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Bourke Benefits From Bristol Move

Bourke Benefits From Bristol Move

Ireland front rower Gillian Bourke moved from UL Bohemians to English outfit Bristol this season as she completes a Masters in Cardiff. Ahead of the RBS Women’s 6 Nations, she spoke to Scrumqueens.com about the move and her aims for the Championship.

Gillian Bourke has been capped 21 times for Ireland and will be hoping to add to her tally when the girls in green begin their international season in the coming weeks.

She began playing at the University of Limerick in 2003 and since then, has progressed from college rugby with UL to club rugby with Ireland’s leading team UL Bohemians. At provincial level, she lined out firstly with Connacht before getting capped by her native province Munster.

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The versatile Bourke can play both prop and hooker. Life has been changing rapidly for her since the conclusion of the World Cup last year, as she has moved to Cardiff to complete an MA in Performance Analysis in UWIC, and she is now playing her club rugby at Bristol.

Q: What has your experience of playing club rugby in Bristol been like for you so far?

A: Moving to Bristol was a big change for me. I’ve always been committed to UL Bohs, so the move was a big decision.

Since I’ve been playing with UL Bohs we have been the most successful team within the Irish league, largely down to the high standard of coaching we receive and the dedication from the club to support the women’s team.

There is also a huge commitment from the players to maintain a high standard of training and determination to remain at the top.

I decided to use the move to grow as a player by playing and training amongst the best players in the UK. It was quite surreal at first, playing with Catherine Spencer and Sophie Hemming who had finished as runners-up in the World Cup with England, it was very inspiring.

I wanted to prove my worth as an Irish player. Immediately I noticed an increased standard of rugby in comparison to our league at home. Playing week in, week out against players that I would normally see only once a year in a Six Nations game has definitely left me counting the bruises a bit more this season, but I’m loving the challenge each match presents.

The competitiveness of the matches is great, we’ve had a tough season so far but things are definitely on the way up.

The Bristol girls have been very welcoming, and my Irish buddy Claire Molloy is there, so we can confuse people with our super speedy Irish accents.

Q: What are the main differences between playing in England in comparison to Ireland?

A: The matches are very competitive. Each team seems to consist of a number of players from the England 44 which means you never really play against a weaker team.

In Ireland, matches can often be one sided with large score-lines. I think, while the standard of rugby within Ireland is constantly improving, it has not developed at the same speed as that in England.

The depth of the teams within the Premiership shows the benefits the underage structure has had on the English game. Some of my Bristol team-mates have come through the England Under-20 set-up and therefore have a certain level of international experience gained when progressing into the senior squad.

As a result, the younger players are already as physical and experienced as some of the older players – this makes a huge difference in the pace of the game and the high skill level that seems to be present across the board.

Q: What is the greatest challenge you have faced so far in your playing career?

A: I have been lucky with injuries and I hope it remains that way. Challenges come in different forms. The hardest period of my playing career was two years ago when my mum died.

She was my biggest supporter but unfortunately never got the chance to see me put on an Irish jersey. She died two weeks before our first Six Nations match against France at home in Ashbourne RFC.

That night was also my first starting cap for Ireland, so it was quite an emotional time. I have been very lucky to have great friends on the Irish team and those girls will pull you through anything.

We won that match by a conversion and it was our first time ever beating France, I like to think she had something to do with that.

Q: What is the best experience that rugby has brought you?

A: The World Cup was undoubtedly the most enjoyable experience I have had through rugby. Ironically, playing England on the opening day was the greatest feeling of pride I’ve ever felt. The passion and buzz about that match is one I will never forget.

It was an amazing experience, mostly due to the copious amounts of supporters we had cheering for us. I’ve watched that match a few times now and still feel very proud of the girls and the effort we put in on that pitch.

Since then I have settled into life in Cardiff. It is a great city, lots of shops with plenty of things to do. It is a big change from Limerick but I’m making the most of it.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Ireland training with Munster for our Interpro series which finished before Christmas. Now we are preparing for the Six Nations, so it’s all rugby at the moment.

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