Two Hartpury rugby starlets have their sights fixed firmly on a professional career after a meteoric rise through the international rugby ranks in their two years at the college.
Abbie Brown and Sydney Gregson, who are part of the hugely successful Advanced Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence (AASE) Women’s Rugby programme at Hartpury, have been on a rollercoaster rugby ride since joining the college in 2013, culminating in their debut appearances for the senior England squad in the recent Women’s Six Nations at the age of only 18 and 19 respectively.
The Hartpury duo made their bow in England’s first Six Nations fixture against Wales, joining a trio of former Hartpury students which included Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 winners Alex Matthews and Ceri Large, as well as Megan Goddard, in the starting XV.
Abbie, who plays centre, said: “Making my debut was an amazing experience that I will never forget and to have the opportunity to start for your country was a massive honour.”
Abbie would have been hoping to get another chance to shine in the current Super Series taking place in Japan – England’s women having opened with a victory over USA but then lost to New Zealand on Wednesday night – but she was ruled out of contention with an injury.
Despite an inconsistent Six Nations campaign that saw England finish in fourth place, Abbie played in each fixture, which included a starting berth in four games, while Sydney started the first three games of the tournament.
“It was great to be involved throughout the Six Nations and the games were definitely of a higher intensity and physicality than I have ever been involved in,” Abbie said.
“It was mentally tough but I enjoyed every moment and it will stand me in good stead for the future.”
Sydney, who plays in the three-quarters, added: “I can’t describe the feeling I got when I first pulled the top on! It was quite surreal to be running out on to the pitch and singing the national anthem. It was a fantastic experience.”
“Despite the results not going our way, it was still a great opportunity and a learning curve that we can now use to build on as a team and as individuals in the future.”
Their Six Nations experience caps off an incredible spell for the two 19-year-olds, who were making their England Under-20s debuts just 14 months ago.
And both women credit their time at Hartpury as an initial springboard to their recent success, taking advantage of everything the college has to offer its AASE women’s rugby students.
Sydney said: “Hartpury has been a great help to get me to where I am at this point in my career. They offer endless support in terms of coaching, nutrition, physiotherapy, lifestyle management and psychology and I have benefited massively from it all.”
Abbie added: “The college has helped me by providing a really high quality of coaching and having the opportunity to get one-on-one advice to help me achieve my individual goals.”
With the women’s rugby team looking to build on their World Cup success in 2014, both Hartpury products are looking to emulate the path taken by former student (Alex) Matthews. Alex is now a fully-fledged professional rugby player after being awarded one of 20 full-time deals handed out by the Rugby Football Union (RFU), which has seen her become a part of the professional England Women’s Sevens squad that are bidding to qualify for the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Abbie, who is also considering progressing to university to study for a degree in sport, said: “The World Cup success has opened so many doors and I’m hoping that I can continue to progress my game so I eventually secure a professional contract and continue to represent my country.”
Sydney said: “I’d love to stay in the senior England squad and eventually become a constant fixture in the starting line-up. It would also be great to be involved in the Sevens squad.”
And the Hartpury production line is continuing to manufacture prodigious women’s rugby talents. Another England debutant was made this week when 18-year-old Megan Jones made her bow in last week’s Super Series fixture against New Zealand in Canada.
Megan, who has just completed her A-levels at the college, started at fly-half in England’s second game in the competition and although the team took the lead through former Hartpury student (Alex) Matthews’ try early on, New Zealand bounced back to secure a 26-7 win.
Peter Cook, who heads up the AASE women’s rugby programme at Hartpury, said: “Abbie, Sydney and Megan have been absolutely fantastic throughout their time at the college and they deserve everything they have achieved so far. Their hard work and determination combined with their natural talent has made them a joy to coach and I wish them the best of luck for the future.”