AFTER the speeches are made, the festivities can begin in unbridled earnest. The bartenders are kept busy as the senior players mingle with the multitudes, flirting capriciously in a sea of supporters and peers. Amidst the pre-eminent company, women's rugby is only a temporary conversation piece. An older woman appears bemused. She is holding a beer for one of the All Blacks, a responsibility she is thrilled to have. 'Why would you want to play the sport?' she asks. 'It's so violent.' Behind her, a male player chats with one female admirer while surreptitiously groping the backside of another. A drink is spilled, but no one notices. John Kirwan, the number 14 who has become an All Black institution - 'the best winger in the world,' some say - approaches a young American woman who has joined Marist during her two-month stay in New Zealand. He towers over her. He, too, wants to know why she plays rugby. 'And don't give me any of that feminist bullshit,' he adds curtly over the noise of the hired band. She seems puzzled by the question. 'I love the game,' she answers. Her reason is almost depressingly logical - why else would women subject themselves to such an under-appreciated role? - but Kirwan refuses to accept this response and insists on further justification. 'I don't believe in women's rugby,' he says. 'Why don't you leave something to us?' . . . The band is soon replaced by someone's CD collection, and Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing comes on during the fraternising and flirtation. Meanwhile, the American is having an animated conversation with a New Zealander who is also the former coach of the Dartmouth College women's rugby team. 'I was sceptical at first too,' he is explaining. 'I was like a lot of the guys here. I couldn't stand the idea of smart, attractive girls going out on the field to rough up their faces and bodies.' The coach seems delighted to have fallen on someone who can relate to his overseas experience and will appreciate his change of heart. 'Isn't it great,' he raves a bit drunkenly but with admirable intentions, 'that you and I can have an intelligent conversation about the game, and I can ask you things like do you use your outside shoulder on a tackle and how do you run your lines, without bringing sex into it?'
'Rugby mad' Ming Nagel's reminiscences of her time with the Marist Old Boys women's rugby team in Auckland, New Zealand, published in the American zine Girljock - slogan 'Fuck the well of loneliness, good-bye to all that. We're here to have fun'. The Marist women's team was unbeaten last year, with four of its players representing the national women's team.
"Jackdaw." Guardian [London, England] 31 July 1995