The USA Women play Canada tonight in the second of four Nations Cup matches in Greeley, Colo. Spectators will not only be treated to an always intense border battle, but will also witness a milestone nearly a decade in the making. With tonight’s start, USA prop Jamie Burke will tie Patty Jervey’s record for the most caps with 40.
“My first cap was almost 10 years go against the Black Ferns,” the Virginia native reflected. “It was like nothing I had ever experienced. I felt like I was standing in cement and that everyone was just playing rugby around me the pace was so fast. I remember being almost happy we were losing by quite a bit when I went into the game, because it meant I couldn't screw it up. I remember that game feeling very surreal. I also don't think I recognized the magnitude of what it meant to represent my country for the first time until many years later.”
Having competed at two Rugby World Cups and potentially a third, Burke doesn’t shock easily these days. She puts her role as a veteran leader to good use and prepares younger teammates for the unique experience of international competition.
“I would remind the new caps that it's still just rugby,” Burke said. “No matter how big the stadium or how fast the players run, it is still just a pretty simple game of catch, pass, kick, run, and smash. Remembering that helps take some of the pressure of international rugby off because we can just remember to play and stay connected to the joy that comes in playing. I would also remind them to soak in everything from bonding with teammates to watching the fans cheering for you, because playing for your country is not something everyone gets to do, and they should cherish all the parts of it.”
Come game time, Burke’s experience allows her to focus on her own performance but also notice when teammates are visibly - and subtly - buckling under the weight of a test match.
“Sometimes it's really obvious that someone is struggling because they get the deer-in-the-headlights look and go into paralysis mode,” Burke said. “In those situations, it's just about talking, calming, soothing, and getting them back in the game and just reminding them that they are on the field for a reason. Other times you can't tell someone is struggling, but something in their play will usually give it away. Then it's the same thing ... just talking to them and supporting them along the way.”
Burke is certainly a great resource for younger players, but the relationship isn’t a one-way street. After all of these years, all of these games, the 32-year-old has little trouble getting pumped up for game day, and a lot of that inspiration lies in her teammates.
“Right after the national anthem we circle to cheer, and I love that moment,” Burke said. “I love seeing the passion in everyone's faces, the fire, the hunger to play and fight for each other. Over the years, no matter what team takes the pitch, that fire is always there, and I love it. A newer phenomenon that I have really enjoyed is having fans at games. It really is a morale booster to hear that booming U-S-A chants coming from the stands and sidelines, and I am so happy that rugby and women's rugby in general are getting so much more support and visibility than in the past.”
Burke will officially tie Jervey’s record at 8 p.m. ET tonight.