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GREELEY, Colo. – Jamie Burke could earn her 41st Women’s Eagle cap Wednesday, making her the most-capped Women’s Eagle in history in less than a decade of playing.
Burke tied long-time Eagle Patty Jervey’s record for most caps Sunday in the 2013 Women’s Nations Cup match against Canada. Jervey played for nearly 20 years and was named to each of the first five Women’s Rugby World Cup squads.
“I think Jamie’s probably the first generation of player to get in young enough,” Eagles Head Coach Pete Steinberg said.
Though she started her rugby career at the University of Virginia in 1998, Burke was thrown into the fire for her first cap against New Zealand in 2004. Since then, she has been a part of the Eagles’ 2006 and 2010 World Cup squads – captaining the 2010 team.
This time two years ago, Burke earned her 32nd cap at the 2011 Women’s Nations Cup. Unfortunately, the Eagles lost three matches on their way to a third-place finish. In the 24 months since the last Nations Cup, Burke has been able to add another eight caps to her resume, something she would not have been able to do five years ago.
“I think I came into the game at a time when it was easier,” she said. “I don’t know that, if I started playing rugby right now, I could play for ten years because of the impact on the body. We had fewer games, so things were more spread out. We had a couple of years where we didn’t play a single test match, so we didn’t take quite as much abuse.
“This year we’ll have ten in the course of a year from last November. Theoretically, you could get 40 caps in a World Cup cycle.”
Burke also attributes her longevity to the recent changes in her recovery program, but wishes she had known how to take care of her body when she started her career.
“When we’re young we feel like we’re invincible and we sort of play through injuries, or don’t do so well in recovery,” she said. “It comes back to bite you when you get older. I’m now much better about recovery than I was in the past, but I wish I had done better. Some of the nagging things I have chronically going on were things I might not have had to deal with.”
The Eagles are currently 2-0 at Nations Cup with a match-up against England set for Wednesday. Should the Eagles win, they will book a place in the Final at Infinity Park at Glendale for Saturday.
The Women’s Eagles were the first USA Rugby team to beat Canada in recent history, making it extra special for Burke, who tied Jervey’s caps record in the win.
“I always like playing Canada because the passions are super high in every match; they’re our closest competition,” Burke said. “It always means both teams come out playing well.”
It will not have been Burke’s last game against Canada, as the Eagles will most likely prepare for the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup with a couple of matches against the Maple Leafs since they cannot be in the same pool as the Eagles.
Burke is currently working on her Ph.D. and hopes to have finished her dissertation before the World Cup rolls around. After the tournament in France, however, Burke is leaning towards hanging up her playing boots.
“The level of play is so much higher now than it was when I first started playing,” she said. “Players are bigger, faster, stronger.
“I will more than likely retire after the next World Cup. I just think the game is getting younger and I am not. We have props who are 20, 21 years old. At a certain point you have to hand over the reigns.”
Young Eagles prop Hope Rogers met her idol at the Top 60 Camp earlier this year and was able to present Burke with her jersey ahead of the second test against France in June.
“For Hope and Sarah Wilson and some of these younger players, Jamie’s a real resource for them,” Steinberg said. “I know Jamie cares a lot about her legacy with what she leaves. There are a lot of potential props who are working their way up the system and Jamie has the opportunity to make the players around her better.”
Burke said she “definitely want[s] to head into coaching” when she is done playing, and Steinberg admitted she would make a great coach.
Until her playing days are over, Burke will still lead the Eagles into battle and extend her caps record, beginning Wednesday at 6:00 P.M. MT. Watch Burke and the Eagles as they take on England at the 2013 Women’s Nations Cup on USA Rugby TV.