Standing tall in front of Terrington Hall’s pupils with her World Cup gold medal and purple and gold caps for her first and 100th appearances for England respectively, Tamara Taylor made an impressive role model. She was also a role model with a cause.
The England international was there to challenge the notion that certain sports or vocations are reserved exclusively for either men and women, and to insist that gender has no place in determining what a person can and cannot do.
Tamara began playing rugby aged 7 at her boys’ prep school: ‘I was the only girl in the class but I never considered that certain sports were only for boys. They played so I played.’
Thirty years later she has won her 115th cap for England making her rugby’s second-most capped player after Rochelle Clarke, ‘and that means amongst men too’, she adds for good measure. Asked by the children whether she regarded herself as a bit of a rebel, she said: ‘If being a rebel means challenging anyone who says I can’t do something, then I suppose I am.’
Tamara believes that everyone needs the inspiration of a role model and she credits the sporting example of her older brother Jason with the reason why she went into rugby. ‘Whatever he did, I wanted to do, and when a girls’ rugby team started at his club I joined it aged 15. Two years later I was selected for the England student squad.’
It’s not all been plain sailing, however. There have been injuries and times when things haven’t gone her way. ‘The important thing is to pick yourself up when the setbacks come and to remember that everyone goes through them, even the role models you most admire.’
For Tamara, one such setback was when she tore her anterior cruciate ligament in 2009. ‘That was three months of no running and nine months of no rugby. I didn’t think I’d ever get back but I did.’
After a successful England rugby career spanning 13 years during which the team won World Cup gold in 2014, the first time since 1994, Tamara (37) is looking for new challenges. When she had the opportunity to raise money for the children's rugby charity Wooden Spoon by attempting a Guinness world record on Mount Everest, she leapt at it.
In April 2019, Tamara will join fellow rugby internationals Lee Mears, Ollie Phillips and Shane Williams to trek to 6,500m at Everest and attempt to break two Guinness World Records by playing the highest game of full contact rugby and the highest game of touch rugby in history. In the process they aim to raise a minimum of £200,000 for Wooden Spoon which funds projects to help young people with disabilities and facing disadvantage across the UK and Ireland.
Having taken several questions from the children on her Everest challenge, it was down to the pitches to lead a rugby-training session with the Year 6-8 girls who thoroughly enjoyed being put through their paces and seeing for themselves that rugby’s not just for boys.