Poppy and Bryony Cleall have played together – and against each other – since the age of six and this weekend will be side by side in a top-of-the-table clash
As kids, Poppy and Bryony Cleall always sat back-to-back when they were unwrapping their birthday presents so they wouldn’t spoil the surprise if they were both given the same things. This stuff is always tricky for twins. Like the time Bryony got picked for England Under-18s but Poppy didn’t, or Poppy made the under-20s but Bryony was left out. Then there were the years they played for competing teams: Poppy was at Saracens while Bryony was at Bristol, and Poppy was at Bristol while Bryony was at Saracens. Just last week, when the RFU announced its first batch of permanent full-time contracts, Poppy got one but Bryony did not.
Bryony is still in the England elite player squad, but will carry on in her day job as the head of girls’ PE at the Harris City Academy in Crystal Palace. “Poppy’s never even asked me if I’m OK about not getting a full-time contract,” Bryony teases. She is. She missed five years of her career because of injuries which is why she is a step behind her sister. Bryony has not played for England yet but Poppy made her debut in 2016 and now has 24 caps. “The email that told me I was in the elite player squad said at the bottom of it: ‘I know you may be disappointed by this’ but I was over the moon. I rang Poppy and I shouted: ‘Woohoo! I got in!’ I’m proud just to be involved.”
The twins started playing when they were six. Their brother Josh used to play in an after-school rugby club, Poppy explains, “but Mum and Dad would come and pick us up all together at four o’clock so we had to wait around and watch until one day the coach said: ‘Do you two want to come and play?’ We’ve been at it ever since.”
Sometimes they were playing with each other, sometimes against. Once they were on opposite sides in the Premiership semi-final. “Dad was like: ‘It’s OK, at least one Cleall will be in the final,’” Poppy says. Bryony cuts in: “Then she got injured and missed it anyway.”