Coming from a rugby-mad family, Rachael Burford’s involvement in the sport was "inevitable" but the England international believes programmes like Premiership Rugby’s Rugby4All are providing the next generation of players with opportunities she could only have dreamed of growing up.
Rugby4All is an innovative programme which is backed by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and run in partnership with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
The aim is to increase the number of women and girls involved in the sport, to provide better access for disabled people and to promote the game among Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups.
Burford was one of several professional players who took part in Premiership Rugby’s event at Trafalgar Square. The inside centre took up the sport at the age of six as both her parents and sister played. The 29-year-old has since gone on to be capped 56 times by England and is now a professional.
Burford said: “Programmes like this are so important because if these incentives were not around then a lot of children would not become involved with the sport.
And a perfect example of Rugby4All’s success, is through Sarah’s story. View the Exeter Chiefs Rugby4All Ambassador in action.
Burford stated, “I was so lucky that my family played and that is how I got involved but there were no schemes or initiatives at my school at that time so if it wasn’t for my family I would not have known about rugby.
“The Rugby4All programme just gives opportunities for children to try something out. Whether they stick at it or not, at least they can say they have tried the sport.
“It is so important to give young girls and boys these opportunities and I truly believe that if you have a good experience in something then you will stick at it.
“I have not played outside the National Gallery before and this is a very special day for those involved.
“The thing with rugby is there are so many great opportunities out there. How many people could say they have had the chance to play rugby in Trafalgar Square with some international and club players?
“This was the location where the 2003 World Cup winners came through on the bus and it brings back great memories for me as well.”
Burford spent ten years at Medway RFC, including a season in the seniors where she played alongside her mother and sister.
Spells at Henley, Saracens and Richmond were followed by a move to Thurrock, although she will be one of many players taking a break from club rugby this season as they prepare for the Olympics in Rio next summer, where they will compete in rugby sevens.
Burford is a role model for her sport and in April became the first female professional player on the Rugby Players' Association players' board.
She said: “It is important that we do not just stand still and we need to keep pushing, keep growing and keep raising standards.
“We are always striving to improve our performances on the pitch and the same needs to happen off it and people like me want to help create a legacy for women and girls to aspire to play rugby.
“Women’s rugby is now a professional career that they can aspire towards as a job. When I was growing up I didn’t have those same aspirations because it was not available, so the game has come on so much but there is always room to grow and hopefully being part of the Rugby Players’ Associations and working with other governing bodies, I can help the sport continue to grow.”
For more information about the Rugby4All programme including how to get involved, click here