Amy Cokayne interview: ‘Rugby can’t encompass my entire life - RAF career gives me extra perspective’

Amy Cokayne was persuaded to join the RAF to help bolster the force’s rugby team  (Getty Images)
Amy Cokayne was persuaded to join the RAF to help bolster the force’s rugby team (Getty Images)

Amy Cokayne hopes to specialise in intelligence with the RAF Police but no surveillance is needed to uncover the England hooker’s rugby purism.

“Personally, I think the driving maul is a thing of beauty,” the Harlequins front-rower tells Standard Sport.

“I’m not sure all rugby fans would agree, but there’s so many moving parts that go into us executing a maul that it’s so satisfying when it comes together. If the timing of the throw is wrong or the lift or the link, then it won’t work.

“I know some people get a bit mad about us and our driving maul, but I think we’re showing huge variety now in our game and that’s exciting.”

The Red Roses bulldozed Scotland 58-7 to open their Women’s Six Nations campaign in bruising fashion last weekend, and will look for a repeat against Italy in Northampton on Sunday. England continue to expand their game under shrewd coach Simon Middleton, but their well-drilled maul rightly remains a devastating weapon.

Cokayne might have played in goal for Aston Villa, or even balanced a career in medicine with turning out for New Zealand’s Black Ferns. Instead, the 26-year-old wound up proudly representing home country England – and even by chance extending family connections to the military.

Cokayne’s brother is in the army and father in the air force, but she never had plans to follow suit. That all changed when her Lichfield team-mates who worked in the RAF convinced her to join the Reserves, primarily to bolster the force’s rugby team.

The 71-cap front-rower enjoyed the experience so much that she opted for a full RAF career. From the abyss of England’s 2017 World Cup final defeat, Cokayne has gained new balance through her time in the forces.

“After the 2017 World Cup final I was devastated, and it felt like my whole life was off kilter, so I knew I had to find a focus outside of rugby, to give me extra perspective,” said Cokayne.

“I knew that rugby couldn’t encompass my entire life. You’re going to have bad days, you’re going to have injuries and other setbacks. So for me it was super important to get something outside of rugby and ultimately set myself up for a career outside of the game.

“There are different avenues in the police that you can go down, protective security, looking at what assets need protecting. Then there’s general policing, which will cover all the same crimes that happen on civvy street will all still happen in the military, so those need investigating.

“And then probably the one I’d like to go down would be the military intelligence route, working with different agencies outside of policing.

The England front-rower helped England get their Women’s Six Nations campaign off to a strong start against Scotland (Stu Forster/Getty Images)
The England front-rower helped England get their Women’s Six Nations campaign off to a strong start against Scotland (Stu Forster/Getty Images)

“I did all my schooling in New Zealand and I actually wanted to be a doctor. So I think if I’d stayed in New Zealand I probably would have shipped off to med school. I decided to move back to England and focus on rugby, which I think is probably the best decision as I’m not sure I’d make a very good doctor to be honest!

“I was playing at Lichfield and quite a lot of the girls were in the Air Force. They were trying to convince quite a few of us to join the reserves so we could play for the rugby team. I agreed and joined the reserves in 2016. After enjoying that I eventually joined up full-time.

“It really was never in the plan even though I do come from a military family. It’s been by far the best decision I’ve ever made, so there’s no regrets on that at all.”

England’s agonising 34-31 World Cup final defeat by New Zealand in November will linger in Red Rose memories, but the Test group must evolve quickly into the new cycle.

Cokayne hailed England’s ability to cope with the transitions required to move from one World Cup cycle to the next. England have as many as 19 players missing through injury or unavailability, to add to the retirement of indomitable captain Sarah Hunter.

Middleton’s side still boast major power and panache ahead of hosting Italy though, leaving Cokayne impressed with another new Red Rose era.

“After a World Cup I think it’s always a kind of regeneration phase,” said Cokayne.

“I think England have always been strong in that regard and a lot of that has to do with the level of talent that comes through the Premier 15s club sides. In certain positions I think the coaches will have known they would have to bring new people through, but then in others there have been injuries too.

“Zoe Harrison is a big loss with her injury, but Holly Aitchison was fantastic against Scotland. Her communication was absolutely brilliant and a few of us were sat on the bench having been subbed off talking about how well she was playing.

“It’s going to be another tough game this weekend but everyone is excited about where this new group can go.”