Rebecca Davies was 20 when she moved to Wales with her family, and she was soon drawn to rugby by its ability to bring people and communities together.
Davies graduated from watching tests on television to meeting her husband at the local club, where she quickly became involved behind the scenes, picking up knowledge on the touchline while she helped wash kit.
Following another relocation, this time back across the border to Staffordshire, Davies was cajoled into lacing up a pair of boots and played her first match at the age of 32.
Since then she has served Eccleshall RUFC as a player, coach, referee, injury therapist and club secretary, while her willingness to volunteer — and organise others — led to a role at Rugby World Cup 2015 and a term as chair and president of Staffordshire Rugby Union.
In March, Davies was confirmed as one of 12 recipients of this year’s World Rugby Women’s Executive Leadership Scholarship, an achievement she admits felt overwhelming initially.
Davies says she now has a responsibility to succeed for those who have supported her to this point on her journey, but believes the opportunity to carve her own path on the programme is an “empowering” one.
“I constantly challenge myself to take on responsibility where I feel I can make a real difference,” Davies told World Rugby.
“I like to inspire and enable people to achieve, it’s just my ‘never say never’ approach to life and sport as a whole.
“If there's a problem and someone's struggling, then I try and influence that situation and that's me.”
At the heart of her foray into rugby administration is a desire to share with others the “magical forcefield” that pulled her into the game all those years ago.
“Rugby has an indescribable magic,” Davies said.
“It exists when true rugby people get together and appreciate and immerse themselves completely in the game, whether it's through administration, through training, through cleaning out changing rooms or actually getting down to Twickenham, or any other amazing stadium in the world, and watching it being played at the highest level.
“Everyone is involved and everyone has each other's respect. And it's an incredible forcefield to be within because that's what makes you feel like you belong to a family, and with that there’s an unwritten code of trust, friendship and immeasurable support.”
Davies describes herself as “immersed in grassroots” and is keen to remain involved with Eccleshall, where she is both club injury therapist and secretary, during the duration of the scholarship.
“I'm embarking on a journey that all of my rugby family now want to participate in,” she said.
“So, it's not only a responsibility for myself. The expectations of the people around me, who have lifted me to this position, are high.”
If that sounds like a lot of pressure, then it is only because those people have witnessed what Davies is capable of.
Having become a founding member of Eccleshall RUFC Ladies in the early 2000s — and captain in its first three years — she watched as the side grew from just three players into a thriving team.
Davies then started an U15 girls’ team, in which her daughter played, took her coaching badges and later became chair of the club’s mini and junior section.
“Sundays were brilliant days,” Davies, whose son also played for the club, said.
“I would be running around after the minis and juniors in the morning then hopping into my car to travel to a fixture in the afternoon to play for the ladies!”
It was her success in the latter role, growing Eccleshall’s mini and junior section from 20 players into a programme with teams in each age group, that led to her becoming an RFU County Volunteer Co-ordinator.
Davies subsequently played a pivotal role in Staffordshire’s attempts to maximise the potential of RWC 2015, devising a volunteer recruitment campaign and travelling to Czechia as part of an exchange programme.
But, it was in her role assisting the Match Manager at Villa Park, which hosted matches featuring Australia, Uruguay, South Africa and Samoa, that Davies retains her most vivid memories from the tournament.
“If I could equate the feeling I've got now about being part of the scholarship, it would be with the realisation of the nature of my World Cup 2015 volunteer role,” she explained.
“I just thought, ‘oh my goodness, this is the ultimate responsibility!’ I am actually going to be in the thick of the action, behind the scenes where all the pre-match preparation is done. Having to ensure everything was ready and double-checked in advance of the arrival of the amazing international teams and their incredible players and coaches.
“I remember watching the buses arrive, welcoming the teams into the building showing them to their changing rooms, running through their needs, essential time checks and facilitating the captains’ runs.
“It was an indescribable feeling to be involved and I just didn’t want the days to end.”
RWC 2015 was not the first time that Davies had rubbed shoulders with elite sportspeople, however.
As a sports injury therapist she works with professional athletes, including one local cyclist who played for Eccleshall in his youth before representing Great Britain on two wheels.
A keen event rider, half-‘ironwoman’ and golfer, who has also played cricket, Davies is eager to take a temperature check for rugby against those and other sports.
“It is my intention to extend some research across other sports to draw on further knowledge and gain additional experience. It’s important to see where and how we measure up in rugby,” Davies said.
“I want to bring back additional learning to enrich what we have in rugby from those other sports.”
Davies is also keen to network with, and learn from, her fellow scholarship recipients as she attempts to make the most of her opportunity, both personally and for her “rugby family”.
“It really is about the ability to be able to step into this arena, that has been afforded by the scholarship and share what we have all experienced in our pathways to arrive at this pivotal point,” she said.
“The opportunities to network with so many incredible female leaders in rugby, as the first representative from England Rugby, is phenomenal and I consider it an absolute privilege to be in such outstanding company.”
Looking to the future, Davies believes rugby has an exciting opportunity to encourage new participation in the game.
“My passion for the game extends across every corner of the pitch, changing room and clubhouse,” she concluded.
“There is no doubt that the COVID pandemic has further ingrained in the rugby fraternity how much the sport means to us all and as the return to the community game slowly happens in England, the rugby magic is beginning to wrap around all its participants and is welcoming us back.
“What better time than now to ‘share the feeling’ and add new members to the family.”