- Girls’ attendance at Ashford RFC increases from nine to 60 in one season
- Teams are topping the league with players also selected for county trials
Photo: RFU Archive
Girls’ rugby is on the move in Kent. Home to England internationals Catherine Spencer and Rachael Burford, the county’s crop of female players is growing each season.
Eighteen months ago Ashford RFC’s target was a modest one. They already had nine girls eager to play rugby; the aim was to find a further six to field an U15 team.
Fast forward a year and 60 girls had joined the club, allowing Ashford to start the 2013/14 season with two U13 teams, a large squad of U15 girls and a newly formed U18 team.
Ashford RFC volunteer Liz Ashby has been the driving force behind the expansion: “The aim for last season was to form an U15 team which could participate in competitive games. My own girls joined and I was asked to take on the girls’ team as coach and manager,” she explained.
“In order to spread the word and recruit new girls I contacted and coached in local schools and held all-girls tag festivals. The focus was on learning the sport, having fun and building confidence. To have recruited 60 girls by the end of the season was more than we could ever have imagined.”
U18s scrum half Alex Thorpe explained why the girls have enjoyed the sport so much: “The club doesn't just focus on learning the sport, but also on learning respect and enjoyment with friends.”
Prop Tasnim Oladejo said: “Ashford is a rugby club that provides you with confidence you never thought you could have, a fun place to make and share memories with your own rugby family.”
U15s second row Charlotte Clench added: “Rugby is a sport that anyone can play if they have the right support and I get that at Ashford Rugby Club.” For some, rugby’s attraction is simple: “Rugby is great – I can get muddy and not get told off,” joked U15s lock Esme Dunning.
All of Ashford’s age groups are progressing well. The U13s have developed a great team spirit and grown in confidence, while the talent of Ashford’s U15s has shone this season. They top the league in the first year they have entered it, having won all of their games.
On the back of impressive U15 team performances, seven girls have been chosen for the Kent squad and three girls have been invited to attend South East trials.
The newly formed U18s team, which sits second in the league, have had three girls selected for the county squad and one for South East trials.
Catherine Spencer, RFU Women’s Rugby Development Officer, said: “Liz Ashby deserves huge credit for the commitment she has shown as a volunteer to develop the girls’ section at Ashford RFC and it has been a pleasure to work alongside her as we try to grow the girls’ game in the South East.
“The future for girls and ladies rugby at Ashford is looking very promising with so much new blood coming into the teams. The ladies team also has a great chance of promotion as they are currently top of the table, having not lost a league game this season.”
Ashby continued: “We could not be happier and are looking forward to encouraging new faces into our rugby family over the coming seasons. Who knows, maybe there is another Catherine Spencer among this group. She has certainly inspired them through her support at the club.”