Last week, scrum-half Jo Yapp was announced as captain of the England women's rugby union team for this year's Six Nations tournament. The 25-year-old made her club debut for Worcester Ladies in 1996 and joined England's elite squad in 1998, playing her first international, against Ireland, in the same year. She lives in Worcester and teaches physical education at Bewdley High School.
How professional is the women's game?
In terms of attitude and training it's as professional as the men's game. Finance is the main difference. We are Lottery funded, but only one or two girls are full-time. Most of us have to juggle training and playing with our jobs. The structure at club level is well developed; the Premiership has eight teams and the usual names are there, like Wasps and Saracens.
Describe your training regime
I train two nights a week with my club. During the 90-minute sessions we do ball-handling drills before going through team plays - line-outs, rucks, mauls. On top of that I have a fitness programme set by the English Institute of Sport that fits around my club-and-country training. It's pretty scientific, and the programme changes depending on the time of year. Pre-season is all about building strength - a lot of high-repetition weights, squats and bench presses. Explosive strength helps in the tackle. Once the season starts, the emphasis switches to maintaining body condition.
Have advances in technology improved match preparation?
Every international we play is videoed, as are those of the opposition. The coaches spend hours analysing strengths and weaknesses, and pinpointing who we should target. Once a week, one of the England coaches comes to Worcester and does a skills session with me. We go through my passing technique and work on improvements. Men's rugby is all about bulking up. Do you follow a similar nutritional plan?
Our diets are tailored to individual needs, whether it's reducing body fat or increasing muscle bulk. We get our body-fat levels monitored three or four times a season, along with our fitness levels through beep tests.
Which parts of the body take the biggest hammering?
It depends on what position you play, but the neck and shoulders are always vulnerable. Our training focuses on overall body conditioning and core stability. We are encouraged to use alternative therapies on top of general fitness work, and some of the girls have taken to yoga.
How important is recovery time?
Its significance is being increasingly emphasised. The problem is that when you mix training and work there is almost no time to rest. During tournaments we need to train to maintain fitness, but really it's about being ready to go on match day. We need to make sure we get enough rest and recovery between matches. After heavy training sessions and matches we are encouraged to take an ice bath. It's a great way to rid the body of toxins, especially lactic acid.
Interview by Jamie Polk. Jo Yapp will captain England against France on Sunday 13 February at Imber Court, Surrey. More information: www.rfu.com
The Independent on Sunday (London, England) (Feb 6, 2005): p11.