A former Horsham schoolgirl led England out at Twickenham on Saturday, helping the side to a victory over Ireland on the day she won her 50th international cap.
Becky Essex, 31, has become an integral member of England women’s rugby union squad and played a vital role in the 17-10 win over the reigning champions.
The former Chesworth, Millais and Collyer’s pupil said she ‘never dreamed’ she would achieve such success.
She said: “I am really proud to have gained my 50th cap for England – I never dreamed I would get to this point.
“To represent your country is a huge honour and to pull on the white shirt every time you play is very special.”
Essex was presented with a silver rose badge and a silver replica of her first cap, as well as cards and flowers from her team-mates.
She said: “To lead the team out at Twickenham, with my family in the crowd, is something that will stay with me forever, despite being nervous!”
Essex’s parents still live in Horsham. Her brother Nick has represented Horsham RUFC this season, while her father Bob and sisters Kathryn and Liz have also been involved in playing or coaching in the game.
As well as an international rugby player, Essex works as a teacher helping autistic children, and admitted it can be challenging to find a balance between the two worlds.
She added: “I work as a teacher at Linden Bridge school in Worcester Park and all the staff there have been immensely helpful and supportive in my efforts to balance work and rugby.
“Many of them were also in the crowd at Twickenham.
“It is difficult to juggle both full time work and training, and most importantly adequate recovery. It is very tiring, but it is definitely worth it.”
France are favourites to win the women’s Six Nations, having beaten England 18-6 on the opening weekend.
England bounced back with a 63-0 mauling of Scotland before the hard-earned, tight victory over Ireland - gaining revenge for a defeat to the Irish in last year’s competition.
Essex said: “Like the men’s tournament, this year’s Six Nations is probably the most open it has been for a long time.
“I would say that France, having won every game so far, must be favourites.
“For us, it is about building and improving in every game, as we look forward to the World Cup in Paris in August.”
England have finished as the runners up to New Zealand in each of the last two World Cups, and will be targeting another strong showing this year.
Essex said: “There are plenty of good teams in the running for this World Cup in Paris, and we are definitely one of them.
“France, as hosts, Australia, Ireland Canada and the USA are all in with a chance.
“It is going to be a really close and tough tournament.”