Alice Burtonshaw, from Orpington in Kent, is an enthusiastic rugby player who assisted me in setting up a girl’s rugby team at Westcombe Park RFC, when I started it back in 2015. I have followed her career ever since, and thought it was about time the grassroots rugby community learned of her rise from humble beginnings to where she is now!
So Alice, having played football for Crystal Palace, what made you give up the round ball game for Rugby?
I was always told I was too physical for football, giving away the occasional free kick or penalty. I wanted to give boxing a go having seen Nicola Adams win gold at the London Olympics, however dad wasn’t happy with the idea.
My neighbor, Simon Evans, and a friend from school, Bill Barrie, then suggested that I try Rugby, as it had the physicality of boxing, minus the constant blows to the head. I went to the nearest girl’s rugby club (at the time) Beckenham RFC for a trial session and was told to buy a gum shield and turn up 3 days later to play in my first game. Since then I have never looked back.
Your journey in rugby has taken you from Aylesford Bulls and WKDs, to where you are now; tell me where it all started and your progress to Hartpury Rugby Academy.
In the first season I was part of a newly formed club called West Kent Divas and was in the team when we won our first game. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time as 18 months later we won the u15 National Sevens title.
I was also selected to play for Kent County which then progressed to the Divisional Side. After seeing Taz Bricknell (Current England u20’s Player) join Hartpury College I looked into it and thought the idea of combining academics with rugby was something I wanted to do.
What is a typical day at Hartpury like? Talk me though your training schedule on a normal day.
Every day varies, but a regular day usually consists of a morning training session, followed by a day of lectures and then back to training again in the afternoon.
Each training week consists of 5 skill sessions, 3 gym sessions, a conditioning session and a match, as well as several classroom periods. It can become extremely tiring at times, but having something to focus on and aim for always helps me to get through the week.
You’ve had a few injuries, would you say that is all part of playing rugby, or are you more prone to injury because of your position and style of play?
Injuries unfortunately are part of playing rugby and I’ve learnt that part of becoming a good player is keeping focused and committed when you are unable to play.
You have recently been called up to the National U18 Talent Development Squad, congratulations! What did it feel like and is there more to come from you and England RFU?
Thank you, it is very exciting. Being able to play against an international side makes all the training sessions and hard work worthwhile. I’m currently focused on developing my skill set and am determined to make myself the best player I can possibly be.
There are lots of highs and lows in playing Rugby at your level – can you tell me about any you have experienced lately?
It’s always difficult coming back from injury, especially when you find yourself missing out on trials for teams and big competitions. The biggest highs for me are always linked to the moments when you have an important game and all the hard work that has been put into training pays off.
I am currently in training to represent Hartpury College in an International Tournament in Japan where we will be competing against teams from all over the world, including New Zealand, France, Canada, Hong Kong and Japan. So, that is something I am really looking forward to.
The injuries can be pretty horrific, does that ever put you off playing?
Unfortunately, injuries are part of the game but I love rugby and the positives by far outweigh the negatives.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?
I hope I will continue to improve and become a better player, hopefully influencing more girls to get involved with the game.
Rugby careers can be short-lived; do you have a long-term plan to stay in the Rugby family?
Yes. I hope to be involved in the game in some form or other when my playing days are over.
How would you ensure that Women’s rugby continues to grow, so we get used to seeing their games on TV just like the men’s games?
That’s a big question and one I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer but I’ll try. The levels of play across all age groups is constantly improving and the funding by the RFU has really helped to achieve this. I hope it continues.
The top-level women’s games are just as exciting and as watchable as mens’ games. Everyone in women’s rugby can help by sharing their enthusiasm for the game with others which will hopefully build a higher profile and increase the interest for the sport.