Battersea Ironsides are gearing up for their ‘come and try it’ girls rugby event this Sunday, as they welcome England star Bryony Cleall to lead an introductory training session.
Ironsides, once nominated for being the most inclusive club in the country, are hosting an event this Sunday (23/1) from 10am to 11:30am, encouraging girls aged 10-17 to come to the Earlsfield club to try their hand at rugby.
SWL spoke to U18 girls Head Coach Fiona Sutherland and player Poppy Dyson about everything to do with the girls and women’s teams and their hopes for this weekend’s event.
Sutherland, 26, agreed that having Cleall, a Red Roses International who has won two Six Nations titles and two Premiership titles during her time with Saracens, will be a big draw for a vital recruitment opportunity.
She said: “It’s really good having her, she can chat about her career, she’s quite inspirational and might give out a bit of stash at the end as well which will hopefully make us stand out and be a bit unique.
“We’re hoping to have a total of 40 girls down, if we can retain 15 new faces I’ll be very happy.”
For Sutherland, camaraderie has been integral to the success of the women’s team, and it will also be key to capitalising on any success that is gained from Sunday, as the girls team hopes to build a welcoming environment.
“I think the key thing is starting with a really open first session, being friendly, making sure everyone is introduced to each other, making them feel at home and comfortable and just reassuring them that pretty much everyone starts rugby from scratch as a girl.
“The social element is so important and lots of people come back to the club after games. Some might be absolutely useless at rugby at first but they stick it out because they absolutely love the camaraderie and feeling part of something bigger.
“Its not just about creating one great session, its about creating a great ethos and community and we’ve done that in the women’s section, and are really keen to do that in the girls section.”
The women’s team have accumulated 40-out-of-40 league points in their eight games so far, dominating NC 1 South East (North) where they have scored 239 points and conceded just 28.
They won the league in 2019/20, but the shortened season meant they could not play the promotion play-off that could ultimately have secured their promotion to the Women’s Championship South-East, the third tier of the rugby pyramid.
Youngster Dyson, 16, has been excited by the women’s success, and echoed her coach’s thoughts that a welcoming environment was vital to grow the junior section.
“I train once a week with the women, I really enjoy that, it’s actually very inspiring.
“Making sure our new players feel completely welcomed and being really friendly is important.
“I remember I was quite nervous for my first session but everyone was so welcoming, not only the coaches but all the players.
“Some of the U15s just melt my heart, they’re so lovely and the senior women’s players are so friendly.”
If the girls section can make the most of this Sunday, Sutherland is hopeful that they can begin to fulfil fixtures as a club in their own right, and in the long-term become a feeder for the women’s side.
She said: “There’s fixtures throughout the season organised by Surrey and we would normally team up with a few of the other local clubs to play them as we don’t yet have enough players to field a full team but we’d look to have our own team soon in the future.
“We already do have three players in the women’s squad who have come through the juniors section, it would be great to see more of that. We can dream big.”
When asked if she had a message for anyone considering coming down, Dyson made it clear how much of a positive impact rugby had already had in her short time playing the game, and how it was open to everyone who wanted to have a go.
She said: “Women’s rugby has completely changed my life and I’ve only been playing for two months.
“For me one of the most important things about it is how inclusive and how empowering it is cause when I think of a women’s rugby player there’s not one stereotypical build. It’s very diverse in terms of body shapes and heights and types.
“It’s really important to show young girls and women that the body images we’re told we’re meant to have are not actually a true representation of reality, and you can have success in life and sport whatever shape you are.”
Those interested in attending the event at Battersea Ironsides (Garratt Green, Earlsfield, SW17 0JG) can sign up on this google form.
All Photos provided by Battersea Ironsides RFC.