Lydia Thompson says she is loving life at Worcester Warriors under director of rugby Jo Yapp.
The 28-year-old winger has recently been away on England duty helping the Red Roses to four Six Nations victories out of four, with their final Championship clash in Italy currently postponed following the outbreak of COVID-19.
But next weekend marks the return of the Tyrrells Premier 15s, where Thompson’s Worcester side will host high-flying Gloucester-Hartpury bidding to kickstart a positive end to their domestic season.
And under recently-appointed boss Yapp, who made 70 appearances for England herself between 1997 and 2009, Thompson believes Warriors have what it takes to improve on their current eighth-place position.
“With Jo coming in, it’s actually a really exciting opportunity for us because we’ve started to put in places the changes we wanted to make,” she said.
“Jo is a fantastic coach – she’s got some amazing experience having played some of the highest level rugby as a player, but her coaching background with England Under-20s and Barbarians just means she’s got a wealth of experience.
“Her technical and tactical understanding of the game is amazing – to sit down and do analysis with her has been insightful, and her understanding of how to get the best out of people and the culture she wants to create is great.
“She wants to support the development of younger players, and she’s pushing me personally to grow and to keep staying hungry and challenging myself.
“She captures all of those things, and I think for one person to be able to do all that is incredible so we’re very lucky to have her.”
Thompson represents one of Warriors’ most influential players, gaining 46 England caps since her debut against Spain in 2012 - in which she scored a thrilling hat-trick - and considerable experience at international level.
In that time the Wolverhampton-based star has witnessed conspicuous changes in perceptions around women’s rugby, growing from a once largely invisible sport into the televised phenomenon it currently is.
And looking ahead, the eloquent Thompson hopes the recent changes - a record (outside of a World Cup) 10,974 recently watched England beat Wales at Twickenham Stoop - will only be the start of the journey.
“There were no girls playing when I started so I just didn’t really see it as a girl’s sport, which is funny looking back,” she added.
“The growth of women’s rugby has been incredible – I feel very lucky in my career that I’ve gone from being very much an amateur to playing on the first-team men’s pitch at Worcester now.
“It’s hugely grown, and to now have our games on Sky and to have such a big audience watching is just phenomenal and it’s so exciting.
“I think any rugby fan would appreciate our skills and tactics, and I think when you see where football and cricket have got to and the following they have, the level they’re playing at and the professionalism of the games, it is exciting.”
Away from the field Thompson once trained as an occupational therapist, broadening her horizons in a role that may perhaps prove useful when her time on the rugby pitch comes to an end.
But while the England star is acutely aware of the need to develop a wide range of interests, she prefers to focus on the here and now.
“It’s important to be enriched by so many different things, and as a rugby player I’ve always felt good when other things in my life are going well as well,” she said.
“But whenever I get to speak with other athletes or rugby players I feel like you need to have an appreciation of the now.
“To be a woman and to be a full-time rugby player is something I never thought would be possible, and I’m appreciating and am grateful for each day as it comes.
“I do want to be prepared for the day when it all ends, and I think you’re very lucky in sport if you end on your terms, and hopefully that will happen, but you never know.”