Cleall reflects on world cup full of emotions
“Walking out to sing the national anthem in front of 40,000 people was off the charts. It was one of those where it was a dream, I didn’t realise I had until I walked out there in front of everyone. It was an incredible occasion.”
Those were the words of Poppy Cleall as she reflected on the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. By her own admission, she has “just about got over” the narrow defeat in the final to the Black Ferns, as she and her international teammates now prepare to throw all their efforts into the Premier15s season.
Reflecting on the final itself, Cleall admitted that not securing the victory is something that would haunt [her] for the rest of [her] life.” However, the experienced backrow acknowledged that the tournament itself was one that was filled with amazing moments.
“It was phenomenal to be a part of and they are memories that will last forever. The overriding emotion will be just how awesome that tournament was. The first weekend, we were lucky enough to be able to play at Eden Park. We sold it out then and that was a shock to people,” she laughed. “So, to be able to come back and play in front of another sell-out crowd for the final was brilliant. To make it through to the final, we’re really proud of our efforts.”
It all came down to the final lineout in the corner for the Red Roses, as they so nearly pulled off a heroic victory, despite playing the final with a player down for the majority of the game. In Cleall’s mind, the focus now is to go one better at a home tournament in 2025.
“I’ll always remember that lineout and I don’t think I’ll be able to get over it, but that’s part of the sport. You take the highs, and you take the lows and fingers crossed in 2025 at Twickenham, we’ll have another lineout with a different outcome.”
It’s been something of a watershed year for women’s sport, with the feats of the Red Roses, and the Lionesses securing victory at the European Football Championships.
Cleall explained how the exploits of other women’s teams in different sports had served as a source of inspiration in New Zealand.
“You really feed off of the success of other women’s teams. We were watching the Lionesses during the summer in our pre-tournament camps. You really get that mindset of ‘if they can do it, we can do it.’ They sold out the final at Wembley, so we want to sell out Twickenham. We were after Sports Personality Team of the Year, but they better win it now!”
Now back in camp with her Saracens teammates, Cleall is itching to return to action as soon as she is able to. Having returned to the club in 2017, Cleall has become a mainstay of Alex Austerberry’s side and praised the culture and family-feel that the club exudes for helping support herself and her teammates out in New Zealand.
“We talk about learning from other teams and the culture and ethos throughout the club is part of the women’s side. Out in New Zealand, the messages of support we received from our coaches and fans were amazing. They weren’t half-hearted either, they were genuine and they really cared about us.”
There will no doubt be disappointment that remains from the final at Eden Park, but Cleall was quick to highlight that the work the club puts in to helping support players both on and off the pitch, that had been crucial for all of the returning internationals.
“You know that everyone has your backs and you’ve got theirs. There are things in your life other than sport and the club really cares about that too. One of the great things here is that the club recognises that and helps you both on and off the pitch.”