Northumbria University Rugby stars Vikki Britland and Chloe Atkinson on switching codes
PUBLISHED: 12:51 26 October 2012 | UPDATED: 22:13 20 February 2013
In a great summer of sport for women, two North East rugby stars have crossed a great divide, as Roger Tames reports
The dazzling success of London 2012 extended far beyond the realms of sport as it gave the whole country a magnificent boost in morale. Within the field of play however, the lift given to womens sport was perhaps the most significant.
Our girls were simply great. From rowers Helen Glover and Heather Stanning who landed Britains first gold medal to trailblazing Nicola Adams, the first woman to win Olympic gold in boxing, female athletes provided some inspirational stories.
And in terms of role models, no sports star can ever have matched up to sky high expectations with more determination and style than heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis who is a running, jumping, throwing example of just how cool, sport can be.
So while sports administrators and coaches look to exploit the London legacy, its encouraging to see that the North East can point to a more unusual success story for womens sport.
Two students from Northumbria University have crossed what used to be one of sports great divides. The days when rugby union men would have been accused of selling their soul by playing rugby league may have long gone, but for two girls to switch codes could well break new sporting ground.
Earlier this year, Vikki Britland and Chloe Atkinson had proved their prowess at rugby union by representing England in the Home Nations Sevens championships run by BUCS, the organisers of student sport in this country.
The Northumbria duo played a major role in England winning the series in this hard-running, free-flowing version of the fifteen-man/woman game. And within weeks theyd been called up to the England Students Rugby League team to face France in two fiercely contested international clashes across the Channel.
Its very rare for players to receive such recognition of their rugby talent in one season, said Northumbria head coach Si Culley. To represent their country in both codes in the space of a few weeks is a phenomenal achievement.
Atkinson, a third-year Sports Science student from Darlington, explained how the sporting sidestep came about: I spotted an announcement about the Rugby League trials in March and went to the first session.
Vikki went to the second session and we were both asked to return. We trained four or five times before the mini tour to France and the whole experience was great.
In terms of fitness and training theres not a huge difference between whats required for sevens Rugby Union and whats needed for League.
The girls slightly quirky success story is part of a deadly serious commitment to both codes of rugby by Northumbria who have dared to challenge the regional supremacy of more traditional Durham, their great student sport rivals.
A significant sponsorship deal with Newcastle-based investment management firm Brewin Dolphin will help the far newer university attract players to their male and female teams.
Former England captain Martin Corry and current Twickenham star Toby Flood are just two of the internationals to have come through the Northumbria ranks in recent seasons.
Universities have a massive role to play in developing sport and helping to make sure there is an Olympic legacy. Participation in sport often drops off alarmingly when youngsters, especially girls, leave school. Student sport can help them keep involved and make the transition into an active adult life.
In the distant past, rugbys old school tie brigade might have been horrified by players crossing from union to league. Now in these more enlightened times, Chloe and Vikki are emphasizing that 2012 could prove a watershed year for womens sport.