Three students from the University of Worcester have told how they gained valuable experience playing in England Rugby Under 20s’ successful tour of Canada.
Akina Gondwe, Vicky Laflin and Cara Brincat were all involved in the three-match series, which saw an unbeaten England take home the Tri-Nations title.
All three play for the Worcester Valkyries while studying at the University of Worcester as part of an educational partnership between the University and the rugby club.
The England side, coached by Jo Yapp, also a University of Worcester graduate, defeated Canada Women’s Under 20 side 22-36 and 17-27, and USA Women’s Under 20s 17-43 over the 16-day tour.
Akina, 19, who has just finished her first year studying Human Geography, said: “We arrived in Canada with the goal of winning all three test matches, which we achieved.
“Playing abroad was a challenge as we had to adjust to the temperature. We were training in some ridiculously hot temperatures, which was tough. But, ultimately, playing in another country was amazing and different.”
Akina, who splits her time between St John’s and Forest Hill, London, has represented her country before at U20s level against the army, but said, playing in all three matches, she had learnt a lot.
“I learnt how to cope with three matches that had a short turnaround. Learning how to recover was very important because test matches are demanding on the body,” she said.
She said it was important to her to do both sport and university. “I love rugby and the thought of having to choose between a degree or my sport is unimaginable,” she said. “Balancing my rugby and my course can be difficult at times because lectures or assignments can override with U20s training camps or university games so I have to find time to do my work but also attend my training sessions.
“The University has been really helpful with the balance as I’m currently on a silver scholarship, which has provided me with an advisor. He’s been really helpful being a listening ear to any concerns I may have and has helped me sort problems I had with my timetable.”
This is the first time Psychology student Vicky Laflin, 19, had played at Under 20 level for her country, getting match time against the USA and starting against Canada.
“It was an amazing experience for me,” she said. “I shocked myself on getting a starting shirt in the end and actually being confident in my standard of rugby and my abilities.
“It was incredible playing for my country abroad, everywhere you went you represented your country and I had so much pride and happiness for a great standard of rugby and people. I felt so professional and elite and almost never wanted it to stop.
“I learnt a great amount about myself, the team and higher standards of rugby. I learnt to trust my abilities and be confident in myself and others.”
Originally from Reading, Vicky said the relationship between university and club made both aspects of her life easier to manage.
“Staying on top of my studies as well as playing rugby is vital to guide me later in life,” she said. It is really important as especially in the women’s game at this point in time a job is needed to maintain a living.
“At the University I have a mentor who guides me through balancing training, eating right and finishing work on time. The partnership really guides my rugby as well as it makes sure I don’t play too much to over work myself and that maintain 100% fitness and health. I am also supported in gym and rehab programmes.”
Cara, who studies Physical Education and Sports Studies, was part of the England Under 18s Sevens side who became European champions and has played for England Under 20s this season.
The 19-year-old forward unfortunately took an injury in the second game, but said she had still learnt a lot from the experience.
“Gaining any game time internationally was a privilege and I was gutted to miss the last game and not gain more,” she said. “The experience of tour life was an experience I won’t forget, training as a team hard and improving on every game we played. The main thing I gained from this tour is injury management. Even though it was very unfortunate to get injured, the experience I gained from early morning swim pre-hab sessions to gym training sessions and lots of work off field is something I will keep with me for the rest of my sporting life.”
She said it was important for her to be able to combine her sport with academic studies because women's rugby isn't a professional sport.
There are a limited number of places available to start in September 2018 for well-qualified applicants.
For more information visit www.worcester.ac.uk or call 01905 855111.