August 27, 2012
When picturing the sport of rugby, most people envisage big, burly men, with big thighs and short necks hitting each other senseless to get over the try line.
Considered a mainly male sport, mostly due to its physical contact, rugby is now being played by lots of women.
Women’s rugby has been around for years, but in Perth it has only just started to come into the limelight.
With the inception of Perth’s first women’s team by Cottesloe Rugby Union club in 1991, teams have since come and gone, with six in this year’s local competition.
Rugby WA competition manager Justin Shakeshaft says there has been an increase of more than 32 per cent in women’s playing numbers since 2011.
“There are a lot of competitive women who want to play a physical contact sport,” Shakeshaft says.
“If it is good enough for the men then it is good enough for the ladies.”
Women’s rugby is still developing in Australia but it has become increasingly popular internationally, making a giant leap forward this year with a women’s seven-a-side competition included in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Former Irish national player Geri Healy started playing in 1997 and says rugby would make a fantastic addition to the Olympics.
“Sevens is an incredibly popular version of the game with the high try counts making it very watchable,” she says.
Healy coaches the Cottesloe women’s team which took to the field one sunny Saturday in August to play against fellow local team the Southern Lionesses.
It was clear from the start that the Lionesses and Cottesloe were two completely different teams.
Southern Lionesses’ assistant coach Glen Trego says most of the girls grew up surrounded by rugby, and wanted to carry on the tradition.
“A lot of them are all mothers and workers [but] they don’t mind to give up their family time to train and play the game,” Trego says.
He says his team has managed to make a lot of headway since the beginning of the season, despite not yet scoring a try.
“At the start everybody was a bit fearful, scared, but now they understand the game and their positions and what job they should do,” he says.
Lionesses’ player Dorothy Savea used to play as a teenager in New Zealand and says she loves the fitness aspect of rugby.
“Most of us are mothers and there’s a majority of different age groups here, and it’s just about the passion, about the people, about the sport,” Savea says.
Fa’afetai Viane, or Tai, 19, also played rugby in New Zealand but had not strapped on the boots since she was 15 because of an injury.
Viane started playing for the Lionesses after moving to Perth last month.
She says she enjoys the physical side of the game despite this being the cause for concern for most people.
“I love it,” she smiles.
“I can take all my anger out.
“Your adrenaline goes up and makes you just want a lot more.
“One hit and you just want to keep going.”
For the first time this year, the girls finally fielded a full team. They were ready to go, with their brand new, crisp rugby jerseys proudly proclaiming ‘Lionesses’ on their backs.
They made their way to the middle of the field, where Cottesloe joined them for a boot check by the referee.
Shortly after, the whistle blew and the game began.
The Cottesloe team, which won the game by 17 points had been around a lot longer than the Lionesses and boasted a much more experienced team.
Healy has coached the Cottesloe team on and off since 2009 and says girls gravitate to rugby because it challenges them physically and mentally.
“It has a place for everyone,” she says.
“Physical attributes that might restrict you in other sports can be your advantage in rugby.”
Healy says rugby is one of the fastest growing women’s sports in the world and the physicality required to play at a serious level negates a casual approach.
“Rugby is like a machine, with all the parts doing their individual jobs to deliver the collective,” she says.
“You can’t have that if half the cogs are there for the beer only!”
Former Wallaroo, and current Cottesloe player, Rebecca Clough says players need to have each other’s backs when you are on the field.
“If you play rugby you have to be serious about it,” she says.
“It’s not for the faint hearted.”
Growing up, Clough watched her brother and cousins playing rugby.
“I wanted to play and asked my dad and he said ‘no! Because you’re not a boy’,” she says.
Now her dad is her biggest fan and inspiration.
“People still have opinions like ‘women shouldn’t play rugby’, ‘it’s a man’s sport’, which is what my dad thought but that quickly changed,” Clough says.
The hope is that in the near future the word ‘rugby’ will conjure up images of hair ties, mouth guards, smaller boots and a scrum full of women.
This story was written and produced by the team at Western Independent.