- Former U20 prop has six caps for Red Roses
- England Women U20 v Army Women (kick-off 7pm)
- See the England squad for Thursday's match here
Less than two years ago, Sarah Bern was playing school rugby at Hartpury College and being coached by England full back and Olympic sevens star Danielle Waterman.
However, last Saturday the pair were on the same team as England beat Wales 63-0 at Cardiff Arms Park in the second round of the 2017 Women’s Six Nations.
Bern still occasionally struggles to believe she is now a team mate of the England full back at club and international level.
“She was someone I looked up to when I was growing up as a player so to share the pitch with her now in an England shirt is incredible,” said Bern.
“Looking back at my time at Hartpury I never thought I’d be that quick to make it as a player, never mind play in the same England team as her. It’s just surreal.”
Moving through the ranks
Bern’s potential was evident early on as she won Surrey’s player of the year award five times growing up and she was also put forward to play county rugby by her club Esher.
This led to her progression through the player pathway as she became captain for Hertfordshire’s Talent Development Group at U15 level and went on to play for England Women U20s two years later.
The 19-year-old graduated from the U20 set up in the summer having appeared seven times for Jo Yapp’s side and she was announced in the Elite Player Squad in September.
Been an amazing un20s season this year! very exited and proud to finish it off as VC for the last test! Bring on next season #ENGvsCAN— Sarah Bern (@SarahLily2468) August 26, 2016
Bern believes she has been able to make the transition to the senior side due to hard work and had some advice for her former team mates at U20 level.
“It’s quite a big leap up into the EPS, not only in a physical sense but also mentally," she added. "Every chance you get at U20s to do that extra bit of training then you have to grab it with both hands.”
‘It’s the perfect opportunity to find your feet’
England Women U20 take on Army Women on Thursday 16 February at Aldershot Army Rugby Stadium (KO 7pm) in what has become an annual fixture.
The Bristol prop made her U20 debut in the match two years ago and she says the current team will relish the chance to go out and prove what they can do.
"It’s the perfect opportunity to find your feet and learn how the team plays," said Bern.
“With the Red Rose on your chest you have to play with pride and passion and show where you want to go with your rugby.”
This season the 19-year-old has taken the Women’s Premiership by storm for table toppers Bristol, scoring seven tries.
However, this is her first full season in the front row, having played the rest of her rugby career at flanker.
Bern credits her positional transition to the England Women U20s coaches who helped her achieve the switch and her dream of playing for the Red Roses.
“I loved playing flanker when I was younger," said Bern.
"However, I was told there could be an opportunity to break into the senior set up if I moved to prop. If someone gives you that chance then you have to take it."
She added: “The support I received from the U20s and their staff was amazing.”
Combining studies with international rugby
Despite studying strength and conditioning at the University of Gloucestershire, Bern has appeared as a substitute in England’s opening 2017 Six Nations matches against France and Wales.
The Bristol prop believes the key to juggling a degree with her rugby is getting the balance right.
“In terms of studies and playing rugby it can be hard but you need to respect both of them,” said Bern.
“Telling your lecturers in advance that you might not be able to make deadlines because you’re playing in the Six Nations is an interesting conversation.”
If the Bristol prop continues to keep her head down in both her rugby and university careers, she is sure to thrive both on and off the field.
Entry for England Women U20s v Army Women on Thursday will be free at Aldershot Army Rugby Stadium, located off the A325.