As I call to catch up with Tamara Taylor, she’s in the car on her way to do a coaching session for a local school in Durham. The England Lock, very clearly doesn’t give herself a second to rest.
Her last game made her officially the second most capped player for England and that’s including the men’s team too, representing her country across the globe in 115 games.
With countless achievements, trophies and life-changing experiences, one thing about Tamara really strikes me throughout our conversation. Her modesty. Detailing her career from school, she never leaves out the tough bits and times where she was ‘absolutely terrified.’ Speaking to SHARP about her journey, Tamara recalls the first time she was called up for the England squad.
“I started playing when I was around 15 for a women’s team. My brother played rugby so I would always be the annoying little sister who came to watch. So when the opportunity came about I took it.
“I came to Newcastle University in 2003 to study Bio-Medical Science and started playing in the university league, we were the top at the time and then the call came.
“It’s quite a funny story actually, they still had my old mobile number and I had lent my mobile to my friend to use. When I next saw her she said I’d had a call ‘something about England rugby’ – imagine if I had given that phone to someone else and I’d missed that call. I’d probably be in a completely different position.
“I remember having to go for trials at the England academy and I was in the car with my mum and literally didn’t want to get out because I was so terrified. At first she started out with the classic technique of telling me it would all be fine but by the end I think she was just like ‘get out the car!’ Once I had, I knew I couldn’t go back.
“It’s always the same, once you take those few steps towards the building and are welcomed by reception and signed in, there really is no going back. I think that’s the same for anything, playing a game or even trying to go to the gym get the first steps out the way and then there’s no stopping you.”
Tamara was successful in the team and over a period of three years had moved into the A-team, the England Second team. From there she was invited to go on a tour of South Africa in 2003. However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing.
“By then I was going into my third year of university and I really struggled, I was trying to balance my dissertation with strength and conditioning sessions and it was also a slightly stricter process, each of my sessions had to be reported to the coaches and the team and I had been struggling so much. They didn’t think I’d performed so sent me away. I was devastated.
“I’m always really hard on myself and I was just really disappointed.”
However, that wasn’t the end of Tamara’s rugby career. In 2004 she got a call to tell her one of the girls had been injured and she was asked to take part in the Elite games. After playing in all of the games, she was invited to go on tour in New Zealand.
“The whole situation was just amazing, at the time we were the top women’s team in the world and I was so excited to go to New Zealand. I just really didn’t want to let anyone down.
“I got my England cap in the third game we played, bearing in mind I’d previously watched New Zealand absolutely smash us for the whole game. I’d been on the bench as a substitute and sat there really nervous. I remember the Manager looking across and being like ‘yes you’re on now.’ My body was completely rigid.
“There’s actually a photo of me on the side-lines and you can just see the terror in my face whilst I’m stood there getting ready to go on.
“The game is an absolute blur, it was so fast paced I just remember picking up and running with the ball, we were beaten by less than 10 points which left us all in quite decent spirits after what a brilliant opponent they’d been.
“After the game I was given my first cap, it is literally a purple cap – I’ve still got it and was presented a red rose as a welcome into the England team, that’s still at my parents’ house.”
From there Tamara continued to train, and play in tournaments, then in 2006 she received one of her most memorable calls.
“The call I really remember was after playing a touch tournament at Kingston Park. I remember getting the phonecall and thinking, am I in trouble? Have they somehow found out I’m playing touch rugby in-between training? But it was actually the call inviting me to be part of the England rugby team for the Six Nations. I remember just sitting screaming I was so excited.”
When asked about any tough games Tamara gives a very honest answer.
She said: “I remember a time in France around three seasons ago, it was raining and the pitch was very wet and slippery, I felt like every time the ball was near me I lost it and the coaches took me off. I was really sad about it, I’m pretty critical of myself and dreaded watching the replay back. I’d beaten myself up so much about it, I was sure that everything I had done was wrong.
“I knew I had to though, so I walked back in and discussed it with the coaches and it wasn’t as bad as I thought. They told me what could work better, what alterations I could make to improve my performance and that was it. I’d been treating it like it was the end of the world!”
Now in her spare time Tamara works as a community coach for England Rugby working with eight regional rugby clubs to help them with recruiting, coaching sessions and managing their relationships with schools and funding partners. To her delight, there is a rising interest in the sport, especially with women.
“The crowds are getting so much bigger. When I first started out it was more the friends and family and people who knew you coming to see you, but then last week in France we had an audience of 17.5k people and I’m sure not all of those know us personally!
“The atmosphere was like that of a festival, it was absolutely brilliant. There were so many people! When you have the ball you tend not to hear the crowds, but when the ball goes off it’s an overwhelming sound – that’s why we all have non-verbal communication signals to talk to each other!
“There’s actually a real push to get more women into rugby at the moment, we’re running campaigns with England Rugby, and there are Inner Warrior Camps all across the UK where you can put in your postcode and find taster sessions near you.”
As for Tamara, she’s currently weighing up her options and deciding what to do next. She said: “I don’t know what’s next for me, I’ve worked within teaching and coaching and its allowed me to train but I’ve also had to work full-time.
“I feel like I’m going to have a to get a job in the real world but I’m sure there’ll always be a bit of rugby in there!”
To learn more about getting involved in rugby, visit the England Rugby website here.