When you think about rugby, what are the first images that spring to mind?
Big burly men with cauliflower ears and gum shields all rolling around in mud?
What about the pain – the bruises, the flattened noses, the black eyes?
On the face of it, it doesn’t seem like a very attractive sport for ladies. However, there is a group of friendly ladies in Fareham that are looking to change all of that.
They have set up a touch rugby team, called Fareham Hags, and, complete with a pink and black striped kit, are a million miles away from the scary, intimidating stereotype of rugby.
Head coach Kerrie Blackett explains: ‘It is an excellent form of fitness. The girls totally enjoy it. There’s no pressure on them. They come down and enjoy themselves and learn touch rugby.
‘If ladies want to come and join us, all I can say is you won’t get hurt, however you might trip sometimes. There’s no contact involved other than the actual touch, which is between the shoulders and the waist.’
As we talk, the girls are practising. On the next field along, the men’s team grapple in a scrum. The biggest difference that strikes me between the two games, is the speed with which the ladies play.
Touch rugby is quick and because there are no lengthy tussles of strength, no tackling and no rucking, the points soon add up. Kerrie says: ‘The ball is smaller in touch, it is only 4.5 where as in contact rugby it is 5 so it is slightly smaller making it easier to handle. We also don’t scrum, which means that people can play touch without the fear of getting hurt.’
It’s a simple game to play, all that’s needed is a group of friends and a ball. The game is usually played by a group of six and there are no posts needed as players score points by touching down, or putting the ball on the line. One try equals one point.
Because of its lack of contact, anybody of any sex, strength or skill can play. They just need to be able to run. And hold a ball.
The ball is either passed, knocked or handed between players who run or move with the ball in an attempt to gain territorial advantage and score.
Defending players prevent the attacking team from gaining an advantage by touching the ball carrier.
It’s quite straight forward and it’s a sport that the Rugby Football Union are keen to promote ahead of the England hosting the World Cup in 2015.
The dozen or so players at Fareham Hags range from teenagers up to women in their 40s, and everybody has one thing in common – their love of rugby.
They meet at the Fareham Heathens training ground at Cams Alders Recreation Ground in Fareham every Tuesday night.
Player Tara Hall says: ‘I love the team aspect of it, the social side, it’s like a big extended family. It’s a big community and very friendly.’
Tara, 30, is from Bishopsfield Road in Fareham, and starting playing as a way of keeping fit.
She says: ‘It is hard going, a lot of physical exercise, more so in touch rugby as we do a lot of running so it’s hard work. It’s very good for me, I’ve lost a lot of weight doing it.’
Yvonne Dunning is one of the team’s youngest players. At 15 years old, her slim frame means that she can run, and she is quick on her feet. I ask her how it compares with her sports at Neville Lovett School.
She says: ‘I really enjoy it, it’s better than playing rounders at school. We are like one big group of friends, it’s much more fun.’
Jo Hains, ladies’ team manager, adds, ‘It’s not something that women traditionally think about. The more people we can get interested and coming down here and taking part, the quicker we will be able to get the point of having two teams playing all the time, and then maybe we can move on to having a full contact team too. That’s my dream.’
The team has been doing so well in the world of touch, that they came runners-up in their recent festival, playing against five other teams from across Hampshire.
Kerrie says: ‘We were all delighted to come runners-up as we were playing against some teams who had girls in them that usually play contact rugby. We held our own against them, despite their experience and knowledge. We were over the moon with being runners up, maybe next festival we can win.’
The team will start playing festival matches again at the end of September, and as the sport of touch is so rapidly expanding, this time they will be competing against six teams.
The Fareham Hags have also just recruited another three players, taking their total up to 16 players, meaning they have two full teams.
Kerrie says: ‘We are always looking at taking new players on. We provide a two-week free taster session where they can come down and try it out. Again no pressures on them, if they want to join us they can do. After that it’s £2 per session, which I believe is quite a reasonable price for some good fitness, a great social life and for a bit of fun.’
PLANS FOR A FULL CONTACT TEAM
AS A result of their successful summer, the Fareham ladies want to develop a contact team.
Women interested in taking part in full contact games of rugby should go along to the rugby club on a Thursday between 7pm and 8.30pm.
They will be holding slow time, learner-centred contact development sessions based around the tower of power and tackle then moving to breakdown skills. Coach Kerrie Blackett says: ‘We want to become an established team and take it into the league.
‘We have about seven players so far, and it’s not only for beginners but for people who have played contact rugby before and want to get back into the game.’
These sessions are open to over-18s only.
If you would like to take part contact Kerrie on firstname.lastname@example.org.
GET INVOLVED WITH TOUCH RUGBY
IF TOUCH rugby sounds like the game for you, the Heathen Hags hold weekly training sessions at the Cams Alders Recreation Ground, Fareham.
They train on a Tuesday evening from 7pm until 8.30pm and games are usually played on a Sunday afternoon.
The Heathen Hags offer two free taster sessions, with further sessions costing £2.
For more information, e-mail email@example.com or go down to the ground.
THE GAME OF TOUCH RUGBY
TOP names in the world of rugby are keen to promote the game of touch.
The Rugby Football Union (RFU) are establishing 100 touch centres, in conjunction with O2.
Alastair Marks, from the RFU, explains: ‘Broadening the reach and appeal of the game of rugby through touch is one of the key focus areas for the RFU to create a lasting legacy for the sport in the build up to, and beyond, England hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2015.
‘The nature of the sport, the simplicity of the rules, and the minimal equipment requirements, make touch rugby a very inclusive game.
‘Men and women play on the same team, children as young as 10 can play alongside adults of 60 plus, and all shapes, sizes, and levels of skill and fitness can enjoy the same game together.’
England head coach Stuart Lancaster says: ‘Touch rugby is a great sport for getting fit and having fun. We use touch as part of England training sessions to get the team warmed up as it’s dynamic and there are very few injury risks. Touch provides a way for everyone to be a part of the sport.’
England and Saracens centre Brad Barrett is also behind the game. ‘The best thing about touch is that anyone can play and not worry about the physical side of rugby,’ he says. ‘People of any age can get back into playing the game or try it for the first time. I’d definitely encourage people to pitch up and play.’
For more information, visit rfu.com/o2touch