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Lochaber Rugby Football Club (RFC) is inviting all ladies who have ever wanted to give rugby a go, or have played previously, to come along and join them on a Tuesday evening.
The Banavie-based club formed its first ladies’ team around 20 years ago. Captained by Sandra Chisholm, the team played its first tournament in 1999 and played league games in 2000.
Since then, Lochaber RFC has been the starting point for some successful female rugby players including Rachel White, Lochaber’s first Scottish internationalist, Katie Dougan, who won the Six Nations in 2017 and Helen Nelson who captained this year’s Six Nations squad.
An impressive achievement considering the first globally recognised women’s international rugby match took place only 39 years ago.
Despite this, the club has struggled to sustain a ladies’ team over the last 10 years, even though the girls’ minis have become a permanent feature with many female coaches arising over the years too.
The popularity and availability of shinty is often blamed for the lack of numbers on the rugby front, but Lochaber RFC head coach Gary Hendrie believes the two sports can work in harmony.
‘Shinty tournaments take place in the summer and rugby matches in the winter so players interested in both sports can play both,’ he said.
Lochaber RFC, founded in 1969, is not the only club that struggles for numbers.
‘Lochaber offers such an array of exciting sports, including mountain biking and climbing, which means Lochaber clubs are almost competing for players,’ added Hendrie.
Despite these obstacles, Lochaber RFC is intent on resurrecting its ladies’ team and has recently attracted a handful of regular members of mixed abilities. Because of low, fluctuating numbers due to work and other commitments, the women have joined the senior men’s training every Tuesday at 7pm.
‘This works well as several members of the men’s senior team are also coaches, so new members are progressing quickly with the additional help,’ said Hendrie.
Members of men’s senior team say they are ‘really happy’ the ladies are taking part and joining inon a Tuesday as everyone wants the club to be as inclusive as possible, from children and youths to men’s and ladies senior teams.
Initially the club is looking to establish a ladies’ team of 10 to 15 members to play in local touch or contact rugby tournaments. Once numbers grow above 20 members, a ladies league can be formed.
If members progress to the contact version of the sport, the head coach stresses that learning to tackle properly is essentially learning how avoid injury and that even some of the toughest rugby players find a game of shinty a far more ruthless affair.
‘Despite the fearsome reputation of rugby, Lochaber RFC wants to reassure people of their welcoming and family friendly nature,’ he added.
‘We are trying to progress the club as much as we can and welcome all abilities.’
A new addition to the ladies’ team, Birte Naeve, said: ‘Although I have never played or watched a game in my life, I have had so much fun getting involved in a team sport.’
Anyone interested in taking up rugby should go along to Banavie on a Tuesday night at 7pm.