Hills Road Sixth Form College are schooling the new generation of rugby player
Women's rugby is proving a hit with students
Starting a new venture always brings with it risks, the main one being will there be any interest in the project.
Taking up a new sport is therefore even more of a task, and a far harder sell.
If you then add in the target market, teenagers, the challenge increases.
Fortunately, the appetite to introduce a women’s rugby team at Hills Road Sixth Form College has proved to be a roaring success.
Girls’ and women’s rugby is a target area for the RFU, and the Inner Warrior campaigns have been introducing more and more players to the sport.
The idea for starting a women’s rugby team at Hills Road came through the governing body deciding to focus the distribution of money of to try to promote more participants in the sport in every way; through schools, colleges, clubs.
Whereas before regional representatives of the RFU had selected colleges, schools or clubs for funding, the results were analysed but it was not producing the statistics they required.
It led to a Focus Colleges programme being launched, aimed at developing rugby within the further education sector, and they wanted to select 21 at first, with anyone able to apply.
Hills Road knew they were able to fulfil many of the key performance indicators, but not all of them – and women’s rugby was one of the missing ingredients.
“We said we would start a team if we got the designation, so we started the women’s rugby last September,” said Adrian Medd, the team’s coach.
The college runs an enrichment activities designed to broaden the A-level programme and at a taster day, the option was provided to sign up for women’s rugby.
Eighteen players put their names down to take part, and 14 still remain, with newcomers also joining along the way.
“From a standing start, it’s pretty impressive,” said Medd.
“Maybe four or five maximum had played a little bit at secondary school, but that was pretty much the extent of it.
“It was just girls who had seen a bit of rugby on TV, and they all thought it was a sport they could enjoy. Quite a few of them had played other sports, volleyball, netball, things like that so one of the very encouraging things from day one was that they could all catch and pass.
“They knew about finding space so we were quite quickly able to get them to a point where we could engage in rugby games. That really brought them on as appreciating how the game is played.”
Medd has been coaching rugby at Hills Road for four years.
He instructed the boys’ team, with firstly Rory Finlayson and then Gareth Streeter, but has now focused on implementing the girls’ team with the assistance of Lizell Heather, a player with Shelford Ladies, and Cambridge centre Albert Portsmouth.
“The girls have brought into it very quickly,” said Medd. “Having those two other coaches has been absolutely invaluable because we’ve been able to make the sessions lively and enjoyable with all the stuff the RFU put in their coaching manuals.
“As a result, all of these girls have been eligible to sign up for the East Region team for the national finals in Nottingham in April. We were asked, because of the numbers we’ve got, to be the mainstay of the team.
“Long Road have three of their girls in the squad, there is one from Peterborough and a couple from Palmers in Essex but the rest are Hills Road girls.
“We’ll be able to develop them between now and April to the point that hopefully we will be able to put up a decent performance at that tournament.”
Unlike the boys at Hills Road, the girls’ team did not have timetabled periods for training and matches so have given up time after college on Tuesdays and lunchtime on Thursdays to train.
Given the success though, it means that girls’ rugby will be offered as a fully-fledged enrichment topic in the new academic year.
The interest also falls in line with one of the aims of funding for the Focus College programme, which is to help players transition from further education into university rugby and the local clubs.
Nine of the Hills Road players have been along to the recent sessions of the newly-launched under-18s team at Cambridge Rugby Club – meeting the criteria that the RFU wanted to see the link between colleges and clubs.
The next step along the development path is matches, as Hills Road have yet to play a full contact match, instead playing some small-sided, sevens matches in inter-college games at Cambridge University’s Grange Road.
“We’ve had to be careful because a lot of the new girls at the colleges as well haven’t had a lot of contact training,” said Medd.
“Our objective between now and April is to actually get competitive games for the girls.
“I’ve been in touch with clubs to see if we can get an under-18s fixture against them, and also with the help from Tim Reed, the RFU area coordinator, we would hope to play other composite teams to provide some proper matches.
“They have got one good fixture coming up in March as there is a Canadian touring side coming over, and they are bringing an under-16 boys’ group and an under-19 girls’ group, and Cambridge is one of the venues for a game that will be played at Shelford under their lights on their new 4G pitch in the evening.
“All our girls will be involved with that, with a mixture of others in the Cambridge under-18 group and the other girls playing in the national championships.”
So it may still be early days, but Medd is delighted with how women’s rugby has taken off at Hills Road.
“It’s been a great thing and the girls love it,” he said. “I didn’t think we’d get that number right at the beginning and we’ve been good at retaining them.
“We’ve had girls coming along mid-season saying can I join the rugby club; we just encourage it.”