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Historic match for Cambridgeshire can be a pathway to a bright future

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Cambridgeshire women's team made history in their first match when beating Norfolk. Picture: Steve Wells (54318413)
Cambridgeshire women's team made history in their first match when beating Norfolk. Picture: Steve Wells (54318413)

Anna Stodter believes that a history-making Cambridgeshire team can create a pathway to high performance opportunities for women’s rugby in the region.

The inaugural Tri-Counties Women’s Championship kicked off last Friday as the county women’s side played their first match, and beat Norfolk 20-19 at Shelford Rugby Club.

It is a maiden season for Cambs, who had paired with Suffolk to take on Norfolk in the Eastern Counties President’s Cup match last August, which was a memorial game for those in rugby affected by Covid.

But now they have gone it alone.

“I think the men’s competition has run like this for a fair while, whereas in women’s rugby it’s been Eastern Counties, which is Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk combined,” said Stodter, who is the Cambs head coach and is assisted by Nicky Goddard.

“In recent years, there was a desire to create more of a pathway for players so then they can play for their individual county first as a pathway towards Eastern Counties representation.

“It just creates more high performance opportunities for women in the region, and the chance to play with other players from Cambridgeshire, be coached by different coaches and learn some new things.

“Hopefully, the idea is that it will begin to raise the standards of women’s rugby in Cambridgeshire and Eastern Counties as well.”

Women’s rugby in the county has been growing in strength in recent years.

Shelford lead on the club side of things with two women’s teams, while Cambridge are in the process of starting a new side.

Stodter is a senior lecturer in sports coaching and physical education at Anglia Ruskin University and a coach with Cambridge University RUFC, and both have players coming through the systems.

“It’s great that we’ve got a couple of universities in the region which means that you will have younger players coming through, or even players that haven’t had a chance to take up rugby until they get to university,” she said.

“You’ve got a constant refresh of new players coming in, and you’ve also got the balance with quite a big established club like Shelford.

“I know that Cambridge Rugby Club are also really keen to establish a women’s team, and they’re pushing that hard at the moment.

“They’ve got a squad of under-18s that they are hoping to progress as well. I think there is definitely a desire to improve, with a balance of senior players, university players and junior players coming through.

“I think that makes the time right to go on the momentum and hopefully it will only be a positive thing for the standards in Cambridgeshire.

“I have lived here for six years now, and as a player I was at Saracens and that was the nearest high performance club to Cambridgeshire, and that’s not very near.

“I think it would be very good if we can use this as a way to push the standards up, and keep getting better so there are more opportunities for women to play at a higher level in Cambridgeshire.”

Two tries from Maggie Simpson and one apiece from Leanne Robinson and Jess Norris secured Cambs’ win, with Norfolk scoring a converted try with the last play of the game.

“This was our first Tri-Counties Women’s Championship match, which was really exciting to be part of,” said Stodter.

“Shelford did a great job of hosting the match, and also promoting it to get a good crowd down to watch.

“It was an exciting game as well, it was a very close scoreline so it was a good spectacle for women’s rugby in the region, definitely.”

Cambridgeshire’s next match is scheduled to be against Suffolk at Bury St Edmunds on Friday, February 11, 7.30pm.

Cambridge launched their women’s open rugby training last Wednesday (January 19) at the Grantchester Road at 7pm. Those interested can just attend on the evening or, for more information, email womensrugby@crufc.co.uk.

Cambridgeshire team: Rose; Poppitt, Norris, Simpson, Bushrod; Gisbourne, Marks; Howell, Hicks, James, Macmillan-Jones, Robinson, Bradshaw, Sonnen, Scowen. Replacements: Harris, Thomaz, Hogg, Jobson, Duffy, Segrave, Pebody, Chodorowski.

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