WORCESTER Valkyries prop Akina Gondwe has set her sights on gaining a full England cap in the future as she continues to rise through the ranks.

The promising 19-year-old who studies at the University of Worcester has received a major boost in pursuit of her dreams thanks to a nationwide funding initiative.

Backing The Best presents annual awards of £5,000 per athlete to help with essential costs such as travel, accommodation, kit, nutrition and medical bills, as well as extra support from coaches.

Gondwe, from London, started out at Beccehamian RFC before playing at county level and is now part of the England under 20s squad this season.

She student lists World Cup winners Maggie Alphonsi and Rachael Burford as among her role models but she also wants to make a name for herself in her own right.

“It’s been pretty big because it’s only really been in the last year that my rugby has really picked up,” said Gondwe.

“The two years before that was mostly at club and county level, then last year it catapulted.

“I went from county to divisional to the under 20s.

“I think it was a mindset change. I started to listen to a lot of coaches’ feedback and start to actively gain feedback myself as well, and that’s really helped me change my game.

“Changing positions as well helped me stand out a little bit more.

“Short-term, I am hoping to get picked for the Canada tour, which would be a really good opportunity.

"Long-term, I want England caps in the future. That’s what I’m aiming towards.”

Backing The Best is helping young talented athletes facing the greatest financial pressure to pursue their sporting ambitions.

The programme, managed by SportsAid for Sport England, is supported by National Lottery funding.

For more information, visit www.sportengland.org/our-work/talent/backing-the-best/