Tackling rugby: The Hartlepool Mail’s Tracy Walker finds out about the boom in the women’s version of the sport

WHEN I was roped into, I mean asked, by my news editor to try out women’s rugby with Hartlepool Rovers Rugby Club my first reaction was an immediate “no”.

I had instant visions of being bashed about, kicked, elbowed, and coming away with cauliflower ears.

PASS MASTER: Tracy Walker

PASS MASTER: Tracy Walker

But after I said yes, my experience was a lot more gentle, as I tried out touch rugby which has less contact.

Girls can progress on to standard rugby.

I joined a group of five young girls who have been going along to Rovers’ New Friarage ground, in West View Road, for around a year.

I donned a ladies’ team top and took to the pitch, under the guidance of Darren Smith, chairman of the club’s youth section, and coach Matty Lidster.

Tracy Walker with (left to right) Chelsea Fielding, Ellie Rochester, Roisheen O'Callaghan, Kerriann Atkinson and Chantelle Twidale

Tracy Walker with (left to right) Chelsea Fielding, Ellie Rochester, Roisheen O'Callaghan, Kerriann Atkinson and Chantelle Twidale

Doing shuttle runs, it felt just like being the fat kid in PE back at Henry Smith School, but a whole lot unfitter as I struggled to keep up with the youngsters half my age.

And it didn’t help that I went to school with Darren, so the memories of my failure at all things sporty really came flooding back.

Darren was really helpful though in explaining the different moves and tactics.

We had to form two teams of three and pass the ball to each other, moving from one end of the pitch to the other without being ‘tagged’ by an opponent.

Tracy Walker with Darren Smith, Hartlepool Rovers Rugby Club's youth section chairman

Tracy Walker with Darren Smith, Hartlepool Rovers Rugby Club's youth section chairman

This is known as ‘switches’, where players cross over and run behind you to create space.

I had a few stern words from Darren that “this was rugby not netball” when I panicked and hastily did an overarm pass rather than underarm.

At one point I even got chinned by the ball when I wasn’t paying attention, but I did just that and took it on the chin.

We also had a little go at scrumming, but this was more one-on-one, with a player picking up the ball from behind.

Tracy Walker with (left to right) Chelsea Fielding, Chantelle Twidale, Roisheen O'Callaghan, Ellie Rochester and Kerriann Atkinson

Tracy Walker with (left to right) Chelsea Fielding, Chantelle Twidale, Roisheen O'Callaghan, Ellie Rochester and Kerriann Atkinson

The regular girls at the Sunday morning sessions are Hartlepool College of Further Education students Chelsea Fielding, 16, and Kerriann Atkinson, 17, and St Hild’s pupils Chantelle Twidale, 16 and Ellie Rochester, 12, and fellow 12-year-old Dyke House pupil Roisheen O’Callaghan.

Chelsea said: “I enjoy getting out of the house, learning a new sport and making new friends.

“Due to the ages, we can only do touch rugby for now, until we get more to join us.”

Chantelle said: “When I first came I thought it was going to be injuries all the time, but it’s not.”

Coach Matty said: “We are just bringing them into contact now.

“With the mixed age group we have got we haven’t got a big enough team to play contact rugby.

“The main thing at the moment is just to try to get the numbers up.

“These girls are really keen, we have got the core of the team and need to build it up.

“A lot of women think going into rugby is an uncool thing to do, but this group we have at the moment have come through together from the youth centre, and have been asking if they could have a team.”

Darren is going into town schools and trying to recruit females there, especially from Years 7 and 8.

He said: “Women’s rugby seems to be growing around the region.

“There was a recent touch rugby tournament at Houghton and there is another at the end of the month.”

He said there may be a misconception that girls might get hurt, but he said if they are less confident, they can play touch rugby.

“It’s a really good form of fitness,” he added.

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ACCORDING to the Rugby Football Union (RFU), the official governing body of Rugby Union in England, participation in women’s rugby is currently at an all-time high with nearly 14,000 women and girls registered as playing each week.

But in Hartlepool, more females are needed.

The club is having a major push to recruit more female players.

The current team is for Year 7 to college-age girls, but now also hopes to form a senior ladies team.

Its plans received a big boost earlier this month when the newly-refurbished girls’ changing rooms were officially opened.

Darren said: “We already have a core group of enthusiastic female players and while we are constantly looking to increase numbers across all ages, we would particularly like to attract more senior ladies.

“There may be women out there who have played previously and are keen to take to the pitch again, but we would also welcome people with no experience of the game.

“The club is a very welcoming place and we would encourage females to come along and find out more about how they can get involved.”

“The new facilities are a big boost to our plans and I would like to thank club stalwarts Bill and Jeff Dale who have worked tirelessly to refurbish the changing rooms.”

Training is from 12.30pm on Sundays.

Anyone interested can go along to the club or call Darren on 07730 564573.

Alternatively they can email darren_fortythree@hotmail.com