I decided to write about something that’s relatively new to me, but has really influenced and encouraged me in the past year.
I think my sporting performance throughout school could be described as ‘minimalist’. It seemed like every sport I tried just wasn’t ‘for me’. Too short for netball, lacking in hand eye coordination for rounders and hockey, too slow for lacrosse. Although, I did manage to wangle my way into the A team for rounders in my very last term at Prep school, successfully earning myself a ‘half colours’ tie! So maybe that was when I knew the potential was there…I did enjoy playing lacrosse, there aren’t many rules other than not hitting people on the head, and that ability to channel some aggression into physical exercise actually encouraged me to want to do well. Alas, it was not to be. I have quite short legs, and really am not a running type of person, unless it’s after a four legged animal. My lacrosse career was short lived, and I stopped playing sport as soon as I could.
However, I think I might have found my calling. Coming to Harper, you soon realise that rugby is a massive part of the sporting life here, and the first Wednesday of term in 1st year, my friend and I watched a 3rd team match (we won). Women’s rugby had never been offered to us at school, despite a number of us expressing interest in our final year that we’d like to get something set up. But at Harper it was, and I realised that it might actually be something I wanted to try (plus I’d been advised to just take up any sport I could to avoid the inevitable weight gain of 1st year!). I wasn’t too keen to wander over to training by myself, so I got my friend to come along with me. I was grateful that the girls were so welcoming, and I’ve not doubted my decision since.
I have never been so proud to be part of a sports team as I am to be part of Harper Adams Women’s Rugby. In 1st year I played winger, our coach described me as ‘aggressive’ so I guess I did ok? Fast forward a year, and I (somehow) managed to get myself Vice-Captain of the team and now play hooker, the one in the middle of the front row in the scrum. I think that highlights the impact rugby has had on me. I went from being someone who didn’t really have much interest in sport, never achieved much with it, never even played rugby, to the Vice-Captain of the 1st team and (I hope) quite a respected player.
There are a lot of preconceptions about women’s rugby. We know. There’s the mothers who walk past our stand at Open Day and frown and say ‘oh no darling, you don’t want to play rugby’. There’s the lads in the bar that suggest ‘yeh but all women’s rugby players are lesbians aren’t they’. There’s the guaranteed reaction ‘you don’t play full contact do you though?!’ when you tell someone you play. We have a fair few opinions to contend with, and I’m proud to help educate people about what women’s rugby is all about!
Firstly, your daughter might actually love to play rugby! The players I’ve met are some of the most welcoming, chatty, lovely girls I’ve ever known (until it’s 10 minutes to go and the opposition are heading for our try line!). I’ve met girls at training and matches where I can fully admit they ‘don’t look the rugby type’. But there’s a place for people of all shapes, sizes, interests and personalities on a rugby pitch. Trust me, just because someone walks into the changing room with a full face of makeup, nails painted and hair done, doesn’t mean they aren’t keen to end up as muddy and bruised as the rest of the girls on that team!
Secondly, people that suggest women rugby players are all lesbians are ignorant and make themselves look stupid. What a completely irrelevant and untrue statement. Yes, rugby could be seen as a ‘manly’ sport, but (correct me if I’m wrong) I don’t think having the ability to tackle someone to the floor and mental capacity to play a very intense, physical sport, has any influence on your sexuality? In fact, I think it’s pretty badass. Maybe the men I’ve met that suggest this correlation are intimidated because they know I could flatten them in a second, despite being 5’2”? Who knows?
Thirdly, yes, we bloody do play full contact! We aren’t china dolls! And if you’d seen the fine array of bruised legs from our team on a Thursday morning, you’d understand how tough we are! We play contact, we have contested scrums and lineouts. We. Play. Rugby. Just the same as any lads team out there. And I know all the girls are massively proud to be able to say that.
I was asked what the biggest barrier facing the sport is, and how it can be overcome, and I think these preconceptions have an awful lot of weight when it comes to women and girls wanting, or not, to play rugby.
There’s a lack of media attention surrounding women’s rugby. We’ve had an England Women’s Rugby team since 1982, we’ve had a Women’s World Cup since 1991, and the England team are currently the title holders, having beaten Canada in the final in 2014. But unless you go out of your way to find women’s rugby being streamed online, it is extremely difficult to get access to, and the sport and its supporters need to work hard and shout loud to get it recognised amongst the public and media as something exciting, something worth watching and playing!
There’s also a lack of opportunity for girls to get involved with rugby at school. Whilst the figures suggest it is growing in popularity, what are schools doing to nurture this interest and encourage and enable girls to play? The facilities, coaches, knowledge is presumably already there for boys to play, why not the girls too? If you’d like to find out more about how your daughter, granddaughter, niece, whoever, can get involved with rugby, or how you can go about getting a team set up, the RFU have loads of information on their website at: http://www.englandrugby.com/my-rugby/players/womens-rugby/.