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How pain paved the way to World Cup glory

By Rachael Burford
Rachael Burford /Getty

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The first World Cup I knew about was the one I was lucky enough to play in back in 2006. It’s strange to look back and think the 2002 World Cup wasn’t even on my radar. If you fast forward to now, that just isn’t the case with players. We are just under a year out from the World Cup and already we are seeing it become a central topic of conversation amongst both rugby and non-rugby fans.


When I got invited to be involved in my first World Cup, I just remember feeling happy to be involved. I was uncapped, and 19 years old at the time of selection. Although there had been murmurs of my involvement, it was still a huge surprise to be picked. Contrasted to 2010, I wasn’t just happy to be there, I wanted to win. The focus for me shifted from just taking part four years before, to doing everything in my power to win, however this wasn’t the case as we ended up losing narrowly to New Zealand at the Twickenham Stoop.

In the moments after the loss, you’re so emotional you can’t think straight. I remember in the evening we stayed tight together as a team and made sure that we were focused on how far we had come and how hard we had worked.

When emotions had settled, and things became clearer, the whole team got into a room together with a blank bit of paper and we just said, “right let’s work out why we lost”. It wasn’t a case of blaming individuals; it was an honest and clinical evaluation of the team’s performance.

I believe that the reason we went onto be so successful in 2014 was because of what happened in that room, we left no stone unturned. We planned and prepared meticulously for every possible occasion, asking ourselves what distractions we could minimise, what we could have done differently in preparation.

As an athlete, you aren’t given the luxury of mulling over your past performances, and that was exactly the case back then. I’ve never watched that final back, I don’t think I ever will, it’s too painful.

I don’t know if it was the right thing to move on so quickly from such a big loss, maybe we could have taken more time to ensure a line was truly drawn under the whole experience. However, and this applies to any elite athlete, players will always be looking ahead to the next thing. Whether that’s a new campaign, pre-season or club rugby there is always something coming round the corner that will need attention.


Looking towards next year’s World Cup, from a player’s perspective it will be incredible to feel what it’s like to be involved in a pinnacle event like the World Cup.

I remember in 2013 when we were over in Auckland I needed to go and get some boots because mine had broken the night before, and everywhere we went people knew who you were, they knew you were part of the England rugby team. The man behind the counter straight away said: “Oh are you the England girls playing our girls?”

Hopefully all restrictions will have eased by then and players will be able to get out and about in their down time to absorb the atmosphere of a nation fuelled by rugby.

In terms of competition, England and New Zealand are obvious choices when looking to select the World Cup winner, but I have got a feeling about Team USA. The number of players who are playing in, and making a real difference to, the Allianz Premier 15’s cannot be understated. The infrastructure that the team are shaping up over in the states will make them a tough team to compete against. I also don’t think we can rule out France as a contender here either, if they preform, they can beat anyone.


This tournament is wide open, for the first time I am not just backing England or New Zealand, I think we will see some serious competition for the final. Also, there is still so much more rugby to be played between now and then, so all bets are off.

Looking even further into the future it is welcomed news that the RFU have put in a bid to host the 2025 World Cup. We are at a point at the moment where rugby is a hot topic, the game is growing, and we need something in our home country to gather that momentum.

The bid makes sense when you look at the way the RFU have been building towards it. The Autumn Internationals have been specifically pitched around the country geographically and ticket sales within the Allianz Premier 15’s have been growing steadily, with streaming figures also showing some positive growth too.

We are a leading country in the game, so we have the responsibility to drive growth. If we host a World Cup, it must be the best one yet. We must captivate the audience’s attention to drive numbers globally back into the game.

Also, having a career as a professional rugby player can only span a certain amount of time. World Cups present huge opportunities to retain knowledge and experience of players who otherwise might retire and leave the game. I would love to see more women given the opportunity to perform in high profile roles like head coaches.

I want to be clear here, I am not suggesting women should be put in these roles as a box ticking exercise, the best person for the job should always get the role. However, what I am suggesting is that we give more room to women working in this space to be in those roles.

We have a huge opportunity here to rewrite the rules and show young girls and boys that women can be referees, physios and head coaches. We need to work hard to promote these pathways to ensure the viability of the women’s game moving forwards. Unless we have visibility across the game, we will continue to have men running it and filling all the roles. It’s time for change, and the World Cup seems like the most logical starting point.


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