CUMBRIA'S international women's rugby star Cath O'Donnell has sent a message of support to the Upper Eden Eagles as the coronavirus pandemic denied them a place at the top of the league.

The Eagles looked set to win the new Women's Challenge Senior (North) League One, having remained unbeaten until March. Just two points behind their nearest rivals, who they were still to play, the team felt confident of bagging a further win in front of a home crowd and taking the league title.

But the season came to an abrupt end with the implementation of lockdown restrictions in March. It came as a huge blow to the team and the club.

O'Donnell, of Maryport, who plays in second row for England's Red Roses, lifted the team's spirits with a video message, encouraging them to stick with it and congratulating them on their success to date.

"I just wanted to give a quick shout out the the Eagles at Upper Eden Rugby Club and say congratulations on a fantastic season," she said.

"I know you guys were in line to win the league and you've only been playing together for two years. It's such a great achievement and I just wanted to say, although these are bizarre times and it isn't ideal, we'll all be back playing rugby soon, so just stick with it. Congratulations for everything you've done this season and good luck going forward."

On their Facebook page the Eagles said it was a "huge morale boost during these uncertain times."

Upper Eden's women's side formed in 2018, with many of the girls having never played rugby before, making their success, under the guidance of Coach Dave Pearson, all the more remarkable.

Despite the uncertainty around when rugby union can resume, the Eagles are already working on their fitness and are looking forward to the challenge of matching their previous record when the next season comes around.

During lockdown the Kirkby Stephen-based team also created an energetic toilet roll challenge video, which features the players at home virtually throwing either a the toilet roll or a rugby ball to one another. The team said: "The Eagles are missing rugby and missing each other, but corona won’t stop us from keeping in touch and sticking together."

O'Donnell was first spotted at the age of 18 when she represented England U20 while playing for Firwood Waterloo and scored her first international try in England’s 37-15 win over Ireland at Twickenham Stadium in the 2018 Quilter Internationals. She now plays for Loughborough Lightning and signed a full-time England contract for the 2019/20 season.

Any women interested in rugby can contact the Eagles on Facebook @UpperEdenEagles.