RUGBY: AS the crowd counted down the last ten seconds of the Women’s Rugby World Cup final, Thurock T-Bird Rachael Burford started to well up with emotion.
England’s 21-9 victory over Canada in Paris was a long-awaited and well deserved win.
After three successive defeats in World Cup finals against New Zealand, the team of plumbers, vets, teachers, police officers and students brought it all together and took the cup.
And the plan is to show off Burford’s medal (along with that of new T-Bird signing and fellow England star Kay Wilson) at Oakfield on Saturday.
T-Birds are facing Tonbridge Juddians (at 3pm) with the celebrations starting at 2pm. There is even a rumour England head coach Gary Street may be there. Burford, 28, has spoken about her memories of the historic final.
She said: “Right up until the end I was worried they could bring it back. I was clock watching for the last few minutes and then the crowd started to count down ‘ten, nine, eight’, and I started to well up.
“I hadn’t let myself think what it would feel like if we won. None of us wanted to get ahead of ourselves.
“When the whistle went I was crying and laughing, tired and shaking and relieved, all at once. Ten years we had waited for it and it had happened. We all went wild, jumping and screaming.”
It was a huge achievement for the women’s England team to win and their achievement has brought the sport to the fore.
The game brought in a crowd of 20,000 and it was aired in 137 countries.
Burford said: “There has been a lot of investment in women’s rugby in the last few years and we have worked hard to promote the sport. In 2006 it was only if you were in the rugby bubble that you knew a women’s Rugby World Cup was on, then by 2010 a lot more people cared.
“Everyone in the squad agrees it is an amazing achievement to win the World Cup. It is significant for women’s rugby and something that no one can take away from us. In ten years’ time we will still be world champions.”
Burford, who received the Sunday Times England player of the season award in June, is one of the most influential players of her generation in world rugby.
She said: “I went out partying with most of the squad. We all went out in Richmond and they came along in dribs and drabs.
“The party hasn’t really stopped since we won, actually! After the World Cup final we had dinner at the stadium where we were congratulated by the other countries, then to the supporters’ bar where hundreds of people sang Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, and then back to hotel where we partied in the meeting room until the early hours. Even now what has happened has not sunk in.”
Burford grew up in Kent and was talent spotted at 16 through the Medway rugby club, in Rochester.
She moved to Bath to join RFUW Rugby Academy at Oldfield College where she first met fellow England squad team-mates Danielle Waterman, Heather Fisher, and Claire Allan.
She said: “I have played centre for so long and have grown up with a lot of the girls like Danielle, Heather and Claire.
“We have experienced injuries, had to say no to a social life and to seeing family and friends. But to win makes it all worth it.”
Many of the women have to hold down full-time jobs and fit their training in before and after work and during lunch breaks and had to take three months’ unpaid leave to prepare for and play in the tournament.
Burford is a rugby coach and took a sabbatical in order to focus on the sport and continues to travel from Kent to Thurrock twice a week during the season.
She says: “It is difficult because we are athletes and train as professionals as much as we can, just without the wages. Of course, we would jump at the chance to play and get a professional player’s wage. But we are proud to play for Queen and country and we love the sport.”