Name: Rachael Burford
National: England (51 Caps)
England and Thurrock centre and E4R ambassador Rachael Burford talks us through her life and career and, of course, England’s fantastic victory at the 2014 World Cup.
Almost two months on from winning the World Cup, has it finally sunk in?
We had so many things planned out for us after the tournament; we’d have the media and appearances to do and it was a bit overwhelming.
Then, three weeks later I was starting the full-time sevens program. I was in a World Cup bubble and then all of a sudden you switch your focus and get straight into training again. But it’s part of my job. It’s not that you forget you’re a world champion but then certain things happen and you’re like “Oh my god, I won the World Cup a couple of months ago!”
I don’t want to lose sight of it but at the same time I’ve obviously got new goals that I’m working towards. The response we’ve had and the amount of media attention has been phenomenal. It’s just so nice that after so many times trying to win the World Cup we actually did it.
For me personally it was a big deal. I gave up my job as I wanted to give it absolutely everything because it could be my last World Cup.
This year has probably been one of my best years ever as a player and it was just so nice to finish off by becoming a World Cup winner and then getting selected to be a full-time sevens player. Words can’t describe how incredibly lucky I feel.
This was your third World Cup so there must have been a lot of expectation placed on this squad. How did you cope with the pressure?
Thinking back to 2006 and our first game, it was not as big as it is now. I don’t even think that many people knew about the 2006 World Cup.
There wasn’t as much pressure and also I think because I was new to it all I didn’t really feel that burden. I was just there, loving every minute of it.
Then at the 2010 World Cup there was a lot of pressure on us because it was in London, and we’d had a really successful 3 year lead-up where we’d beaten New Zealand on six occasions so the expectation was definitely there for an England v New Zealand final and for us to win it.
And we only lost by three points; it was marginal. So even though it was heart-breaking, it wasn’t like we were a million miles away.
Going into this World Cup I don’t know if I did feel that expectation as we’d had quite an unsuccessful season leading up to it. We lost the 2013 Six Nations, we lost the Sevens World Cup in 2013 then we lost the summer tour and in 2014 we also lost the Six Nations.
We just kept really focussed on ourselves and blocked out any external factors. We knew that if we played well, performed well, then we could win that World Cup.
I think we benefitted from having been to some dark places and performed better under pressure. We never let the situation get bigger than us.
Was there anything that changed as a group of players for you to go and win the World Cup?
I think a big change happened within the group. We really went quite deep into the reasons of why we all did it, why we all play, and understanding each other on a deeper level and respecting people for being different and understanding how you can get the best out of each other. We all really bought into the team culture and made sure that our culture was right.
We knew that we could train and play well, we had a handle on that side of things but we never really focussed on how important our environment was and that was a big change. We felt a big shift in 2013 when we went to New Zealand and even though we had three losses, the feeling that was in the team, I’d never experienced it before.
I think it’s because we went through really horrible times together; we were there for each other more and were able to pick one another up and that just continued to get better and stronger and we really did understand the value of every single player in that room. I think that was the driving force behind our World Cup win.
After the World Cup, do you see your win as a great opportunity to grow women’s rugby in England?
Absolutely. I think it gives us a successful platform to showcase the game to the world and to show that even though we had tried to win it before and came up short, we never stopped believing and we kept aspiring to become world champions. I think that is an achievement for others to aspire to.
It doesn’t matter that we are a women’s side. Whether we inspire boys, girls, working women or women at university, it just shows that you can be successful and it just gives people an opportunity to aspire to be a part of it.
University clubs, regional, international and county sides; a lot of us have come through those grassroots. It gives that message that I was once a young girl at school that played at a rugby club and now I’m a world champion; you could do it too.
Women’s rugby is growing rapidly in the UK; what’s the next generation of players looking like?
I think the numbers in the women’s game are growing, from 15000 to 18000 this season in England and the RFU hope to get 10,000 more women and girls into the game by 2017. However, we still need more support and commitment from volunteers and coaches. If we can get people to recognise the value in women’s rugby, we can get more good volunteers and coaches involved.
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