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Capt Becky Church (RAMC) may be a late-comer to rugby, but she is relishing the chance to make her Inter-Services bow against the Royal Air Force at Kingsholm on Saturday (KO 1100hrs).

The 29-year-old, who joined the Army in 2017, dabbled with plenty of other sports alongside playing for Sileby Vikings, Colchester and most recently Newbury, but is loving life with her attentions now focussed on the oval ball.

She explained: “I’m super-excited, it’s my first season training with the Army so just to be in the mix around Inter-Services time is awesome.

“Our training has gone well, especially the last camp we’ve just come off against [Leicester] Tigers – everyone was in such a good place, super happy and getting ramped up.

“We take away positives and negatives [the Army were 15-0 up at half-time before losing 24-20] – if we can start against the RAF like we did against Tigers, we’ll put ourselves on a good footing.

“We came away encouraged with what we’re doing and knowing if we don’t take our foot off the gas for 20 minutes like we did in the second half, we’re a force to be reckoned with.”

Capt Church continued: “Whether it was attacking and breaking lines or defensively we made them work stupidly hard – that showed when they really got nothing in the first half.

“It was a very positive performance because they’re a strong team who’d played the RAF a few weeks before, and maybe seeing how we line up along those scorelines – albeit it’s a different day and the RAF may not have had their full squad – it looks good.

“Seeing the difference in training from before with the England Under 20s, everything seems to have clicked, and against Tigers in the second half, it wasn’t more they beat us than we let them back in.

“If we don’t do that, hopefully the first half can be replicated in the second.”

Having turned her hand to plenty of sports in her youth, Becky admits she has fallen in love with rugby as she said: “I only started playing rugby just before Covid, so 2019.

“I just wanted a change of sport because I’d come from a rowing background into a bit of triathlon and just didn’t want individual sport anymore – I wanted to be back in a team game, and I love the fact rugby has a position for everyone.

Becky made her debut for the Army v Sweden earlier this year.

Image – Alligin Photography © Cat Goryn

“Whatever you’re good at, whatever body shape, age – and I can feel mine at times chasing down some of the girls in their early 20s, you realise the legs maybe only have a few more years in them! – I wish I’d taken up rugby much earlier. I absolutely love being with the Army girls.”

Contrasting rugby with triathlon, she added: “The difference is the contact and what you can do to prepare yourself – if you fall off a bike it’s traumatic, but with rugby if you prepare for hits and are prepared to tackle other people, that’s the big element I’ve learnt on the pitch and focussed from a mental point of view.

“No-one likes to run into someone who’s trying to snap you in half, so in the gym you’re working on your shoulder and knee stability so when you take a tackle, you can bounce right back up.

“The other thing is the change of direction. In the back line I’ve got to be able to evade tacklers, whereas swimming, cycling, running, it’s all very straight-line, so I’ve had to try and find a step from somewhere.”

Born and raised in Cornwall, Becky has received plenty of support from the senior players in the squad, and she thanked them when saying: “When we’re in the gym they help and they’ve also written a programme for us which is awesome, but also having players like Jade Mullen, Millie Williams, Lou Dodd in the backline, they’re just so helpful.

“Not once have I been too scared to ask them anything, because they’ll always offer their help and they’ll never make you feel stupid, even if you feel you’re asking a stupid question.

“They’ve offered so many times to stay after training to run through moves, even on a one-to-one basis or silly stuff like using water bottles on the floor (to replicate defenders), they’re more than happy to do that and the support and culture of the senior girls has just been amazing. They never make you feel like a newbie.”

There is a great culture within the squad with Senior players supporting the new members.

Image – Alligin Photography © Cat Goryn

Looking back to her multi-sports background, the physio reflected: “I probably played up to the point where girls can’t play with boys anymore, so maybe 11 or 12, but then with the geography of Cornwall, my nearest team became well over an hour-and-a-half away.

“Back when I was younger there wasn’t much women’s rugby so you really had to travel to find a team whereas I’m sure if I started now, I would never have stopped because there’d have been a team five minutes down the road.

“I was very much ‘I’ll play a little bit of every sport’, so rather than throwing everything into rugby and just playing one, it was swimming, football, and everything else – and I chose to do everything!

“Hopefully now there are more women’s and girl’s set-ups around, that problem shouldn’t happen again.”

With women’s rugby growing exponentially and England having finished runners-up at last year’s World Cup, Becky is extremely grateful for the chance to progress her game.

She went on: “Last season and this I’ve trained a lot with the Corps Rugby and I’m quite heavily involved with the Army Medical Services set-up, and that needs to be developed 100 percent to feed into the Army women’s side.

“This year at trials there were more than 80 women who put their name down and you wouldn’t get that if it weren’t for the Corps set-up.

“But the Military letting you go and play the sport – even if you haven’t before – they don’t make you prove you’re good at something before they let you go and do it and I think that’s the best thing. It’s getting so many more people into the game.

“Off the back of Covid we had five or six girls come across wanting to try rugby and we had a week camp and the fact their work allows them the chance to go and do that – even when they’re not a Prem 15 or international player – we’ve now get them who have a love for the sport.”

A key figure in the development of the sport is Lt ColAnn O’Flynn (RAVC), with Becky commenting: “The best thing is she’s a real advocate for women’s rugby. Less so now, but rugby is still seen as a male-dominated sport, and in the AMS, she’s so good at driving that 50-50 parity between men and women.

“At AMS we feel we’re very much on a par with the men, not just a back-door thing, which has been brilliant.

“Having Anne’s contacts as well, on one camp we had Gill Burns come down and give us a talk about her England days and what they had to do – paying their own transport, their kit and where it’s come to now. We really appreciate the level women’s sport has got to from when they were playing.”

Going back to her decision to join the Army six years ago, Capt Church explained: “I’m a physio by trade but always knew I wanted to join up, even before I’d done my degree. I wanted to do something medical but also sports-focussed, and I couldn’t really see myself being a doctor for five years at Uni!

“I knew I wanted to join the military for the lifestyle and the ability to be able to go off and play sport, while also covering it as a physio – on-tap and ready – but also potentially do it anywhere in the world, I like to problem-solve.

“Thinking on my feet, how to get someone back to where they need to be and when I look at my colleagues in the NHS right now, I’m delighted with my decision.

“The clientele I treat daily all want to get better, they all want to be at work, in the gym, and it’s really refreshing to be treating that kind of person.

“The aim is to keep as many soldiers as possible on the ground without having to call them back to what we’d call a Role Three.

“If you imagine in Afghanistan, Bastion would have been your Role Three, big set-up, and so you’re trying to keep people as close to the front or needed as possible.

“So, it’s quick triage, very similar to pitch-side, patching them up and back out or speaking to their CoC and saying actually this person’s going to be detrimental to you or they’re going to make themselves a lot worse.”

On working in action abroad, Becky added: “I’ve done Kenya and Kibrit and both were challenging.

“Looking at your Platoon Sergeants, your OCs, keeping them on top for a length of six months was the biggest challenge, along with finding ways of helping people into and out of tanks and the back pain – you can’t really change how you get in and out.

“Figuring out how to control someone’s back pain when they’re in it all day, that was interesting.

“But it’s where I love the problem-solving side and it’s about coming up with what you want to do with different bits of kit – could you be getting them to do back squats with some weights rather than the nice barbell they’d normally have in the gym.

“They might have to do some trigger point training using their helmet rather than a foam roller, all this kind of stuff is the problem-solving, but then it’s also key to keep an eye on what you do have in terms of things like knee supports and who actually needs them.

“You have to be pretty ruthless in what kit you actually use, but also intuitive with what they have and also with tape!”

While away from deployment, Becky loves the chance to roam around with four-year-old labrador Kingston, an ever-present in her campervan.

She revealed: “Being in the Military you move every two years and I’ve done so quite significantly in all of mine.

“I’ve gone from Loughborough to Colchester to Preston, so it’s been all over the UK rather than having a standard base, so being able to explore those new areas in a short amount of time allows me to do it quite quickly.

“Not being stuck in a block and getting out on weekends, I’ve got the dog and he loves going away in the van and for long walks, so it’s our little home on wheels.

“It allows a complete reset and it doesn’t matter if we’re out for a couple of hours for a walk and then sat with the fire on in the evening or if it’s just we’re coming back to the van to sleep in, it’s just something which means I’m not doing work for a weekend – it’s definitely needed when we’re all now with laptops and always accessible – sometimes you just need to get away.”

Attentions, though, are now back to this Saturday and then the Twickenham showdown with the Navy on May 13, and Capt Church concluded: “Several of us watched the RAF-Navy game the other week because it was live-streamed, but we all took it with a pinch of salt how it was played because the conditions were awful – it was bucketing rain the whole time.

“We’ve been told don’t underestimate either of the teams, and in the past week it’s been a case of tunnelling in and just focussing on us – knowing if we get our attacking line right and our defence, if we get one or two chances and take them and stop our opponents having any, that’s controllable.

“It’s down to how we play, but we know the RAF (and Navy) are going to come out all guns blazing to turn us over.”

Tickets for the 2023 Inter-Services Championship are now on sale.

CLICK HERE for information about the Army v RAF at Kingsholm, Gloucester, on Saturday, April 15th.

CLICK HERE for information about Army Navy at Twickenham on Saturday, May 13th.

Words © New Dogs, Old Tricks

Featured image supplied by Becky Church

Header image – Alligin Photography © Cat Goryn