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My Life in Rugby: Rachael Burford – England women centre

Christmas is a great time to reflect on the year that has just gone and what a year it has been! We won the World Cup in August, turned professional and to top it all we were voted the BBC Sports Personality Team of the Year.

I still can’t believe we won the BBC award. We’re the first female team to do so outright after the men’s and women’s tennis team shared it in 1978.

Last year it was the winning British & Irish Lions so for us to be put in the same category as them is just phenomenal for women’s rugby.

We never thought about what would happen if we win the World Cup. Our only thought since we started our preparation last January was about winning the competition and that’s it. Never did we think about the aftermath and how it would change our lives.

We invested a huge amount of time to make sure we would reach our ultimate goal. Unlike in 2010 when we lost the final, we started training together back in January trying to be prepared for anything and everything and that made a huge difference.

We also tried to take emotion out of the equation. It was just a process of winning our pool games to qualify and then the next one and the next one. I never thought about losing and I think it was the right mentality to go into it.

We had a very tough 2013 losing the Six Nations, the Sevens World Cup and being whitewashed in New Zealand so we had to show a huge amount of character in 2014 to put all of it behind us and turn things around.

Becoming professional took a lot of getting used to. We had to learn to rest and find things to do in the evening because for the first time in the very long time I don’t have to train in the evenings any more.

I used to work as a community rugby coach for the RFU and I was based in Kent where I grew up in a rugby mad family.

I started playing at Medway RFC at the age of six. I played with boys but from 12 I had to join the girls section and luckily for me there was one at the club. Then aged 16, I made my debut for the senior team and I also joined the Bath academy which was coached by Gary Street.

I then spent two seasons playing for Henley before moving to Saracens in 2006. That summer was a big turning point in my career because that is when I won my first senior cap for England. A week after turning 20, I was on a plane to the World Cup in Canada and we reached the final.

When we got back, a lot of the players retired and I was expected to be a leader despite my small experience. The other turning point in my life was the passing of my father a few months after that.

That made me grow up quicker and I was so sad he’d never seen me play in an England shirt. He watched me on a blurry TV at the World Cup but never got to see me in the flesh.

He was the one who drove me to every training session and every game so when we won the World Cup I went to his plaque at Twickenham with the trophy. He would have been so proud. After Saracens, I played for Richmond for three seasons but I moved back towards Kent three years ago to play for Thurrock.

I’d like to play at the highest level for another two or three years and going to the Rio Olympics is definitely one of my big targets. We have to make sure we finish in the top four in the World Series this year to ensure we qualify. Then it’ll be 2016 and it will all be about getting an Olympic medal!

After that, I’ll return to where it all started and play for Medway with a few of my oldest friends who are still playing there. It’ll be awesome to put on the shirt again and play just for the love of the game.

*As told to NICK VERDIER

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