A HARTLEPOOL sports tutor has returned to work after helping Ireland’s women rugby team to glory in the prestigious Six Nations tournament.
Sophie Spence, who works at Hartlepool Sixth Form College, has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the sport’s ranks after taking up the game just a few years ago.
She has risen quickly from playing for fun at university, where she played rugby for the first time, to representing the Irish national side.
It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks for the 26-year-old which saw her be part of the Six Nations winning side and then jet off to China for another tournament with the team.
Sophie plays second row in the team which won all five of their matches against England, Scotland, Wales, France and Italy to secure the Six Nations title.
She said: “It felt fantastic but also very surreal. It has only just started to sink in.
“We won the triple crown by beating England, Scotland and Wales which has never been done before.
“By the time we played France, we had already won the Six Nations.”
The was little time to celebrate as Sophie and the rest of the squad got on a plane for Hong Kong for a one-day tournament.
Then it was on to China to compete against the best women’s rugby teams in the world for the IRB Seven Series competition.
They took on teams such as New Zealand, Brazil and Australia, coming fifth out of 12.
Sophie, who lives in South Shields, was picked to play for Ireland after taking up the game at Teesside University where she studied sport and exercise and sport psychology.
She said: “I had played netball before and wanted to do something different.
“I found I was able to transfer the skills I had learned with netball quite easily such as co-ordination and ball control.
“I like that I’m always learning and enjoy playing as a team and digging deep.”
From university Sophie joined Mowden Park Sharks in Darlington and was selected for the national team after she was asked to play at an Irish exiles training camp.
“It has been a really quick progression,” added Sophie, whose mother Myrtle has Irish roots.
“I had been playing for three years when I was invited to the Irish exiles and within a few months I got my first cap for Ireland.”
In July, Sophie is due to represent Ireland in the women’s rugby world cup which is taking place in Moscow.
She said: “I’m really looking forward to it, it should be a fantastic experience. As long as we play well and train hard anything can happen.”