How did you first get into rugby?

I first started playing rugby when I was nine. We had a guest coach come in to our PE lesson, so I didn’t really have a choice. I’m from Newcastle so I hadn’t seen or heard of this funny-shaped ball, but from the first lesson, I absolutely loved it. I carried on playing at school then played for a club – I actually played rugby league with boys until I was 13, then moved to playing union for a girls' team.

I was a very sporty kid. I played all sorts – football, netball, athletics, rounders, anything I could get involved in. But from the moment I tried rugby, I became an avid player and supporter of the game.

Did you start off in the same position you play in now?

I played centre as a rugby league player so when I started playing union that’s what I went across as. I played centre for about three or four years and then a very wise person suggested to me at a summer performance camp that I had some ability and that I could possibly make further levels, but that I probably wasn’t going to make it as a centre. He suggested I try it as a back row. So, I was like, “oh well, I want to see how far I can go." I moved from centre to number 6 and now play number 8. So, that was a very wise man!

When a did you start playing more seriously?

When we started playing union, it was for the North-East of England and they didn’t really have any younger age group clubs like they do now. The grass roots pathway that we have in England is fantastic now – the RFU have done a great job in growing age group rugby at schools and clubs, but we didn’t have that when I was that age. At university, I joined a premier club in Lichfield and I’ve been in the England pathway ever since. I’ve taken the opportunities as they came along.

What’s the best thing about playing rugby?

The friendships you make and the enjoyment you have with your teammates off the field, which leads to successes on the field. The core values around rugby are unique and I think that’s what sets it apart from other sports that I’ve played. The nature of it and the contact of it, that you put your body on the line for your teammates and they’ll do the same for you. I think that’s so significant.

What are some of the challenges you have to overcome?

Obviously, selection springs to mind as one. You want to be selected for teams and you want to be playing and it’s taken out of your hands, it’s the coach’s decision.

Injury is another big one, I’ve had my fair share of injuries, which are setbacks at the time and you can’t see the bigger picture. Actually, once you get over your initial injury, get your rehab plan and get your support network around you, you tend to come back fitter than before. That down-time makes it all the more worthwhile.

What does a typical week of rugby training involve?

On a Monday, we’ll generally have a weights session and a bit of a cardio session as well. Tuesday, maybe we’ll have a skills session in the day. Wednesday is conditioning, so fitness stuff, again with a skills session. Thursday is weights and club training. Friday is a day off. Saturday might involve some rehab and some mobility stuff and on Saturday we’ll play a game. Sunday is a recovery day so you might go swim or a bit of a bike session. And then you start all over again on Monday!

What do you eat to stay healthy and strong?

I think it’s really important to have a balanced diet, especially for an athlete. Obviously, there is a lot of talk in the media about different diets and so on. But for an international athlete, it’s about getting the balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. You need all elements to train and repair your body and give you energy, so that’s the way I approach what I eat. I know some people might think “should an athlete have a pizza or burger or a glass of wine or some chocolate?” But as long you’re not over-indulging in those areas then everything, for me personally, is alright to have.

How has the Tyrrells Premier 15s impacted women’s rugby?

Tyrrells Premier 15 has had a massive impact on the domestic game. There’s a proper infrastructure around the club games, with coaching and medical support. The international players always had that, but the club players didn’t necessarily. It varied club to club. Now every club has to provide that. We’ve seen already in the first year that players have got better, they’ve got fitter, they’ve got faster, they’ve got more durable and robust. The standard of the game and the intensity of the game has gone up, and I can only see that continuing to go on which is exactly what we need for the women’s game. Plus, it means that people will want to tune in and watch it. And it becomes a better sport for supporters to get involved with.

If you were a flavour of Tyrrells crisps, what would you be and why?

This is quite hard but probably something like the mature cheese ones. I’m a bit older, a bit more mature that the other players. They’re all teenagers!

If you could share a packet of crisps with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?

Maybe someone, like Nelson Mandela. Not sure he’d like crisps but I just think he’s a fascinating individual.

* Sarah was speaking at the Tyrrells Premier 15's final at Ealing Trailfinders Rugby Club, as part of Tyrrells commitment to supporting women in sport.