Connie Powell is relishing the opportunity to be part of the England Women Under-20s rugby squad for this month’s tour of Canada alongside two familiar Hartpury faces.
The Level Three Extended Diploma Sport student will be playing alongside fellow students and Gloucester-Hartpury team-mates Tabitha Copson and Jessica Cooksey for the three-match series, which kicks off in Wolfville on Friday.
Connie said the decision to study at Hartpury, where she can combine education with playing top-level rugby, had been a significant factor in her progress.
“When I was back home, I was in an area where it was proving difficult to progress my rugby and I really wanted to push on,” said Connie.
“Hartpury has been a great place to achieve that because you have girls who are in the same situation, pushing each other on.
“You can continue with your education, which is a big factor, because you want to play rugby but also need to have that second option, and that’s what Hartpury offers.”
Tabitha made a similar decision and having her on tour as well is a real bonus, said Connie.
“We’ve actually been in the same block at Hartpury as well, living opposite each other, so we’re good friends and it’ll be really nice to have her in the squad,” she said.
“We’ve gone through the same things, as she moved away from home as well, so it’ll be really nice to experience it with her.
“It’s exciting to see Jess (Cooksey) named in the squad as well. She was a first year last year, while Tabby and myself were second years, so it’s great to see her progress rewarded.”
The past year has proved to be an exciting one after Gloucester-Hartpury made their bow in the top flight and made the end-of-season play-offs.
Connie said: “To be able to play to play in the Tyrrells Premier 15s for Gloucester-Hartpury last season was something I wouldn’t have thought possible a couple of years ago, but the women’s game has really taken off and to be part of it is so exciting.
“Our goal last year was to be top four, and we achieved that. But the challenge next season is to push on, equal that achievement at least and try and finish even higher.
“I know all the girls are already back for pre-season and working hard and I’m excited to get back and link up with them.”
But the next challenge ahead is the tour of Canada, and Connie admits that her two biggest supporters will be cheering her on.
“I went to Japan last year with the AASE girls and it was such a great experience going away with a squad,” she said.
“It’s such a privilege to tour with girls that you’ve worked hard with, to go away and test yourself against girls who have worked equally as hard.
“It’s actually going to be an experience for my family as well because my mum and dad, who both been so supportive of me, are both coming out to watch.
“It’ll be lovely for them to share the experience.”
And, despite being relatively young still, Connie is fully aware that the likes of herself and Tabitha are already role models.
“It’s very much about creating an era here, a dynasty if you like,” she said. “Young girls like Jess are coming to Hartpury and seeing the likes of Tabby and myself above them, and part of our responsibilities is helping them to achieve their potential.
"We have to show them that anything’s possible if you apply yourself and work hard. The support we all get is amazing and helps us along the way and setting the right example for the younger players can only help.”
Picture: Connie Powell