- Former England star Catherine Spencer at heart of Bulls' charge into Premiership
- “We’re really glad our home-grown talent has stayed at Aylesford” – Michele Mayhew
Catherine Spencer may have left her glittering international career behind, but the 63-cap former England captain is hugely looking forward to being a central part of Aylesford Bulls' maiden season in the RFU Women’s Premiership.
The No.8 called time on representing her country after a victorious 2011 Six Nations campaign, but has since featured in fantastic surge to top-tier rugby for the Kent-based side.
In fact, the former Bristol captain’s involvement with Aylesford has coincided with back-to-back promotions and on Sunday, they play host to reigning champions Worcester. Despite this tremendous achievement, Spencer insisted that enjoyment has been her key motivation.
“After retiring from England I couldn’t quite hang up my boots and continued to play club rugby,” she said. “The club game is where everyone has come from and what everyone enjoys.
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“A lot of my friends that I knew from when I first started playing with Folkestone were here at Aylesford. At that time we were a couple of leagues down so it was a nice level. Now we’re back in the Premiership and we’ve put together a really strong squad.
“The desire from everyone is great. To be promoted two years in a row – getting through really tough pay-off games last season against the northern champions in Waterloo and then Thurrock – has been brilliant.
“The Thurrock game was probably one of my favourite ever, and I have been in quite a few.”
The enthusiasm and boundless energy of acting club chairman and lock Michele Mayhew has been another essential ingredient in Aylesford’s success.
As founding member of the ladies side (affectionately known as Lady Mic), the mother of four has been involved in the Bulls’ set-up for 14 years – meaning recent successes have carried extra personal significance.
“We knew we had some really good youth players coming through and we wanted to be in a position where they could stay at Aylesford when England were looking at them,” Mayhew explained.
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“We didn’t want to lose them to the London clubs, which is inevitably what happens to Kentish girls who play rugby, and we’re really glad our home-grown talent has stayed at Aylesford and made it the club it has become.
“[My involvement] has been all about support. My husband is incredibly supportive and my children are too – my eldest is 22 and my youngest is 14.
“They’ve been dragged to the club most Sundays since they can remember what has been going on and come down to babysit for the younger women so they can play. The fact that they have bought into it means that they’re as much a part of the club as I am really.
“Catherine’s influence been enormous, too. She’s a huge name in women’s rugby. In terms of how she motivates people, she is a huge figure and so generous with her time and experience. She’s also very humble considering the career she has had.”
The visit of Worcester is sure to be an extremely tough test of Aylesford’s Premiership credentials. However, Spencer was under no illusions about that and urged her teammates not to go into their shells.
“We are straight in the deep end, but the girls are really excited and it’s at home, which hopefully means we’ll get a lot of support,” she added.
“Worcester have gone from strength to strength over the past couple of years and now have a strong squad including England players like Rochelle Clark, Kat Merchant and Ceri Large.
“We’re just going to have to enjoy it. We’ve developed a nice, flowing, off-loading game and have a strong forward pack with some real pace out wide. If we can be competitive in every game and try to pick up one or two victories while playing our style of rugby, I’d be happy with that.”