a great place to come up through and a great community. 

“I scored in that game but it got disallowed because apparently my foot went out… which is still to this day 50/50!” 

After a flying start, Shillaker’s progress was stalled by an extended absence from the game due to concussion. 

But now that she is back fit again, Shillaker is making up for lost time, scoring two tries against Saracens in the first round of the Allianz Cup and adding another to her name against Trailfinders last weekend. 

“[My first try] was surreal because when I put it down I didn’t know if I knocked it on or not,” said Shillaker, who even had opposition scrum-half Leanne Infante, a 50-cap England international, applauding her. 

“I looked at the ref and he put his arm up and everyone was so gassed for me.  

“I heard everyone in the crowd, even the Sarries players were clapping which is nice. Leanne [Infante] was clapping. Even though I’ve scored against her she knows that’s a big deal for me.  

“My dad has said he’ll watch it back with me.  

“He puts me in my place a little bit,” she explained. “He’ll tell me what I need to focus on and afterwards everyone will tell me I did well but I like the fact that my dad tells me you’ve done this but this is what you need to do more of.  

“He’s honest with me rather than it all being positive. You need that side and that’s what he gives me.” 

Despite her youth, the speedster is keen to capitalise on her current form and has set her sights on a Red Roses cap, following in the footsteps of some of her contemporaries.  

“I just want to focus on my rugby right now and I think it’s the perfect time,” she said.   

“I can make a career in a couple of years, but I feel like this is my prime time especially as a winger. The earlier you can nail everything the better and more opportunities you’ll have.  

“It was amazing to watch Maisy Allen play for England and come on for Marlie Packer [against Canada] and my best mate Grace Clifford is in the development camp.   

“To see those girls at my age making those appearances, you think that could be you next season or in a couple of months.  

“The goal is England. You’ve got to dream big!”  

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