09 December 2019

World Cup winner and Quins captain Rachael Burford explains why she had to play rugby and reveals her surprising proudest moment on the pitch

The odds were always heavily stacked towards Rachael Burford becoming a rugby player.

Both of her parents played, as did her elder sister Louise and brother Reuben.

And when, as a young girl, she was itching to get on the pitch to join the rest of the family, nobody could have guessed what accolades lay ahead.

Today, with four World Cup tournaments on her CV, including the victorious 2014 team, and the captaincy of Harlequins as her day job, running out for Medway RFC seems a lifetime ago.

That said, the 33-year-old savours the moment she played alongside her mother and sister as one of her career highlights.

"The RFU [Rugby Football Union] wanted me to join a Premiership club when I was old enough to play women's rugby, but I made it very clear that I'd play a year at my rugby club alongside my mum and sister first.

"I knew that opportunity wouldn't come around again. It was one of the best years and moments of my career, it's 100 per cent one of my highlights.

"When I was growing up I had a couple of male rugby player role models, like Dan Luger, they were the people I looked up to.

"I think that's because they visited our rugby club, but when I reflect back now it was my mum and sister who were my real role models. My dad also played as well.

"I remember when I was around 12 I wanted to join in on their training sessions. I would hang around and coaches would let me join in sometimes, I always wanted to be them. 

"I think it's really important that females and males have a positive role model and my mum and sister were certainly that for me.

Burford, left, with her mother Ren, middle, and sister Louise, right

Burford was playing in the Premiership for around two years before she was snapped up by England in 2006. Her family all watched from their living room as she received her first cap against South Africa at the World Cup that year.

Sadly her father died in January 2007 when Burford was just 20, but she'll always be grateful that he got to see her play in an England shirt. 

"I know how proud they are of me. It was a really big moment for all of us, everyone was a part of me achieving that dream.

"I went to my first Rugby World Cup in 2006 [which was held in Canada] so my mum and dad weren't there in person, or my sister, but they were at home watching around a small computer screen. They sent me a photo [of them watching].

"That was really really special for me because, on the back of that, I lost my dad in early 2007, so he just got to see me play that August. It's a shame that he didn't get to see me play live for England but the fact that he did then is really special for all of us."

Burford with her father, Michael, who passed away in early 2007 (Rachael Burford)

Burford went on to play in the 2010, 2014 and 2017 World Cups and was in the starting 15 of the 2014 winning side, alongside stars such as Maggie Alphonsi and Tamara Taylor

The tournament was held in Paris which meant Burford's entire family could be there to support her.

"All my family came out, even my sister and my nephew who came out late on a 24-hour coach to Paris.

"I had my mum, my sister, my brother-in-law, my nephew and my other two sisters at the final, so it was a cool moment. They have been through this journey with me, you talk about mental health and having lows and down moments, those people are your constant and will always pick you up no matter what is going on, they will love you. So it was special to share that with them."

Burford with the World Cup trophy in 2014 (Instagram: Rachael Burford)

And the family will be supporting her again this weekend as Quins face their fiercest competition in the Premier 15s when they play Saracens. 

The defending champions have beaten Quins in the past two Premiership finals, though Burford's side have managed to get a victory over their London rivals in every Premier 15 season.

Burford says her side are feeling a mixture of excitement and nerves ahead of the game. The centre said: "I think, naturally, you will always have nerves going into a big game but we are also excited.

"We all know that they are our biggest challenge and, for us, to play against them always brings the best out in us and them. It's always a physical and a really close game, it's one of those matches you really enjoy being a part of. Whoever comes off best, you feel you deserved it."

Harlequins v Saracens kicks off at 3pm on Saturday at The Stoop

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