The England lock/back-row talks bare bottoms, coach tricks and Champagne moments

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Downtime with… Red Roses second-row Poppy Cleall

Have you ever pretended to be your twin, Bryony?

Once I didn’t clear up the cones from a PE lesson and the teacher said, “Poppy, you need to go out and get them.” I said, “I’m Bryony” and as she went out one door I went out the other. By the time she’d found Bryony, who said she was Bryony, I’d gone. I felt bad afterwards.

The funniest thing you’ve seen on the pitch?

Any classic when someone’s shorts are pulled down. On an U20 tour, it happened to Emily Scott. Everyone stopped playing and South Africa scored a try! We all just froze because her bum was out. Then there’s Sunter’s one (Sarah Hunter v USA at RWC 2017) – she still gets tweeted about that.

Who are the jokers in the England squad?

Hannah Botterman is funny and Abbie Scott has a really dry sense of humour.

Do you have any nicknames?

Some of the girls call me Locky when I play second-row or Proppy when I played prop. It’s more taking the mick out of me.

What about pranks?

Simon Middleton, our coach, does good ones in team meetings. He doesn’t do it often but gets everyone when he does.

Before we played Ireland, he put up a slide with the weather forecast for the game – 28°C and sunny. We were all delighted and then he went, “Only joking. It’s 5°C and gale-force winds.”

On last year’s summer tour he put up a slide quickly, then asked if we remembered what it said. The first two people got it right as he’d prepped them but the third person didn’t have a clue.

Red Roses second-row Poppy Cleall

Huddle up: England coach Simon Middleton talks to his squad (Getty Images)

Do you have any phobias?

The norm – spiders, sharks, snakes. And seaweed. I hate that when you’re swimming.

Your most embarrassing moment?

This wasn’t that embarrassing but in Italy two years ago I got my first Player of the Match for England. I got a bottle of Champagne and wanted to hold onto it as it was my first one. I put it in my bag and as I swung it round the bottle fell on the floor and smashed.

If you could be a team-mate, who would it be?

Who’s really young? Mia Venner – I’d love to be 17 again.

Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?

Probably Donald Trump. I’d like to see if he’s actually such a plonker when there are no cameras or mics around.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?

To be invisible so I could be a fly on the wall. I’d go in every coaches’ meeting ever!

Your three dream dinner party guests?

Catherine Middleton (the Duchess of Cambridge) – she’s well-connected and I’d like to make friends with her. I’d laugh at all her jokes! Richie McCaw, so I could say I’d rubbed shoulders with him. And a film director… Sam Mendes. I’d like to know the ins and outs of all the camera shots and things.

I’d cook three courses – asparagus with mozzarella and Parma ham, spaghetti Bolognese with garlic bread, and then a dark chocolate cheesecake.

What’s the silliest thing you’ve bought?

The girls would say anything I own from Gucci. I have two purses and a ring.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

Sport. I’m still waiting for Question of Sport. Hannah Botterman did a tweet about Crocs and got a free pair, so I did a video about Question of Sport and got a tweet saying they’d have me on but nothing has come of it yet.

What would you like to achieve outside of rugby?

The normal things – to get a good job, buy a house and start a family.

How would you like to be remembered?

Preferably as a back-row! As someone who always gave their best, put their body on the line and left the shirt in a better place than when I started.

This article originally appeared in the May 2020 edition of Rugby World magazine.

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