“People joke that I never sleep,” Kate Zackary says as she uses some rare free time between rugby and work to chat about one of English rugby union’s newest teams.
The United States international back-row is one of a number of overseas players to have taken the plunge and join Exeter Chiefs’ women’s team.
But the 31-year-old has to juggle her rugby career in the English top flight with her day job in digital marketing.
“I have to do around 10 calls a week, usually a few more depending on internal calls,” she told BBC Sport – also over a video call.
“I have to find time to meet with clients, most of whom are on Pacific Time, so an eight-hour difference.
“Twice a week when we have our more full days, when we’re in there from about 11:30 to 20:30, I work for a few hours in the morning, usually find about an hour in-between sessions and then work for about two hours when I come home.”
It is a tough schedule, but with no television deal and no money coming through the turnstiles because of the Covid-19 pandemic, many players in the Premier 15s have to juggle work and training.
With uncertainty also surrounding the women’s game in the United States, Zackary and a number of her North American-based counterparts were drawn to England – even if it meant joining a side that had never played a game before.
“We had a Women’s Premier League, but there were a lot of questions as to whether it was going to happen, the same with some of our US camps,” she said.
“There was so much indecision, whereas Chiefs were able to offer, hypothetically, a very consistent schedule, training programme, things like that.”
‘We’re right up there and respected, that’s the most important thing’
Like Exeter’s men’s team, who were promoted to the Premiership a decade ago and have gone on to become one of the dominant forces in English club rugby, the Chiefs’ women have proved that despite being new they are no pushovers.
They are fifth in the Premier 15s table, on a seven-game winning run and were the first side to beat reigning champions Saracens in more than two years in January. They could make the end-of-season play-offs if results go their way.
“We’re right up there and respected, that’s the most important thing,” said head coach Susie Appleby, who is assisted by former England hooker Amy Garnett.
“In the beginning it was ‘We’re going off to Exeter, they’re brand new’.
“Now they’re going ‘We’re off to play against a real contender’ and that’s what we wanted to be, we wanted to make a name for ourselves and I truly believe we’ve done that and we’re only going to get better and better.”
One Chiefs family
Exeter chairman Tony Rowe first announced his intention to bid for a Premier 15s licence two years ago and the club, along with Sale, are making their debut this season.
The Chiefs’ women are very much part of the club – they play all their home matches at Sandy Park, share the same training facilities as the Premiership and European champions and benefit from coaching sessions with men’s coaches like Rob Baxter, Rob Hunter and Julian Salvi.
“For me it feels like they’re really embedded in the club and it feels great to support another Chiefs team,” said director of rugby Baxter, who has masterminded the on-field success of the men’s side since taking over in 2009.
“It’s been brilliant, I’ve enjoyed every moment that I’ve watched, I’ve enjoyed watching how the team have grown together and how much they’ll fight for each other.
“Susie and Amy are doing a fantastic job of putting together what is a group of players from across the world and they look like they’ve got a really good team ethos that’s going to hold them in good stead for the rest of this year.”
That integration has been another plus point for Zackery, who hopes to represent the USA in the delayed Women’s World Cup in New Zealand next year.
“I know at other clubs there’s not a whole lot of overlap,” she said.
“You’ve got two teams, a men’s and a women’s, but they train on different fields, they don’t practise at the same place, they don’t play the games at the same places.
“We’re very lucky in that sense and they’re extremely respectful of us too. They definitely seem to love having us there, so it makes it much more enjoyable to come in every day.”