When I told my colleague Joe I was going to try a new training session from England Women’s Rugby he said, “Hmmm, do you think you might not be built for the game?"
Okay, I’m 5 foot 3 and 3/4 and completely unable to remove jam jar lids, but that’s the beauty of Pitch Up and Play sessions, anybody can have a bash.
Participation in women’s rugby has doubled in the past ten years, and the idea is to get 10,000 more women into the sport by 2017
Designed to introduce more women to contact rugby, there are 60+ Pitch Up and Play sessions taking place across the UK this summer. They’re suitable for all abilities, bags of fun, and totally free of charge.
“Participation in women’s rugby has doubled in the past ten years, and the idea is to get 10,000 more women into the sport by 2017," says Women’s Rugby World Cup winner Natasha Hunt.
“Pitch Up and Play sessions are ideal for women who might go to the gym, take part in obstacle course races or who perhaps want to become more active and give rugby a go. It’s a fantastic introduction to the sport."
1. Body shape and size doesn’t matter
Some positions are better for nippy, speedy runners, some need strength and power
There were all kinds of women at the session I went to: short, tall, thin, strong… As this was the launch, we were lucky enough to be taught by two England players Natasha Hunt and Amy Wilson Hardy – Natasha is only 5 foot 4 herself – see, takes all sorts.
Infact you need diversity on a rugby team. Different positions require different skills – so some positions are better for nippy, speedy runners, some need strength and power. Not everyone needs to be built like a brick shithouse.
2. You don’t need any special kit
Just turn up like you’re heading to the gym or out for a run. You only need to worry about gum shields, rugby boots and those weird ear defender things if you get serious about the game.
3. You get what you want out of it
When I turned up to the session in Regent’s Park, I was pleased to discover none of the other girls had played rugby before either. Winner.
Then, like cowboys on a cliff, six girls appeared on the horizon. They were members of the university rugby team, and they meant business.
Nothing to fear though, the sessions are tailored for mixed abilities. Before the start, the coach asks what you want to get out of it – whether that’s having fun, learning new skills or concentrating on fitness – then you’re given a coloured motivation band so they can check you’re on the right tracks.
There was also a wristband for being competitive. I didn’t choose that one.
4. Play fighting is da bomb!
Pitch Up and Play sessions are like being a kid. You start off with warm up games, such as trying to grab t-shirts out of other people’s shorts, passing balls in relays, jumping on each others backs and running through legs, and then you move on to play fighting!
We learned to flip our partner over from all fours to lying on their back
Ok, so they don’t call it play fighting – but in order to build strength and get used to the contact elements of rugby we had a few rough and tumble drills. We held each others arms and tried to prevent our partner hitting us in the face (no chance of that happening don’t worry). In teams we encircled girls and they had to try and escape, and we learned to flip our partner over from all fours to lying on their back. It was all bloody amazing fun.
5. You pass backwards – and no, you don’t need to know the rules
I’d never played rugby before, in fact I never even watch it. I didn’t know that you pass backwards and that was fine, no one expects you to know anything. You’ll pick up the general rules as you go along.
Sessions end with a bit of match play as well so you learn from doing.
6. It's all about the camaraderie
Once you’ve had your face in another woman’s armpit, you get over any shyness.
Plus, rugby is a very social game. We were playing in the middle of the day so it didn’t seem all that appropriate but I’m sure the odd post-training pint happens now and again.
7. It might not feel like a work out at the time, but it does the next day
Explaining my sore tricep was from trying to not hit another girl in the face was interesting
I was laughing so much I didn’t notice I’d been working out but, as rugby involves quite a lot of stopping and sprinting and high-intensity work, the next day my quads were not a fan of the four flights of stairs to Unbound towers. I also had a very sore tricep, explaining it was from trying to not hit another girl in the face was interesting.
8. It’s free, free, free and the most fun ever
It will cost you zip, nothing zero pence and your abs will ache from laughing so much. I honestly think I love rugby!
If you want to give Pitch Up and Play a go, visit the England Rugby Women website to find a session near you.