Rugby's road to Rio starts in Hersham for England's women

Ready: England Women's centre Rachael Burford in the changing rooms at rugby HQ in Twickenham

Ready: England Women's centre Rachael Burford in the changing rooms at rugby HQ in Twickenham

First published in Richmond Wimbledon Guardian: Photograph of the Author by , Sports editor

The road to the 2016 Olympics for women’s rugby starts in Hersham on Saturday night  and England international  Rachael Burford hopes she is there in four years’ time.

The Richmond Ladies 26-year-old is not in the England Women’s squad to face France at Esher’s Molesey Road home tomorrow night, but is hoping to be back in the running for the three-match Test series with New Zealand that follows.

Men’s and women’s rugby sevens will appear for the first time in the Olympics at the Brazil Games as the RFU and the IOC bid to bring the sport to a fresh audience.

And the next four games mark the start of a big four years for the women’s sevens with the 2013 Sevens World Cup and 2014 Commonwealth Games both on the road to Rio.

Burford, who plays for Premiership champions Richmond, helped England Women win the Hong Kong Sevens crown for the first time earlier this year and has a string of World Cup Sevens and 15s appearances behind her.

“I was lucky enough to go to an event at the London Games and to be a part of that would be amazing,” said Burford.

“Making Brazil 2016 is a goal of mine, but there is a busy two years before that.

“The New Zealand series is just the start and is hugely important.

“You’ve got the last ever Sevens World Cup in 2013 – it is being replaced by the Olympics as the pinnacle of our sport – and then there is the Commonwealth Games and the 15s World Cup.

“The women’s programme with the RFU has come on a huge amount since I started as a 16-year-old with the England U19s.

“The fact there were no scrums in the whole of the Hong Kong final shows how much we have all improved.

“I’m just worried about hanging on until Brazil.”

Burford, who worked as a nanny in Twickenham in the build up to the 2010 World Cup, goes for a third consecutive Premiership crown with Richmond this season.

And she admitted life at the top was getting harder year by year.

“I’m as professional as I can be, but I still have to hold down a full-time job,” she added.

“It is a big commitment and we make big sacrifices, but at the end of the day I still get the chance to represent my country.

“It gets harder every year, but the club game has come on leaps and bounds and the game is so much more

* England Women play France at Esher tonight and  take on world champions New Zealand at Molesey Road on November 23.

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