- Replacement prop primed to contribute in Six Nations decider
- Sergeant Dawson representing the British Army with England Women
Joining an international rugby match as a replacement is no walk in the park. You cannot ease your way into the action. You must match the intensity straightaway.
Over the course of this Women’s Six Nations, Bee Dawson has made four consecutive appearances from the bench. Thrust into the fray with games in the balance – the past two ties against Ireland and Wales were especially close – her first quartet of England caps have coincided with victories.
As someone with enough nerve to tour Afghanistan twice, you might expect Dawson to retain poise under pressure. Sure enough, she articulates her role with the minimum of fuss.
“It’s your chance to impact the game in a positive way,’ says the tighthead prop, who is a sergeant in the Special Operations Regiment of the Royal Military Police.
“You just come on and play the best game you can play for your teammates.”
Dawson’s 11-year British Army career saw her stationed at Khandahar Airfield in 2007 and 2010. While on these shores in the interim, she was drawn towards rugby from a grounding football and hockey. However, Dawson’s earliest days as a fly half in Driffield quickly gave way to front-row life.
PLAYMAKER TO PROP
“When I was about 15 or 16 there was a group of us who were asked to go along to rugby training,” she reminisces, pausing sporadically to laugh.
“Being a footballer, they put me in at 10. It’s fair to say I had absolutely no idea about anything. Whenever I got the ball, I used to just kick it as hard and as far as I could, not knowing the rules or where it should be going. But I really enjoyed carrying.
“We had two or three games, maybe a 10s tournament, and that was the last of it. I joined the Army and then about four years ago I joined one of the corps games and haven’t looked back since.
“They told me I was a front-rower, so without having hit a scrum machine I was sent on my way, really. It was a steep learning curve learning the whole game, including the technical aspects of the front row. It’s been a rollercoaster ride.”
While straightforward in manner, Dawson is also self-deprecating and credits RAF coach John Wilding for mentoring her during training sessions with the Combined Services.
After impressing for England Academy in two matches against the Canada Maple Leafs in December, she graduated to the senior squad and has been taken by the “enthusiastic” and “welcoming” atmosphere generated by senior players.
Both in this camp and by visiting her club Wasps Ladies, forwards coach Matt Ferguson has been a big influence. Dawson explains his invaluable insight on set-piece play:
“He can look at you during a scrummaging session and say ‘you’re getting pressure from here, this is how you counteract it’.
“He’s helped me understand how body position and what your opposition is doing can help affect the scrum.”
The Army has granted Dawson six weeks off to take a full part on the Six Nations, and just as men’s internationals Tim Rodber and Semesa Rokoduguni have been shaped by service, so she feels emboldened by her military grounding.
“It’s a physical job, so any sporting activity is really encouraged. As soon as I picked up rugby and it started becoming more time-consuming, they have been really supportive with making sure I could get to training and get to games. My current unit have been brilliant.
“You need to be a robust person to be in the Army. That lends itself to rugby. Then there’s the ability to work with others. That is pretty much what the Army is based on.
“A lot of the core values from rugby and the core values from the military blend together. They’re the same across the board.”
Following the set-backs of last season, a Grand Slam for England would represent a fine achievement. They head to the 9,500-seater Stade de la Rabine in Vannes in combative mood.
Dawson, primed for action whenever required, is typically frank as she reflects the quiet determination across Sarah Hunter’s side.
“It’s a massive occasion. They have a big home crowd and a big home following. It will be a step up.
“But after the preparation we’ve done, we’re ready. They will have to deal with what we have to offer and deal with our game. We’re definitely going to take it to them.”
– Source: England Rugby – EnglandRugby.com