A STUDENT who only picked up a rugby ball four years ago is to play with the best women rugby players in the world.

Up until four years ago, Caroline Bell, 21, of Newsham, near Thirsk, had never even thought about playing rugby union. Since then the Leeds University student has rocketed from playing at local level to area level and now the highest level - international.

Having stepped up to the national student team, she is determined to clinch a place in the full England squad. And to help her bid she is flying out to New Zealand next week for a five-month training camp, where she will be coached by some of the Kiwis' top female internationals.

Her career started when she was roped in for a friendly game to make up the numbers. "The captain of Ripon Ladies saw me playing football and asked if I was interested in training with them," she said.

"I said I would never play rugby, it's too aggressive - all the things that you think about rugby before you actually play it. She persuaded me to play one game because they were really short of players.

"I was still really reluctant, but I went along, and I loved it. It has just gone on from there and snowballed."

At Leeds University she not only made the team in her first year, but was also selected for the North of England universities side.

After training last summer at the Northern England high performance academy - one of five in the country which each have an annual intake of less than 30 players - she was selected to play in the Super Fours tournament.

She said: "The top players from the academies were split into four teams and we played against each other. From there, they selected the players for the England teams.

"Then I went back to university and went through the England trials again and got into the national student side.

"It was absolutely amazing. That was what I was working towards this year and hopefully I will take it a stage further next year - either the captaincy of the student side or the next level of playing, which is the England academy side."

Caroline, who plays in the centre, is certain that the trip to New Zealand will put her on the right road. "The class of rugby out there is amazing, it is the best in the world," she said.

The flights alone will cost her £1,500 and a lack of funding for women's rugby has already hit her hard. She is hoping a sponsor will come forward to help with the costs of the trip.

Her funds have been drained by trips to London to train with the national side and, despite being captain of her university team last year, Leeds has offered her no help with her expenses incurred on England duty.

She said: "They have cut the amount of sports funding, so there is me and another girl having to pay our own way when other players are being well supported by their universities.

"Most of the training and games are in London and every trip down is a big expense when you are a student."

She is looking for sponsorship to help fund her trip down under. Anyone who can help can contact Caroline on 07989 443934.