The team at London Scottish firmly believe in trying to offer girls rugby as an opportunity to all comers whether you are new to the game and want to learn a sport in a friendly environment or have aspirations to go on and play at the highest possible level.
So, what is the structure of girls’ rugby and what do the players think of being involved with London Scottish? We look at both of these below.
The female game in England has a clear structure with the foundation being girls club rugby played in three distinct age bands; U13 (school years 7 & 8), U15 (years 9 & 10) and U18 (years 11, 12 & 13). At London Scottish we have been running a girls’ section for the last 6 seasons.
The next stage in the girls’ pathway is representative County rugby which takes place over a roughly 6 week period in the structured RFU playing calendar and involves inter-county fixtures. As a Middlesex affiliated club most girls from London Scottish are aligned with Middlesex but as we are geographically close to the border, some players are also qualified for Surrey by residence. Currently, two girls are playing with Surrey and a further 10 are in the Middlesex squad.
Players that show excellent aptitude and development potential when working in the U18 level county squads can be nominated to trial for a place at one the regional Centres of Excellence based in each of the 10 Women’s Premiership teams. Six London Scottish players are currently training with the Richmond Centre of Excellence which aims to provide a stepping stone to the next stage of player development with opportunities to get a taste for senior rugby (from the age of 17) through the Richmond Development team which plays in the Premiership Development League.
Beyond the Centres of Excellence, the pathway can lead to the England Talent Development Group which is effectively the wider the training squad for the England U20 Women’s team. So far, one London Scottish player (Freya) has been accepted into this squad and is getting regular game time with Richmond Development team to aid this progression.
Supporting this player development, London Scottish Director of Rugby, Dave Morris, is arranging for pro players to assist with specialist coaching with the Centre of Excellence players.
This is the continuation and extension of a collaboration over several years between the London Scottish Girls section and the Richmond Women’s team which aims to ensure that any player moving up from junior to senior rugby has the potential to continue playing on familiar territory at Richmond Athletic Ground.
We asked Dave Morris about the girls’ development and he said;
“The club is incredibly proud of our girls’ pathway. We have truly outstanding volunteers supported by coaching from the professional players who collectively have created an inclusive, safe, fun and development focused environment.”
“Freya Aucken is an exceptional talent who is very committed to both the London Scottish Girls and Touch programmes. The club is fully committed to supporting talent development and we have worked closely with coaching staff from Tyrell’s Premiership side Richmond to ensure Freya’s playing and training programme is optimal for her development. Part of our support has been to invite Freya to the Lensbury to access the support from the professional side. This has included nutritional advice and specialist scrum half coaching from 1st XV players Grayson Hart and Josh Barton.
My sincere thanks go to everyone at London Scottish who help support and develop our players at all levels.”
To find out what the players themselves think, we asked a number of the girls in the squad for their views.
Juliette has been playing with the U18 squad for the past two seasons, we asked her what the difference had been this season?
“I feel like the reason we’ve been so much more successful this season is because we’ve changed from a bunch of decent players into an actual team. The coaching has really helped us develop not just individual skills but new maps and set plays which we’ve been able to use in games. Also, we just have so many more players and we can field a full team and subs, which hopefully show that the profile of the sport has been raised”.
“Being part of this squad means so much to me. It’s shown me that I can be a crucial member of a team even if I’m not the best player,and seeing how we’ve progressed makes me so proud of the whole squad as the effort they’ve put in to get us to where we are is phenomenal. I couldn’t have asked for a better team to get into this sport with, as these girls really embody all the best bits of rugby”.
Becca has played mini rugby at London Scottish and then moved on to junior girls’ rugby. We asked her about the transition.
“Transitioning from minis was very smooth and easy as I had other girls moving up with me. It was different to playing with the boys because it meant the rules slightly changed but it was quite easy to adapt to the slightly changed game. It was a useful experience playing with older girls because it meant that my development was much quicker and I learnt a lot more off of them. It was a nice environment to move up into and everyone was very supportive”.
Sydney joined the squad at the start of the season having never played rugby before. How have you found it?
“I have loved it all really. I didn’t think I was going to feel such a part of a team and develop such a strong love for the sport this quickly. I don’t feel new at all even though it’s been 6 months”.
“The biggest challenge was catching up on everything that I didn’t know and learn things so quickly. I think I played my first match within 4 training sessions and I felt so unprepared and was just running round trying to pretend like I knew anything! But training and practice made it really easy to learn and now I don’t feel this at all”.
Kira also joined the squad at the start of this season but looking for competitive U18 rugby having played U15 at another club. How have you found the transition?
“It was a big step up for someone my age/ size but it was a challenge I’ve enjoyed and it’s helped massively in the development of my game play and experience”.
And what do you like most about playing at London Scottish Kira?
“We’re in everything as a team. We celebrate as a team, we lose as a team and we enjoy every moment of it together”.
Freya has been playing at London Scottish since mini rugby days and has progressed on to be selected for the England Talent Development Group. We asked Freya how the squad had developed since she first moved to girls’ rugby from minis 6 years ago.
“The development since I’ve joined is incredible. We’ve gone from playing 2v2 touch games, to a whole squad that has the quality to reach the area cup final and only lose 1 game the whole season. The development is insane”.
And what opportunities have contributed to your personal development?
“Being the ball team for the Rugby World Cup 2015 at Wembley Stadium exposed me to a new level of the game, along with having a first team player as the coach really influenced my knowledge of the game. Also, being able to train and play with Richmond women has given me more opportunities to work on my individual skills and how I play as a whole”.