The back-row talks through her rugby journey from underdog to Test starter
Sarah Beckett on Harlequins, England and the World Cup
Sarah Beckett has not yet lost a Six Nations game, having helped England to a Grand Slam last year and wins over France, Scotland, Ireland and Wales so far in 2020. So as the Red Roses build towards back-to-back Slams – they play their rearranged final game against Italy in a few weeks – we asked the back-row to tell us more about herself…
Growing up I was a bit of an underdog. I was never really rated, sat on the bench for a lot of age groups, did U20 trials twice and didn’t get in. It’s what motivates me – when someone says you can’t do something, you want to prove them wrong.
The girls say I’ve come out of nowhere. I eventually made it into the U20s. Matt Ferguson, then England forwards coach, saw me playing for Waterloo when I was 18 and sent me to the next camp.
I had a retrial and got in, then I went on the tour to Canada. From playing well on tour I got called into senior camp and in the space of nine months I went from my first U20 cap to my first senior cap.
I started playing rugby aged seven. We live on the same road as Waterloo RFC and I’d go down there every weekend. My brother, Charlie (now at Gloucester), played, then I did. My twin sister, Kate, never played growing up but picked it up when she went to uni in Leicester and is now playing on her year abroad in America.
Me, my dad and my brother are constantly talking about rugby. When watching rugby, most families just watch the game but we’d pause it every two minutes to talk about what we’re seeing, what players should have done, how those defenders are there…
I credit my dad for me having a good rugby brain. He comes to my games but also records them. I’ll watch it back too and then text him about this or that. He’s very black and white, and if something isn’t good enough he’ll tell you. I like having that honesty.
Women’s rugby has massively changed. At Waterloo there were only two or three girls in the minis section; now there are whole mini sections of only girls. Elite women’s rugby has progressed so much too. It’s great to see more visibility and it’s a great product.
My brother wrote an article talking about how skill-sets in women’s rugby are equal to, if not better than, men’s games because it’s less about bash. He challenged people to watch women’s rugby to see if it’s not as skilful.
It’s about changing perceptions. Women’s rugby is different but it’s just as valuable. It may not be as fast or as strong or have as big collisions, but if you think there are no collisions look at our game against France. Regardless of it being men’s or women’s, it’s just a good game of rugby.
I lasted ten weeks at uni. I’d taken a gap year where I taught PE in a primary school, then I went to uni to study international disaster management. I’d been called into the England squad to prepare for the autumn Internationals and missed six weeks of uni for training camps, so it just wasn’t working.
Playing for England had always been my dream. I wanted to be 100% committed and not let the opportunity pass me by. I didn’t expect to get a (RFU) contract and thought I’d go back to teaching in the school, but I was extremely lucky to pick up a contract.
Moving to Harlequins (in 2019) was for my own development. I’d grown up at Waterloo and I was very comfortable. I felt like I needed to experience a bit more.
I was the only professional at Waterloo and it’s hard to be a professional athlete alone, in the gym or a skills session. It’s not a reflection on the club – they did everything they could to support me – but I’m now with other players who could relate to my lifestyle and push me.
I’m fighting to keep my contract. If I’m not pushing myself and other people are pushing harder than me I won’t have it renewed. I need to be the best I can be.
The ultimate goal for this squad is to win the World Cup. That’s the environment we’re in so if your behaviour is not up to standard, people will pick you up on it. If standards slip, performances slip and we’re under no illusions we need to get better to win the World Cup.
Walk quietly and carry a big stick. That’s something my dad told me. It basically means don’t hype yourself up. Carry on doing what you’re doing and keep performing, but you don’t need to shout about it, you don’t need credit, you’re just doing your job.
Be like Richard Hill – he was the first man on the team sheet, but he just went about his business and got the job done quietly.
I can play the guitar. I don’t bring it into England camp, though; I don’t play in front of people! I’m a big country music fan but I room with Shaunagh Brown and she’s more into rap and reggae.
This article originally appeared in the April 2020 edition of Rugby World magazine.
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