Four years ago, Linda Djougang typed the words ‘what is rugby?’ into YouTube.
Now, she is preparing to play at Twickenham – one of the sport’s biggest stadiums – for the first time.
For the 23-year-old it is another step on a journey that has taken her from Douala, Cameroon to Rush, Ireland – a country she now represents in international rugby.
And Saturday’s game at the home of English rugby is a step forward for the women’s game too as the match between Harlequins and Djougang’s Leinster will be the first women’s club fixture of its kind played at Twickenham.
Arriving in Ireland aged nine and unable to speak English, sport was always a place of solace for Djougang, whose mother tongue is French.
After success in shot put at school, she started studying at Trinity College in Dublin and was looking for a way to meet people. She saw a tag rugby event online and decided to go along, though she did not know what it was.
“I remember going on YouTube and typing in, ‘what is rugby?’,” she recalls. “I never understood the game. I thought, ‘why are they passing the ball backwards?’
“I can’t believe I’ll be playing at Twickenham. It’s mind-blowing. When I’m putting on my jersey, I look at it and think, ‘how did I get this far?'”
‘I found rugby and felt like I belonged’
By the age of nine Djougang had never left the city of her birth. But, leaving her mother behind, she undertook the flight alone and was met by her father in Ireland.
She describes arriving in Rush, with its different language, culture and food, as “terrifying” but 14 years later the prop is settled in her new home and has represented Ireland on the international stage five times.
“I knew from the moment I arrived in Ireland that it was a massive change,” she says.
“It was hard to fit in. I found that very challenging. The moment I found rugby I felt like I belonged somewhere. I felt like this is what I was born to do. I can be myself playing this sport.”
Though rugby means so much to Djougang, her family still does not totally understand the sport, with football the game of choice in Cameroon.
This can leave the 23-year-old, who has not seen her mother since leaving Douala, feeling stuck between two worlds but she says having her parents at a game one day would be “a dream”.
“At home it’s football. There’s nothing else,” she says.
“I tell my mum I’m playing for Leinster and Ireland and she’s like, ‘honey what’s that sport that you play?’
“But she’s so proud of me. I feel like I live two different lives where I’m training with the girls and loving it then I have to park it and go home to this other world where nobody understands what I’m doing.”
Djougang combines international and provincial rugby with the final year of a degree in general nursing at Trinity.
This means a packed schedule, getting up for 6am gym sessions with the Ireland team, before a day of lectures and more training in the evening.
“I know it will all feel worth it when I step out at Twickenham,” she adds.
“It shows young girls that this is the future. We’ll be able to go to England and play. We’re making history and that’s amazing.”
‘Playing at Twickenham is huge for me’
Saturday will be the first time Harlequins Women – who are top of domestic league Premier 15s – have been involved in ‘Big Game 12’, with the men’s side playing Leicester Tigers in the Premiership before the women’s match.
More than 70,000 tickets have been sold for the event so far, but the gates will be opened after the men’s match so that people can watch the women’s game for free.
Djougang’s journey to Twickenham has been a long and winding one, but for Harlequins wing Heather Cowell playing at the south west London ground was perhaps inevitable.
The 23-year-old went to school next door to the stadium and her father is head of ball boys on matchdays.
Cowell’s twin brother Cameron played for England sevens and is now at Championship side Doncaster Knights, while her mum and other brother used to work for the Rugby Football Union, English rugby’s governing body.
“I definitely know my way round Twickenham,” Cowell said.
“I never thought I’d be back there playing rugby. For me personally it’s huge because I’m from Twickenham.”
Rugby was not the first thing Cowell excelled at – she was junior world champion in tumbling before switching sports at university.
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Balancing rugby with training to become an accountant keeps Cowell just as busy as Djougang and like her Irish counterpart the Londoner insists the hard work is all worth it, especially when events like Saturday’s game come around.
“There are lots of things to do in my day and I don’t have a lot of free time but I don’t think I’d have it any other way,” she added.
“This game is a great opportunity on such a huge stage. It represents where the game is heading and it’s definitely going in the right direction.”
BBC Sport launched #ChangeTheGame to showcase female athletes in a way they never have been before. Through more live women’s sport available to watch across the BBC in 2019, complemented by our journalism, we are aiming to turn up the volume on women’s sport and alter perceptions. Find out more here.
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