Emily Tuttosi

February 2, 2023

"Rugby in Exeter is like hockey in Canada": Red River Métis Citizen reflects on playing abroad

Red River Métis athlete Emily Tuttosi currently lives in England and plays with the Exeter Chiefs.
The 27-year-old played for Team Canada in 2022. Photo credit: Exeter Chiefs.

From rural Manitoba, to England, to the Women's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, Red River Métis Citizen Emily Tuttosi has amassed an illustrious rugby career at an early age.

The 27-year-old athlete got her start in the game of rugby when she was around seven years old and credited her family members for getting her into the sport.

"I have an older brother who played rugby, and I also have a twin sister. We both loved being physical, aggressive, and active, so it was a natural sport to try," she said. "It's such a short season, especially when you're that young. Every season you'd be so excited for it to come around and from there, I grew addicted to the game of rugby."

Tuttosi played the game with the Souris Sabres until graduating high school in 2013, followed by five years with the University of Calgary Dinos. She experienced quite the transition in a move from a town of approximately 1,800 residents to a city boasting a population of around 1.3 million people.

"Coming from Souris, everyone knows everyone, and there's a community feel," she said, adding that getting placed into a city was a big change. "Thankfully, playing rugby at university also made me feel like part of a community - not the same as a town, but still as connected, which I think was helpful and allowed me to know rugby and know the university and then get to branch out."

The rugby player discovered her Red River Métis roots five years ago after her grandfather did some digging and learned about his own ancestry. The Manitoba Métis Federation was able to help Tuttosi during her last year at university through the Post-Secondary Education Support Program.

Although she is still learning more about her Red River Métis heritage, Tuttosi believes the best way to demonstrate her Métis knowledge is to share what she's learned.

"When people ask about my heritage, I tell them about Indigenous and Métis people in Canada and some of the history. Unfortunately, some of it is not so proud history, but then, the vibrant cultural identity of these groups is unknown to some," she said. "Métis in the past have had to advocate for their group and their rights, and I think that is something I carry with me, whether it's on the rugby pitch or for my teammates."

After graduating from the University of Calgary, Tuttosi packed her bags and travelled to Loughborough, England, to play for the Loughborough Lightning in the Allianz Premier 15s - the top tier of the women's English rugby union.

As rewarding as the journey has been, it didn't come without challenges.

"That transition was interesting because rugby in Canada is played in the summer because we have seasons that are too extreme, and then (in England), it's a winter sport. People think winter is cold here (in England), and for the most part, it's still above zero degrees, and they can't fathom the life I lived in Canada," she said. "There were also little logistic things that you need to do. When you have a visa, and you make a move, that made me want to pull my hair out at times."

Despite the challenges, Tuttosi said the transition has been "awesome": "It has proved that the rugby community is somewhere I'm thankful to be, and it's a place that I would love to keep making an impact for years to come," she said.

Tuttosi prepares to power through a defender, on her former team, the Loughborough Lightning.
Photo credit: Exeter Chiefs

Tuttosi spent one season with the Lightning before joining the Exeter Chiefs Women's squad for their debut season in the Allianz Premier 15s in 2019. While playing for the Chiefs, she has been a mainstay of the team, appearing in 39 games, completing 13 tries, and garnering 65 total points.

The Chiefs call Sandy Park their home stadium, which boasts a capacity of 15,600. Tuttosi said it's exciting to play there, especially on Saturdays.

"Rugby in Exeter is like hockey in Canada," she said. "It's cool that people are excited about it and have their tickets to come every week. It's a dream I'm living that I never knew I could have five years ago."

Tuttosi has noticed the popularity of women's rugby explode during her time in England, and is ecstatic to be playing there.

"People are buying into the fact that we are skilled and athletic just as the men are, which is super inspiring. We get coached by a variety of coaches, and I get to play with athletes from different countries and different regions of England," she said. "I feel like it's such an opportunity to continually . . . learn about people's culture and where their rugby path has taken them."

The rugby star got her chance to shine again on the international stage, as she was one of 32 athletes selected to represent Canada in the Rugby World Cup 2021, hosted in New Zealand. The tournament took place in 2022 due to the pandemic.

The Red River Métis athlete celebrates during a match against Italy in Langford, B.C. before the World Cup.
Photo credit: Rugby Canada / Kevin Light.

She first represented Team Canada in 2017 for the senior Canadian women's team, and was delighted that her hard work paid off to be chosen again in 2021.

"I just kept telling myself that I'm going to work hard playing overseas, and I'm going to be the best rugby player I can be, and if that is good enough for the national team, that would be the goal," Tuttosi said. "To know that a lot of hours finally paid off and I am at the highest level of my sport is something I've dreamt about, thought about, and worked towards for so long. To finally be a part of that is a feeling I will cherish forever."

As an athlete, she said, you have dreams and goals of making a World Cup, and you think you have an idea of what it might feel like until you finally get to play in one.

"I think my idea was on the right track, but getting to play in front of a lot of people in another country that rugby is so huge in while getting to wear the Maple Leaf was incredible," she said.

Canada played in Group B of the World Cup, facing Japan, Italy, and the United States during group play. Team Canada went 3-0 during the round-robin and defeated the USA squad to punch their way into the semi-finals against England, where they would fall short with a 26-19 loss. The Canadian team would then lose to France in a match to determine third place.

"We placed fourth, so not the outcome we necessarily wanted, but we still got to showcase what Canadian women's rugby is. Before the tournament, a lot of people had doubts. They thought we were only big and physical athletes who couldn't be smart rugby players, and we got to prove them wrong," Tuttosi said. "During the final day at Eden Park, there were 43,000 fans for the first-place match. That made me super proud to be a female rugby player because it was (a lot of fans) fans supporting, loving, and backing the athletes in the tournament."

During the tournament, the rugby star scored six tries, including a hat trick against Japan, and was selected to the 2022 World Rugby Women's 15s Dream Team of the Year, a prestigious honour voted by a panel of international past players and coaches, World Rugby Hall of Fame inductees, and rugby media.

Tuttosi looks for a pass during a game with the Exeter Chiefs. Photo credit: Exeter Chiefs.

Now that the Rugby World Cup has concluded, Tuttosi has rejoined the Exeter Chiefs and discussed her upcoming goals.

"I hope I can perform, and our team (the Exeter Chiefs) can perform this year. We made it to the final last year, but we lost, and it would be awesome to win the Premiership," she said. "Then, on a more personal level, I hope I could represent Canada, and I would push to go to the next World Cup. The next World Cup is only three years away, because this past one was postponed a year due to COVID. If I could keep performing, pushing, training, and playing in (the World Cup) - because it's in England in 2025 - that would be unreal."


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