The last time Tatyana Heard played rugby at Castle Park it was for Malton & Norton Under-15s in a junior county game.
A decade on she hopes to stride out at the home of Doncaster Knights RUFC once again on Sunday wearing the white shirt of England.
Much has changed in women’s rugby in the intervening years, not least the last few months when the advent of full-time contracts and internationals being taken on the road has accelerated the growth.
Heard is one of those whose hard work, passion and talent for the game have seen her swept along in the development.
If she earns selection in Simon Middleton’s team to face defending Six Nations champions France in South Yorkshire on Sunday it will be her second appearance in the tournament and her fourth cap overall.
Not bad for someone who only picked up a rugby ball at the age of 10.
“I started playing when I went with my brother to a rugby camp and got bored of standing shivering on the sidelines,” says the 24-year-old, who plays at inside centre.
“I thought, ‘why can’t I have a go at this?’ I loved it straight away.
“Rugby is so inclusive, whether you’re a boy or a girl, fat or strong, there is a chance for you to be involved.”
From those first tentative steps at Malton & Norton to a spell with West Park Leeds before moving down south to combine rugby with her studies at Hartpury College in Gloucestershire, Heard has always been the nomadic type.
By taking games on the road we are giving young girls the chance to see the game in the flesh and hopefully get inspired by what they see.Tatyana Heard
She was born in Pisa, Italy, where her father was serving in the United States Army before moving to Maryland in America shortly after.
Heard only landed in England at the age of five, relocating with her family to her mother’s home of Kirbymoorside in North Yorkshire.
Despite the peripatetic nature of her youth, the importance of representing the Red Roses in her home county and the place where she learned the sport is one to cherish.
“I’m really excited to go back to Castle Park. I can still remember playing there in the Under-15s,” she smiles, having missed the chance to play on England’s first visit to Doncaster in November’s Quilter Internationals.
“The atmosphere was great for that Canada game. When I was growing up I would have loved to have seen a game like this at a club close to where I lived.
“Back then they were all down south, but by taking games on the road we are giving young girls the chance to see the game in the flesh and hopefully get inspired by what they see.”
A crowd of 3,876 were present for England’s victory over Canada in November, with the Rugby Football Union and Doncaster officials confident they can eclipse that attendance the second time around with champions France in town. For England’s head coach, Yorkshireman Middleton, it is not just poignant to be returning so promptly, but also indicative of the interest in women’s rugby as the national team look to build a support base outside of Twickenham.
“We’re delighted to be going back. We had a fantastic time the last time we were up there,” says Pontefract-based Middleton, a former Castleford Tigers and Leeds Tykes dual-code player.
“For me as well it’s particularly pleasing to have a game back in Yorkshire. People responded really well to us last time and they really took us to heart.
“It’s a great benchmark for us having tasted that atmosphere last time; can we replicate it on Sunday? The more we can get the message across about the standard of women’s rugby the better, especially to people who haven’t seen it before.”
That standard is increasing with every international. Just last month the RFU took the bold step of handing out 28 professional contracts to their England regulars, bringing them in line with rival unions from New Zealand, Australia and France.
“Firstly it gives the girls time to recover properly and that’s also given us the chance to get players back from injury quicker than we would normally have been able to,” explains Middleton.
“Secondly the attitude of the girls is exemplary. Full-time contracts with the RFU comes with a certain degree of responsibility and they have risen to that standard. They are very professional in the way they train, prepare and conduct themselves.”
Despite having only won two caps, Heard – whose club side is Gloucester-Hartpury – was deemed a significant enough part of the national team’s future to be invited to concentrate full-time on the sport.
“Full-time training is hugely beneficial, but not only just that, the time you have to recover, to do video analysis, plus the nutrition side of it is massive. I have seen so many improvements in my own game since joining in October.”
Tickets for the England v France game will be available for purchase at the ground today, from 9am to 5pm, and also from 10am on Sunday.