Sport at its simplest is an expression of joy and competition, an arena where players and fans can unite in a common cause, sharing hope despair joy and heart breaking sadness.
Sport mirrors society, and yet in many ways sport can be a catalyst for social change, to create equality in gender, sexuality and in the way we treat our fellow human beings.
Rachael Burford is a rugby player, she is a brilliant rugby player, and when you discover that she is a thoroughly lovely, friendly down to earth, and modest, individual to boot, you can see why she is hugely admired and respected by those in our game.
Women’s rugby is growing and growing, and it will be forever grateful to people like Burf for lighting the blue touch-paper, those that follow will find the path a lot smoother, thanks to Rachael and co having paved the way.
I’m not sure what magical properties lurk in depths of the River Medway in Kent, but the Garden of England has produced Red Roses by the bouquet load, along with the odd flower of Scotland.
Working tirelessly to promote foster and encourage the women’s game, the formation of the Burford Academy has given young girls a wonderful opportunity to learn and train with the greats of the game, including Danielle Waterman, Rocky Clarke and Katy Daly McClean.
But it’s not just about rugby, the attitudes and confidence gained at the academy translate into life skills, transferable into society at large, which is perhaps the greatest legacy of all.
Rachael is a Red Rose legend but at Harlequins she is just one the gang, taking and giving the banter in her own humble way
When her playing days are over, which is hopefully a long way off, I have no doubt she will become a brilliant coach, in fact she has already achieved her RFU level 2 coaching badge.
Her media skills are also superb, and she looks supremely assured in front of the camera,
Revealed as one of the top 50 most influential rugby people In Rugby World magazine, Rachael continues to set the standards on and off the field
Her playing career has been nothing short of incredible, 81 England caps, four world cups, two World Cup finals, two World Cup Sevens, a six nations grand slam and the RPA merit award in 2017 together with some bloke called Richie McCaw.
Burf’s floating passes are a thing of beauty, coach Gary Street compares them to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, but for me they have an operatic quality more akin to a Puccini aria you know exactly what’s coming but it is still always a joy to behold.
Burf has straddled the bridge between old world rugby and the new order, managing to retain the old values, whilst embracing the hard edged professionalism that is an essential requirement at the top end of the game.
Those so important roots were established at Medway RFC which was virtually a family concern, Dad did everything from the bar to the books and the boots, whilst Rachael spent her formative years in the scarlet and gold shirt, the highlight being a season playing alongside mum Renata and sister Louise.
Everything that can be written about Rachael Burford has already been done so, and in many forms and guises, but for me it is her actions that separate her from the rest.
She has been a pioneer and pathfinder for the women’s game, quite a weight to carry when you are trying to focus on your own game, but those strong shoulders, the ones that rotate to provide a pass worthy of Beethoven or Puccini, bear the load with grace, poise, and in a light humble manner that make it appear effortless.
Maybe the River Medway does have properties after all.