Pride of West Sussex Jess Breach has told of her joy at breaking into the senior England rugby union team – and marking a sensational debut with six tries.
The former Chichester RFC junior player was called up for the women’s side, known as the Red Roses, for last Friday’s opening game of the Test series with Canada at Allianz Park in London. The 20-year-old Harlequins wing led the way with half a dozen tries as England hammered Canada 79-5.
For Tuesday night’s second Test, Breach was set to start but picked up a niggly hip problem in the warm-up and was replaced. She hopes to be fit for Saturday’s big third Test at Twickenham where the women will play immediately after the men’s international.
Breach, who lives in Felpham, said after her debut: “It was really good fun. As a first cap it was amazing to get six tries but the game was so physical and we had to work hard to get the win that we did.
“I was nervous but when you catch the ball and see space in front of you, you might as well take it on.” She combines rugby with studying for a degree in sport and exercise science at the University of Chichester. She was a talented hurdler in her youth and represented Chichester Runners and England schools before focusing on rugby. After starting playing career at Chichester Rugby Club, where her stunning full England debut was shown live in the clubhouse, she moved to Aylesford Bulls, who became Harlequins Ladies this season. Breach has played for England at under-18 and under-20 level. Asked how her England debut compared to Harlequins game, Breach said: “It was a lot different. At Quins we get some supporters and it’s nice but the crowd here were unbelievable. The roar when you catch the ball was insane and I had my parents and my brother in the stand which was even better.” Breach, a former pupil of Downview, Lavant House and Bishop Luffa schools, was one of a number of new England faces and asked how the experienced players have helped the new players settle in, she added: “It’s really good, we all fit in like a family, they welcome us, they joke around with us so it’s really good. They give us tips because of the experience they have so it’s really comfortable.”
Her dad John told the Observer how proud he was of his daughter – and how grateful to everyone who’d helped make her a start.
He said: “Jess has achieved a lot in her short career – she has worked hard and had fantastic support from her early-year coaches and later on from some great coaches from the RFU helping with her development into the player she is now.
“Alongside this she has also had input from athletics coaches from Chichester Runners and a specialist athletics coach in Portsmouth.
“It has taken a lot of hard work and dedication for a number of years. Jess is a great individual athlete, but it is in a team sport where she thrives and from an early age, rugby has been fun that has turned into a passion.
“The whole family are all fully behind and tremendously proud of Jess with her individual and team achievements. She has strong support from her rugby families at Pulborough and Chichester RFC.
I was nervous but when you catch the ball and see space in front of you, you might as well take it on.Jess Breach
“On her rugby journey we have been lucky to see her develop alongside girls from other clubs and counties who have also been on the same journey – with Friday night at the Allianz the culmination of their dream.
“It is awesome to see your daughter run out for her country at any age level – senior level, though, is a very special moment, made all the more special by sharing this alongside the friends and families she has made along the way.”
BREACH’S RUGBY JOURNEY
Jess started playing rugby alongside a number of other sports she was involved in at the time, as her brother was playing mini rugby at Chichester.
Dad John said: “I was helping with some friends to coach his team. Jess had a good fried at Downview School who wanted to play rugby and she went along with him for the first taster session of tag rugby, she hasn’t looked back since.
“She played mini rugby at Chichester Rugby Club from seven years old through to under-12s, playing in a mixed side. All the boys, coaches and parents treated her as an equal – her nickname was Jess Express.
“Her first taste of girls rugby was at South Sussex Barbarians, based at Brighton Rugby Club – the team’s biggest success was winning the RFU National sevens and Worthing tens in their final year as under-15s.
“Jess then moved to Pulborough RFC girls for her under-18 years because of low numbers at Barbarians, with the remaining girls moving to Pulborough’s thriving girls’ section.
“Jess was part of the team that won the national U18 girls’ cup in 2015, her last year before moving to Ayelsford Bulls/Harlequins for her first taste of women’s rugby in 2016.
“During her early years Jess represented Sussex at U15 and U18 level and played in south-east divisional sides at U15 and U18s, both 15-a-side and sevens, and helped them win the Sainsbury’s School Games sevens twice.
“At U15 and U18, Jess was selected for the RFU talent development pathway and all the girls who were achieving their first caps on Friday night at the Allianz are close friends and have been with Jess on this pathway.
“She captained England U18 TDG against Canada in 2015 and has been part of the the England U20s set-up and has played the Army, France and Canada U20s.
“She has also represented England U18s at the FIRA sevens in Sweden and Liege, helping them to victory in both events, beating Wales in Sweden and Spain a year later in Liege.
“She has been part of the England ladies development sevens squad. In June this year she played in her first World Series sevens in Clermont Ferrand. In the summer she was offered a university contract for England Ladies sevens.
“She is now in her second season at Harlequins Ladies, the first season under the joint name of Aylesford Bulls/Harlequins, she now trains and plays her rugby at Surrey Sports Park in Guildford with the occasional games at The Stoop.
“Jess is also completing her level-two RFU coaching as she wants to work with clubs with girls’ sides or who are aspiring to develop girls rugby in the county.