The second cap tasted even sweeter than the first. There were more nerves, more tears and, as Rosie Galligan will confess, more of an appreciation for life.
When Galligan made her England debut in 2019, nobody could have predicted what would happen next. Life threw a ghastly curve ball, dealing her a career-threatening injury and a life-threatening illness.
She waited 1,149 days for her second cap, which came against Scotland last week, and today she will win her third in Italy.
England rugby star Rosie Galligan has spoken out about her battle with meningitis
‘It was more than three years between my England caps,’ says the lock, who will start in Parma this afternoon. ‘My first cap was in February 2019 and I contracted meningitis that September. It was the second game of the season and I sent a text to my coach on the Friday night saying I really didn’t feel well.
‘I took myself to bed and my legs went really heavy. I was living at the family house of Zoe Harrison [the England No 10] and I didn’t want to wake them up, so I called my dad, who drove an hour and 20 minutes to pick me up.
‘The next morning my mum noticed a rash on my leg and I literally couldn’t walk. It was the worst pain I’d ever been in in my life. Mum called an ambulance and they blue-lighted me into hospital straight away. I was in there for 10 days. For the first six or seven days I couldn’t walk. My legs felt like they were going to fall off. They said that if I’d come in a day later I probably would have been amputated from the waist down.
‘Some days I think about everything that happened and think, “Oh my God I could have died”. I might not be sitting here right now. It could have been completely different. I’m so lucky. It was eye opening. It made me realise that there’s so much more to life. It made me realise that you can’t take being healthy and fit for granted.’
The England lock admits she could have lost her leg after being struck with the killer disease
Within a few months, Galligan was back on a rugby pitch. It was a miraculous recovery, but before long she was back in hospital.
‘I was back by January but I was dropped in a lineout and my ankle completely shattered. There was a moment while I was lying on the floor on gas when I thought, “I need to get away from rugby and focus on getting healthy”. I had come back too soon.
‘I was out of the game for a year. I really struggled mentally some days, feeling like I was in a massive hole. It was quite isolating. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster.
‘When I was standing waiting for the national anthems last week I just got really choked up. I didn’t know why I was crying. I was knackered from all the emotion. It felt surreal. It felt better than my first cap because of everything I’ve been through. There were more nerves than my first cap. I felt lucky to win my first cap but I didn’t feel like luck was involved in my second cap. I felt like I’d earned it. It was a good feeling.
‘There’s been a lot of lows but I’d do it all again. It was the best feeling ever. Those tough times make sitting here getting ready to play for England a lot sweeter.’
She reflected on a difficult year out of the game which impacted on her mentally
Galligan marked her comeback with a 57-7 victory in Edinburgh. It was England’s 19th consecutive victory and today they are expected to extend their run to 20 against Italy. The fixture will enjoy another prime-time slot on BBC Two, as England continue to grow their profile as well as their dominance.
‘A lot of women’s sports are doing well at the minute,’ she says. ‘We’ve all been talking about the Barcelona game [in football’s Champions League] that had 91,000 spectators this week. That’s what we aspire to get to.
‘People are wanting to come for a spectacle. We’ve reached a point where it’s not about what you look like. People are watching it because they think, “Wow, you’re a really good footballer”.
‘You could say that men’s and women’s rugby are two completely different games. Women’s rugby is about skills and having to move the ball, while the men’s is about having strong ball-carriers. Obviously the men have skills to play at the highest level but the games are different. That’s the same with men’s and women’s football: it’s a different brand identity and product.
‘It’s fantastic for us to be on BBC and our home games are close to selling out because of that investment and visibility.’
Galligan hit back at a suggestion that England women should face the men’s Under-20 side
However, England are leaving rivals in their tracks. The investment is not matched by other unions and the result is one-sided fixtures. Former England hooker Brian Moore suggested the Red Roses would benefit from a game against the men’s Under 20s team, although such a fixture is unlikely to ever take place.
‘It was an interesting comment!’ says Galligan. ‘If you take away the contact areas, maybe it would be good to be challenged in a training situation. We’ll just keep focusing on ourselves and won’t think about those comments. We just want to play rugby.
‘The Scotland scoreline didn’t reflect the game. They put up a good fight but ultimately it comes down to investment. Investment from the unions is the only way it will go forwards. You can’t ask for much more from the girls. We’re going to come up against teams with different ways of playing and we need to adapt and put points away. We’re not going to not want to score 50 or 60 points because of that narrative.
‘We’re looking at this competition from a personal perspective. We’ve talked about being record-breakers and history-makers. Bit by bit we are breaking records and at the end of that timeline is the World Cup.
‘We’re in a Six Nations campaign so all of our focus goes into that but the World Cup is in the back of everyone’s minds. No one’s afraid to say that. Every one per cent extra we’re doing is because we want to be holding that trophy at the World Cup. We’ll just be ourselves. We’re the Red Roses and we’re going to do it our way.’