Celia Quansah and Meg Jones didn’t fall in love at first sight.
They grew from team-mates into soulmates and stars of the rugby sevens scene, becoming Olympians together in Tokyo.
30 minutes on Zoom doesn’t scratch the surface of this wild ride so far but it’s more than long enough to see why, in their words, 'it just works.'
Here is the unfiltered version of a unique shared sporting journey.
Meg Jones was born in Cardiff in 1996. She picked up a rugby ball aged six - because her brother played. That time it was love at first sight.
Meg Jones: I loved the camaraderie and community feel of rugby. When you’re Welsh, it’s hard to ignore. My best memory? Making the U12s schoolboy team. Yep, schoolboy. I was the only girl. No-one would have bet on that.
Celia Quansah: The only girl in a bunch of boys, that is just crazy to me. I never had that. It has probably shaped Meg into the person she is today, the leadership skills, how confident she is within herself. All of these things have come from having to prove herself at a young age and then seeing the reward from it.
Meg: We lived in Ely and it’s not a built-up area. It’s quite poor and there are a lot of gang-related issues there. The rugby club was my escape. It helped you ignore the world for a weekend and for me rugby has always been about getting away from the real world. I asked my Dad if I could play five games in a week. He said, ‘no chance, you can’t do it’ but genuinely wanted to and believed I could!
Celia: I’ve heard Meg talk about that before and that literally sums up what she’s like now. She literally lives and breathes rugby and we’re really different in that sense. It works quite well because it makes her settle a bit and have some time away from rugby.
Celia Quansah was born in Twickenham in 1995. She played rugby league at school - in the same team as Olympian Emma Uren and England sevens star Heather Cowell. But athletics was her first love as an explosive long jumper and sprinter. Celia trained at Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow AC alongside British high jump record holder Morgan Lake and competed against Jessica Ennis-Hill and Dina Asher-Smith.
Celia: I was good at sport, and really enjoyed it. I just had it in my mind about the Olympics. I watched it and it was something I was fixated on, to become an Olympian. It just wasn’t working out in athletics. I picked up a few injuries and others catch up with you. It’s such a savage world. It's so different to rugby. It’s all stats-based. If you’re not quick enough, if you don’t jump far enough, you don’t get picked. Simple as that. And I fell out of love with it a little bit.
Celia took up rugby at Loughborough University and was fast-tracked into the England Sevens set-up within six months. She met Meg at Loughborough, through friends.
Meg: I actually didn’t really fancy Celia. As I got to know her, she was so kind, empathetic and compassionate. All the things that I lack! The more we spoke, the more I started to fancy her and love her more. We realised we are soulmates, which is crazy, because not many people can say that I don’t think.
Celia: Meg has been openly gay for a while but I hadn’t been. I was quite new to the lesbian scene. I wasn’t really looking for it. We just started chatting. She’s funny - I’ll give her that. And it drew me in a bit, the confidence. This girl had a lot of chat about her, we had to see whether she could actually follow it up. We just got on so well, it was just so easy.
Obviously it’s a bit of a risk getting with someone that’s in the team. You have to be sure it’s going to work, you’re spending every day together. In the team environment, if you’re having arguments and not getting on, it’s going to affect the dynamic of the team. From the start we were thinking about more than us. But it wasn’t even really a question. We spoke about it quite a bit but we knew it was going to work.
Meg: The more we met outside of rugby, everything else started linking up - families, friends, all those areas. We’ve just bought a house. We speak so much, don’t we? We’re quite open in that sense. Communication is just so important - voicing whatever’s on your mind or it can fester into something more. We always say, you want to compliment someone’s life, you don’t want to make someone better. It should be an equilibrium.
Meg came out to friends aged 16 and family at 18. Celia had a long-term boyfriend and then brought her girlfriend home.
Meg: I always wanted it to be normal. You would never bring a boyfriend home and say “I’m straight.” The emotional intelligence and empathy I get from girls is far greater than what I’d receive from boys. My sister came out as bisexual and it made my transition to telling my family a bit easier.
You still have that worry, that guilty feeling, a bit of anxiety. I’m not judged by my family - some people suffer terribly from that. That feeling of guilt and anxiety pops up when your parents or grandparents might question it, disagree with it. For me it was about normalising it and showing them it wasn’t a big deal. There were no rainbows or confetti that came out. I wish there was. But I liked it that way.
Celia: I was similar. My family are so supportive - I knew they would always be fine about it - but I did have anxiety about it. I’d had that long-term relationship and my ex-boyfriend had been around my family. I just knew they would be shocked after that.I probably didn’t do it in the best way - I just brought a girl home! I was lucky because they were supportive and welcoming and we never spoke about it again.
Celia and Meg's experience of stigma has been markedly different in the rugby world and in wider society.
Celia: In the rugby world, it’s so accepted. You live in a little bubble and also being in Loughborough when I was exploring my sexuality, I was so comfortable with who I was. I came home and was like, damn, everyone here knows me as straight.
Meg: I used to hate people calling me lesbian or gay. It got my back up - why do you want to put a label on it? Now I’ve really embraced those terms. The older I’ve got, the more confident I’ve become in who I am, what I look like. Don’t stay around people who are going to judge you and question you. All of my people accept me for who I am.
I hate clubs that make me wear dresses or expect girls to look a certain way. That winds me up. I’ve never been turned away but I don’t like going to really posh places because I feel like those are the sort of people who would have that judgement about what women are supposed to look or act like. I still have a bit of anxiety around that.
Celia: Sometimes when you go to other countries, new places, you’re not sure about how it’s seen and what the customs are. It’s a shame you have to think about those things. When I have a young crowd around me, it’s absolutely fine but if there’s an older setting, you don’t know. Nine times out of ten it’s probably fine, you just don’t want to put yourself in that situation.
Celia and Meg became Olympians together in Tokyo, part of the women’s rugby sevens team that assembled a programme within five months to make the Games. Their relationship went into the tightly-controlled Covid bubble of the Olympic Village.
Meg: We didn’t really see each other at the Olympics! It was a cuddle and a kiss and then back to business really. Nothing too romantic about it.
Celia: My sister was like, ‘what, you don’t share a room?’ I was like ‘no…’ We started off our relationship keeping it separate in those team environments. Everyone on the team is comfortable with the fact we’re together, we don’t feel like we have to, it’s just that’s the dynamic that we’ve always had. It’s just keeping it professional really. If we sat together having a coffee, I know for a fact the guys would come and sit with us which is how we’d always have wanted it to be. We don’t want to make it feel like it’s a separate group, or a clique.
Meg: She made me a little video, didn’t you? A good luck video with all my friends and family, saying good luck a couple of days before the competition. It was very cute and I cried - a lot.
The team defied the odds to reach the bronze medal match and finished fourth. The pair now have eyes on a medal together in Paris.
Celia: The disappointment of losing that game, it was horrible but then having Meg there, we keep it professional but having your person there is so nice. It’s lovely to be able to share the good bits and have her there for the bits that are hard as well. She’s living and breathing it with me.
Meg: We can hold ourselves accountable. Even when we get home, we’re always reminding each other, we need to medal at the Olympics. It’s the bare minimum. Having Celia there makes it a lot easier. Everyone has blind spots. Sometimes I won’t know if I’m being a particular way, she’ll have that honest conversation with me. Some of the girls will too obviously but I’ll take it a little bit better from Celia because we have that relationship and trust. We’ll tell each other, ‘you can’t say that’ or ‘you can’t do that.’
Meg is competing on the HSBC World Sevens Series with eyes on qualification for Paris. Celia, on the other hand, is nursing a serious knee injury. She tore the ACL on her left knee in 2021 and made it back within seven months for the Commonwealth Games. At the end of last year in Cape Town, she turned her ACL, dislocated her knee and tore her MCL in her right knee. The same injury, a year later, but worse.
Celia: It’s so hard for people that aren’t in the sport to really understand how much injuries take a toll on your body and mentally as well. Meg has been incredible. She did her ACL a few years, so she really gets it. At the start I was in a lot of pain and just didn’t want to do my exercises and she was like, ‘right, come on’, literally pushing my knee down so I did my exercises right! I could do it without her but I wouldn’t want to.
Meg: We just look after each other and that’s all you can ask. I’m sure there will be more bumps in the road. We have big plans in terms of rugby but also life as well, what we’re looking to do later on.
Celia: It is just easy. We complement each other, definitely. Meg is very outgoing. We really respect each other which is the other thing. I really respect Meg with how she is in rugby on the pitch and off it, our families work and she fits in so well with my family. They literally love her and it’s the same the other way.
Meg: Effortless, seamless, comes to mind.
Celia: It just works, doesn’t it?
Tom Harle, Sportsbeat 2023