The evolution of womens rugby - Green and Gold Rugby
Women's Rugby

The evolution of womens rugby

The evolution of womens rugby

SPOILER ALERT: Game of Thrones reference ahead!

In the latest episode of GOT everyone’s favourite female badass Arya Stark uttered the words I’ve been thinking for 38 years; “I’m not a lady, I never have been, that’s not me”. It got me thinking about the change I have seen in women’s rugby and the place of women in rugby clubs and the rugby community in the last 12 years. How we’ve evolved from “ladies bring a plate” to simply women who play rugby and should be considered like any other player on the books.

Women have always been involved in football clubs; on the committee, in the canteen, junior club uber driver, doing the hard, unseen jobs each week. Some of my experiences with men in rugby clubs has been coloured by this. That is how they have seen women contribute around clubs all their lives and therefore what they are used to. What they were not used to is seeing women in the jersey, boots on, covered in mud and blood. The transition between being the ladies of the club to being rugby players who happen to be women is a funny thing and not always easy.

Women are now hot property. If you have a women’s team at your club the funding options open up, from local councils to sponsors. Buildcorp lead the way here; they don’t sponsor a club that doesn’t have a women’s team. Having a women’s team can help you earn points in the club competition and help boost your junior numbers. If mum’s playing at the club so is little Johnny, Jake and Junior. But now you have a women’s team who don’t fit into the mould of other teams at the club and that takes some thinking about.

Girls Sevens at Narrabeen 2014  - Photo credit Paul Seiser

Girls Sevens at Narrabeen 2014 – Photo credit Paul Seiser

Some of those things range from the simple like the change rooms and all their open doors and urinals to the trickier conversation of how do we keep some of our less savoury club traditions without ending up on the front page of the newspaper. One of my favourite evolving tradition is the ‘ladies day’. The day which traditionally the players’ wives and girlfriends were treated to cupcakes, cocktails and usually some sort of nail treatment as a way of saying ‘thank you for letting us have your boyfriend every Saturday in winter’. But now your club has a women’s team? How does ‘ladies day’ work? Some clubs have been known to flat out refuse to invite the women’s team to ladies day or have scheduled the activities while the women’s team are on the field or even playing away. The argument being it’s for the ‘lady supporters’ of the club not the players. Some clubs have embraced the women’s team in joining in ‘ladies day’ with mixed results. I’ve been to a few where the women’s team enjoyed themselves a little too much at the bar and were not asked back, but I’ve also been to one where we managed to recruit a WAG into playing.

Another of my favourite awkward evolving moment is the male coach who has been coaching the ‘boys’, ‘lads’, ‘fella’s’ all his life gets involved with the women’s team and has no idea what term to use. ‘Ladies’ gets a run a lot and it drives a few of us crazy; it’s an old fashioned term that makes me feel like I should be doing needlework and worrying if my cakes will rise. Don’t get me wrong, I often worry about my cakes not rising and can knit you a woolly beanie with a pom pom on top. But I also love playing rugby and all the aggressive physicality that goes along with that. When I’m wearing boots and you want to give me a rev up it’s probably not best to remind me that I am supposed to be the fairer sex by using the word ‘lady’.

So what is the correct term? It’s variable I guess between each person and team but it my opinion, if you would call a men’s team ‘boys’ then the women’s equivalent is ‘girls’. Although an old coach of mine who would get excited on the sideline, forget and scream ‘come on boys’ anyway.


Buildcorp – strong believers in women’s rugby

The change in title has flowed through to the marketing department too. All the elite women’s leagues around Australia, rightly or wrongly, have a W attached to the title not an L; Super W, AFLW, NRLW, WBBL, WNBL, W League. The Super W trophy is actual a large metallic W, just in case you might have been confused!

Anyway getting back to Arya, I believe she is standing on the shoulders of giants who have gone before her. There have been countless women battling through wades of white walkers, or men of a certain age at rugby clubs for decades. Pushing their case, making the contribution to the club on the field and not just at the pie warmer. Women who have helped make the changes around the clubs that I now notice. The “women’s grade” who aren’t just seen as the token team at the bottom of the run sheet but one of the premier teams at the club. There’s still plenty of ground to cover and a lot change to come. However, to quote Arya again, she once uttered that “the world doesn’t just let girls decide what they’re going to be”. I bet she doesn’t believe that now and I don’t either when it comes to how a woman wants to be involved with rugby.


  • I was listening to a lovely old dear, clearly shocked on the sidelines last weekend, no doubt someones grandmother asked down to watch the girls game.
    “Well thats NOT very ladylike!” about 15 seconds in…

    No matter, by halftime she was yelling and cheering just like everyone else, with the occasional obsenity thrown in for good measure.
    About bloody time is all I can say.


      That’s awesome!

  • T.edge

    Great write up AnneMarie. Really interesting listing some of the challenges you face at the Clubs. I met my wife through this great game and was thinking about the women she played with and the professions they’ve carved out in law, medicine, government, etc. No mens team I’ve been involved in had as many professionals in their respective profession as I witnessed from this women’s team in South Australia. Must be intelligent to play this game. I’m sure they all had to turn up to the court room,etc with Black Eyes and Corkys in the thigh from the weekends game but wouldn’t have it any other way. Now you have them all contributing to this surge in participation in the Rugby in SA with Womens numbers going through the roof with people like Kim Evans leading the way with the Adelaide Uni 7’s. It’s great to see.

  • Gun

    Interesting article Annemarie. I’ll have to stop calling the girls at the gym ladies! I am in my 50s though. As a young fella in groups of military or sporting people you get called gents or gentleman a lot. I think part of it is bringing a certain code of conduct violence.


      Mate I think your in for a shock soon. The titles Girls,ladies and women won’t cut it unless your calling someone by their preferred pronoun. Punishable by LAW! Slam your head in the gym door and get it over n done with…..

  • David Creagh

    I am proud to say that my club firmly supports the Women’s teams. Ladies Day on Saturday saw the Second Grade side moved to the second oval so the girls could play on the main oval, all grades and colts wore pink socks to celebrate the occasion. Our women are also the most successful side in the club winning several premierships and contributing a number of state and national players. We also appointed the first female club captain:

    On the down side, if I turn up to work with a black eye on Monday people assume it is because I play rugby. A girl I know who also plays rugby, if she turns up with a black eye she gets told to “cover it up” or “you should dob him into the cops (or words to that effect)”. I think it would be great if that attitude changed.

  • nmpcart

    Great article. The junior girls game is definitely growing, we are seeing more and more girls interested in playing the game as 7’s and there are some great athletes amongst them so hopefully they will continue on to be part of women’s 15 a side teams at the clubs when they are older.

  • Who?

    Great article AnnMarie. I’m disengaged from my club at present, but I was very pleased that our club was always one looking to increase female participation, looking to develop partnerships to create pathways, and was part of a region that was pioneering in the women’s game – especially in Women’s 7’s. In fact, I note the post from T.Edge below and its reference to SA leading in Women’s 7’s. One of the senior leaders in the game down there worked in my region before transferring down, and arguably his proudest legacy was that he managed to win a significant government grant specifically tied to developing Women’s 7’s, just as women’s participation in all sports was just starting to become a government priority.
    That said, I can more that readily agree that men – especially men of a certain age – have often found it easy to slip into traditional roles and stereotypes, and further into them each year. I’m pleased to read that there’s progress, and that my thoughts aren’t as backwards as some (not saying I’m perfect, but I couldn’t understand why a ‘Ladies Day’ shouldn’t have women’s matches as the feature event(s), with any bubbly festivities starting after that – it’s celebrating all women in the game, so why not women who play the game as well as those who support the game off the field?). Hopefully everyone currently in leadership can learn to better listen to women, and, hopefully, we’ll see more women in top leadership roles. In my time in administration, I saw a few great club secretaries, but no club presidents. Which disappointed me. Because running a club isn’t about know how to scrum, it’s about management, organisation and leadership. Those aren’t gendered skills. And plenty of presidents had no more playing experience than those great female club secretaries.
    Lastly, I’ve got to say, I saw plenty of juniors who were girls. And they were mostly like boys, except there was less mental middle ground with them. Boys, you saw them from scared, disinterested, reluctant, gentle, engaged, enthusiastic through to tough. Girls, you didn’t get the middle ground – it was terrified or terrifying. Nothing else! I had one older coach say to me the best player in his entire small (but well established) club was a young girl (coachable, tough, hardworking, talented). That young girl made the scariest tackle I ever witnessed. Tracked down one poor boy who had no idea she was coming, he thought he was under the posts, she hit him across the kidneys are full pace. I’ll never forget how his neck snapped back, and how hard he hit the ground… She was truly a little champion, often the only reason her teams didn’t concede 100 every outing and the only reason they put on any points. And I expect to see her in Gold in about 7 years.

  • Good idea gtqr

    Bit of advertising wouldnt go astray also.
    Speaking of cultural things, from the viewpoint of a country rugby club that couldnt raise enough girls to play 7’s, to seeing 5 AFLW local clubs appear overnight..
    Not being negative, more trying to come up with a better ideas.

    More female coaches would be needed for school girls, I feel not many males would be keen, or welcomed.


      I’ll be honest and admit I think it would be a MASSIVE boost to the survivability of Girls and then Women in sports if at a very high level EARLY in the process they introduce some social “science” into their systems. It’s ignorant to assume that males and females will want, like, perform and a multitude of other facets at anything close to the same level. Science tells us for eg, females in general are more nurturing orientated and boys things like working and providing! Similar to Who’s earlier post it also shows us in general boys mostly fit into the “middle” of for eg a “smarts” table where as the girls will mostly fill both the lower and upper ends of these sorts of scales! In fact from what I read it’s like that for nearly everything bar physical parameters!
      To sum it up….. I hope they realize that things like “ladies” day may be more about MOST females preferring to dress up for the day while MOST men may prefer to watch a rugby game! Same thing in schools, expecting the same amounts of girls as boys wanting to play amateur and then professional may not be a reality!
      Who knows maybe that idea is flawed in today’s society but it makes sense to me…..

      • All ideas are flawed.
        That is until they show themselves accurate.
        Having several girls of varying ages playing it all very interesting

        • GO THE Q REDS

          What will you do with your girls when the very inevitable scene comes to pass where Trans boys join their teams or opposing teams. You happy for science to be ignored so that girls and women get smashed by larger stronger men…. Just as is happening in track n field atm? I thing rugby should get in early and stop that confusion.

        • Haven’t the answers gtqr.
          A few precedents set already across different sports, I guess we’ll just have to abide by whatever the law ends up stating.
          As far as the science goes… If I disagree with rulings I’ll pull out.
          My morals count at the end of the day, at least to me.

        • GO THE Q REDS

          Good call, good for you!

Women's Rugby

Half aussie, half kiwi who was raised in Melbourne so what do I know about rugby? Not a lot but love playing the game and can pretend I know what I'm talking about with the best of them.

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