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Recently, we were lucky enough to bag ourselves a trip to Oxford to join O2 and England Rugby as they took O2 Touch on tour across the country. We spent the day dodging rogue rugby balls, admiring all the shiny trophies on display, and rubbing shoulders with rugby royalty.

We were even lucky enough to have a chat with England Women’s rugby player Claire Allan. Fresh from her work trip to Rio (we’re talking about the 2016 Olympics here people!) we grilled Claire about sports careers, confidence, and juggling rugby with policing the mean streets of London. Check out what she had to say here…

Hi Claire! How did you actually get into rugby?

“I always played a lot of sport as a kid, like athletics, netball and hockey, and then I picked up a rugby ball when I was about 13. My best mate at school played, and then she brought me along to a local club. As soon as I played I absolutely loved it, there were quite a few less restrictions than your normal sports, so I found it quite liberating. Ever since then I’ve never looked back!”

How did you figure out that you were amazing enough to represent the country?

“I went through the system, so I did under 16s, under 18s, under 19s, went through the academy, and I came all the way through basically, so I probably got my first selection when I was 15, and then I’ve been looked after ever since then. The programme’s pretty good in the sense that if you get your head down and work hard and you’ve got a decent enough base, you can probably get to the top.”

Did you ever have a job on the side to do, as well as rugby?

“Yeah, we’ve only been professional for three years and before that I was a police officer in the Metropolitan Police. I’m on a career break at the moment from that, I’ll probably go back once I’ve finished playing rugby. Before I was professional it was quite a big juggle between doing my shift work and then getting my training done and playing at the weekend.”

“I’m not gonna lie, it was really hard. I drank a lot of coffee! But I just used big calendars and wrote in my shift pattern, wrote in my rugby pattern, and met with my boss at work, met with my head coach, and compromised a little bit of both.”

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We’re so happy that the women’s team are professionalised now, do you think there’s more to be done to make women’s sports equal to men’s?

“I think the way it’s going is really, really positive. It’s now possible for girls to think ‘I could actually have a career in rugby’ and that’s really awesome, because when I started to play that was never ever on the table. It’s nice that girls have got role models that are professional athletes and think ‘if I train hard, I could make a career out of this’ rather than thinking ‘I’ve got to be bending over backwards to do both’”.

Definitely, What do you think are the most important things you’ve gained from the game?

“I think the biggest thing I’ve received from rugby is my friendship group, teamwork, the sorts of things which I don’t think you learn without playing in a sport environment. For me, it’s always been about making friends, having loads of fun, and the teamwork. Rugby is such a good tool for that.”

What’s been the best moment of your rugby career so far?

“It’s difficult, I’ve had such a great career. Obviously winning the World Cup was a massive one, going to Rio was absolutely huge, but I think the experience that I had in the 2009 World Cup sevens. Even though we didn’t do particularly well, the experience I gained from it, the group of girls I was there with, the coaching staff and everything I learned, I’d probably say that was a highlight. When I look back on it, that’s the experience I look back on the most fondly.”

It must be so scary heading onto the pitch to play for England, how do you gear yourself up to feel confident?

“I think I play better when I’m a bit chilled. Some players like to be right up there, some people like myself like to stay quite chilled, in the moment, let it happen and deal with the game as if it’s any other game you’d play. So for me, I just like to not hype myself up too much, act as if it’s just another normal game and then afterwards you can sit back and think ‘woah, that was massive’, rather than thinking about it too much in the moment.”

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Good idea. What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?

“Probably injury. I’ve had two big knee operations and they’re the most taxing, just getting back from them and the fact that you’re out for so long, not being able to play. But I had a career to fall back on. Although I wasn’t able to play rugby, I was able to throw myself into my work. I did really well at work in that stage, so there’s positives that you can take from it as well.”

So would you encourage other people pursuing a career in sport to have something else to fall back on, just in case?

“I think you always want to say ‘give 100% to your sport’, but at the same time, I think it’s important that you learn other skills as well. There are skills that can’t be learnt on a rugby pitch that you need to learn in the place of work; being able to talk to people professionally, being able to deal with distractions at work, things like that you can only gain from a workplace. If you combine the two, I think you’ve got the perfect balance.”

Finally, do you have any tips for aspiring sports stars?

“You need to have fun with it. If you don’t enjoy it, then there’s no point. You need to fully throw yourself into something you enjoy. And, yeah, don’t give up!”

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