Friday, 11 October 1996

"How to play rugby"


In the beginning there was rugby for the boys, in the Seventies women played it for fun, and in 1983 women's rugby officially arrived with the affiliation of 12 all-female sides to the RFU. Participation has grown 30-fold since then - time to take these ladies seriously.

How to do it

There are no girlie concessions. women's rugby rules are identical to men's.


One of the fastest-growing women's sports. There are around 300 women's rugby clubs in the UK, with 220 in England alone. Around 10,000 women and an increasing number of girls play in the UK. Sexes are segregated from 12 years old.

What you should look like

Brian Moore and Rob Andrew are hardly identical, are they? In the same way, and contrary to popular belief, female rugby players are big on strength and fitness, not necessarily as big as beefcakes.

Celebrity players

Not yet. Media attention has been too small for a Sally Gunnell of the rugby world to emerge.

Where to do it

Most women's teams are linked to men's clubs (often on inferior or badly lit pitches) or aligned to college and university teams.

Contact for courses

The SRFU in Scotland looks after women's rugby. In England the RFUW looks after itself: contact 01635 278177 or 01234 261521 for details of clubs and training. In Wales contact the WWRU (01633 220249); in Ireland the IWRU (01 288 9146). Rather than signing up for courses you should pitch up at a club and muck in. There are also schemes for coach and referee training.

What to say

'Wrap em up man'; 'You're in for a boshing'; 'Give it some big welly.'

Kate Herbert

Source Citation
"Women's rugby." Guardian [London, England] 11 Oct. 1996

Hot Pursuits: Mud, sweat and tears - Jill Turner tackles the tough reality of women's rugby

The first person I see when I turn up at Richmond Football Club in London to try my hand at women's rugby is a girl with her arm in a sling. This does not look good. 'What happened?' I ask. 'Oh, I had an operation on the ligaments.' 'Not a rugby injury then,' I say with relief. 'Oh yes. My shoulder kept falling out, dislocating,' she says brightly, 'so I had this done to pull it all together again.' Yes, rugby union chicks are hardy lasses. But contrary to popular belief, rugby-playing women do not look like Brian Moore with long hair. In fact many of the women's squad at Richmond RFC are pretty and petite, some even with pretty pink gum shields.

But ladylike they are not, at least not out on the pitch. In reflection of this the coach, JD, refers to them as 'guys'. Down here on the park femininity is purely effeminate.'Come on guys,' JD yells as we trot up and down, 'put a bit of pace into it.' This is okay, a bit of running about, I think. But it is only the start. Introducing the ball makes things a lot more complicated. Passing behind, passing over people's heads, passing and skipping round the back of a player to receive the ball before passing again.

'Talk to each other guys!' This doesn't mean have a little chat. This means scream someone's name and then hurl the ball ferociously at their guts.

'Always stay behind the ball, be back from the person who's passing to you,' Sophie the scrum-half tells me as I go haring off potentially handing penalties to the opposition. Still, apart from that, passing and catching goes quite well. I don't drop the ball. This I'm told is called having 'good hands'.

Tackling practice comes next. I'm expected to launch myself into the air at a large inflated column rather like a punchbag. 'Annihilate him at the ankles,' yells JD. I do my best and end up on my face in the mud with a very sore side. 'Nice job,' says JD. I'm flattered.

I always thought rugby players wore gum shields to protect their teeth from flying fists. I find out the hard way that they're worn because, when tackling, you are likely to drive your front teeth hard into your bottom lip. I now have the fat mouth to prove it.

Tackling a person turns out to be much harder than tackling a bag. At 5ft 7in, with a swimmer's broad shoulders, I'm not a small girl, and many of the Richmond ladies are tinier than me. But tackling a woman is strangely painful. The key is to go in with your shoulder, grab them round the thighs and lean on them as they go down, using them to cushion your fall. Women are supposed to be lighter and, well, softer, than men, but in this situation they're not.

Women's rugby is just like men's rugby really. Lots of yelling, swearing, mud, sweat and collisions. Even the changing room has a masculine atmosphere - communal showers, hearty banter, women walking around in unselfconscious states of undress.

Although the female sex sometimes looks with indulgence at male stupidity in running around after a piece of inflated leather, they too can be capable of such single-minded foolishness. When you're out there, you don't worry that it might be a comical and pointless exercise. You just care about getting that ball forward.

But soon it begins to pour with rain. Hot bodies start to steam, and my enthusiasm dampens. The woman with the sling is watching from the touchline. 'Perfect rugby weather,' she says beaming. I'm cold, I'm bruised, I have mud on my legs, in my hair, in my ears, in my mouth and all over my face.

And now I'm going to get soaked as well. Behind me the injured player is relishing every moment, wishing she was out there again. I begin to wonder for her sanity.

Later, in a welcome hot bath, I reflect that there are two things that surprised me about rugby. Firstly, it's so complicated. There are so many things to remember - always get behind the ball, don't get on your knees when picking it up from the ground, and so on - nearly 180 pages of rules. Not a sport for the witless.

The second was that it's actually quite fun. Despite a fat lip and being soaked through, I'd had quite a good time. Everyone accepts that boys will be boys and enjoy mucking about getting scraped and bruised. But what's often overlooked is that the girls used to enjoy a bit of rough and tumble, and some occasionally still do. Oh, and there's a major fringe benefit in taking up women's rugby. After training, the clubhouse is always full of players from the men's team.

Jill Turner played rugby at Richmond Football Club. Telephone: 0181-332 7112.

Source Citation
"Hot Pursuits: Mud, sweat and tears - Jill Turner tackles the tough reality of women's rugby." Guardian [London, England] 11 Oct. 1996

RFUW appoints first professional adminstrator

David Hands

WOMEN'S rugby, one of the game's greatest growth areas over the past decade, gained its first professional administrator yesterday when Nicky Ponsford was appointed development officer by the Rugby Football Union for Women. The appointment of Ponsford, the Saracens and England hooker, is believed to be the first of its kind in the world.

Ponsford, who fulfilled a similar role for the Welsh Yachting Association, will be based at the De Montfort University, Bedford. The creation of the post has been made possible by a Sports Council grant of Pounds 45,000 for each of the next four years and Ponsford, 29, will be able to tap into the technical and material resources available from the Rugby Football Union.

"My aim is to bridge the gap between mini and senior rugby and improve opportunities for girls," she said.

Copyright (C) The Times, 1996


Ponsford: first professional

Source Citation
"New role for Ponsford; Rugby Union." Times [London, England] 11 Oct. 1996