Major team: Waterloo
Position: No 8
Country: England
Test span: 1988-2002

After England won the World Cup in Paris in 2014, there was a lovely snapshot a few hours later when the victors mingled with supporters at a pub around the corner from Stade Jean Bouin.

Gill Burns – a vital part of the last England team to win a World Cup 20 years earlier – was in the thick of the celebrations, surrounded by ecstatic players with gold medals around their necks.

Burns is synonymous with the progress of English women’s rugby, having represented England on 73 occasions during a 14-year international career and played in the 38-23 victory over the USA in the 1994 World Cup final – the first time England won the tournament. In all, she played in four World Cups and was awarded an MBE in 2005.

It was no real surprise that she would reach the top in sport, having represented British Colleges at hockey, basketball, swimming and athletics as well as holding diplomas in tap, ballet and modern dance.

She had hardly taken up the game when she was selected for England, making her international debut against Sweden at Waterloo, a game in which she not only played but also organised to help promote women’s rugby in the North.

She was a long-standing captain of the national side and in a remarkable career, she also represented Great Britain against France, played for Waterloo from 1989 to 2013 and is a former president of the then Rugby Football Union for Women. She was also president of the Waterloo club from 2004-06.

Stephen Jones, writing in The Sunday Times in 1996, said it best when he said of Burns: “It is not so much that she is a fine player and athlete, such a selfless ambassador for women’s rugby, or, indeed, some kind of valiant amateur throwback to rugby as it once was. It is that Burns came across, in every respect, as a genuine, 24-carat English sporting heroine.”

Almost 20 years later those words still ring true.

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