Tuesday, 1 December 1998

Interview with Paula Chamlers (Scotland)


HENRY COOPER may have spoken for chauvinist swine the world over recently when he said something to the effect that women belong in the boudoir rather than the boxing ring.

What says Paula Chalmers, skipper and scrum-half of the Scottish ladies side who play Spain in a friendly in Madrid on Saturday while their male counterparts meet the same nation in a World Cup qualifier at Murrayfield?

Put it this way: Paula does not argue against the prerogative of her gender to infiltrate whatever area they wish of the sporting province regarded hitherto as being for men only.

But the chances of this 26-year-old from Melrose ever wanting to go 12 rounds are about as great as those of Joe Bugner, still fighting in his late 40s, applying belatedly to join a ballet school.

'I relish some man saying to me that I shouldn't be playing rugby,' she says assertively. 'I'd like to hear his argument. Women play football, they play baseball and softball. Why not rugby? It's not as if they're playing against men. It's women versus women and it's all fair.

'Women's boxing? Er, no. I watched on television an interview with the girl who was boxing in Edinburgh on Friday night. She was talking about hitting people in the face. I thought, och, none of that.

'I don't even like boxing for men, to be honest. I don't really know why anyone would want to go into a ring and take hits on the face while trying to smash their opponent. It can't be good.

You wouldn't get me in there, anyway.' Paula, if you didn't know or hadn't guessed, is the sister of one of Scotland's most celebrated rugby players, Craig. She knows the hurt which can be caused, even in their game, although it seems unimaginable for her to inflict any other than by accident.

'You're trying to play the ball in rugby,' she points out.

'You're trying to get that ball over the other side's line and, if it's at all possible, trying to miss out on any contact.

Rugby doesn't have to be hash-bash. It can be skilful.' So there's the difference, articulated by one whose support of women's rights in sport does not stretch quite so far that she would argue with the aforementioned Henry Cooper on the topic of their perceived excesses.

Paula may be feminist, a women of the 90s, but she is unmistakably feminine with it and, dare this be said, looks like Tinkerbell when matched up to some of these towering specimens of womenhood with whom she shares a field.

She plays rugby, by the way, with the full approval of her boyfriend, Mark Moncrieff, although that may not be such a great surprise. He, after all, plays himself; on the wing for Melrose.

It is hardly a surprise, either, to learn that she was introduced to the game, in a playful kind of way, with Craig throwing a ball to her when they were kids in the Borders.

'Rugby has always been in our family,' says Paula, who works in the sales division of a software firm in Galashiels. 'Craig played from an early age; the minis, midis, or whatever they were called then.

'But I progressed to playing hockey because women's rugby still wasn't that big at the time.' Paula, in fact, played hockey well enough to win two caps for Scotland some three years ago. Then, with the other game beginning to burgeon, she had to decide which of the two was better for her to pursue.

'Rugby seemed the greater prospect in that it had more potential for me to get into the side and get regular games,' she reveals.

'I still play club hockey for Melrose, turning out on a Saturday when available because rugby is played on a Sunday.' What did Craig, four years Paula's senior, make of her sporting conversion? She confesses that, initially, he seemed keener that she stick in at hockey. Why was he hesitant?

She is somewhat hesitant about answering the question, admitting: 'Maybe it was because rugby was quite a new sport among women.

'When it first started, it was played just at universities and, well, I don't like to say this, but it was more a sort of ...' She doesn't want to say it may have been more a sort of, er, butch person playing it. But we can gather that's what she means as she passes beyond the unspoken by adding: 'There are so many girls playing rugby now that it's just another sport. The game has widened, the skill level is away up.

'It's not just about big girls running about making hits. Some of them can kick the ball as well as men.

Some can pass it as well as men.

'The skill at international level is probably better than that at second or third level of men's rugby.

'It has improved so much and I think my brother can recognise that now and appreciate women's rugby for what it is. Mark is 100 per cent behind me and always constructive in his criticism. He even comes to our games when he can.

Another of our team, Alex Shepherd, goes out with Derek Stark. Through him, she'll come to training with a new move which the Caley Reds have been working on, so the support we get is great. I've not really met anybody who is anti women's rugby.' Paula, Alex and four others in their team to face the Spaniards play for Murrayfield Wanderers, a club which grew out of a fusion of women from Edinburgh Wanderers and Heriot Watt.

They are reigning Scottish champions as well as cup winners these last four seasons and Paula's latest international appearance, her first as captain, counts as number 13 following her debut against Wales less than two years ago.

She must enjoy the rough and tumble even though her fair countenance doesn't bear a bruise far less a scar. Or does she? 'Ask any of my team-mates,' Paula confesses, 'and they'll tell you I'm the one who takes the least contact in games.

'But it is quite hard and you do get some big hits. There are some big girls out there and a few late tackles. I'm not a greedy player, preferring to use the players around me.

'I just kind of slotted in at scrum-half because I wasn't big enough for the scrum or fast enough for the three-quarters. Touch wood, I've steered clear of any serious injury.

Craig hasn't been so lucky.' Nor is he quite so lucky at the moment, out of the Scottish men's squad while Paula is very much an integral part of the women's. His wee sister must feel a mite sympathetic. 'He'll be back, I'm sure he will,' she says supportively.

'He never gives up. If he'd given up the first time he was passed over by Scotland, he'd never have got half the caps he has. He's never say die.' Yet Paula can't resist aiming a playful dig at her big brother by pointing out that the honour of being Scotland captain has never been his and adding jocularly: 'I always have a laugh with him, saying that I'm a dual internationalist, what are you? He says he might take up bowls when he finishes with rugby, just to get a cap at another sport.'

Source Citation
"Rugby fair game for this sister act." Daily Mail [London, England] 1 Dec. 1998