Barnes Ladies make showing up to rugby training on a cold January evening look like fun – and now they’re welcoming new recruits to their tight-knit clan.
Many start playing at university – 31% of the Barnes team is topped up with players from St George’s University and Imperial College London – but it’s never too late to get involved.
Curious newbies can take part in the RFU’s Inner Warrior day at Barnes Rugby Club at 7pm on Thursday (February 6).
Ashley Brandon, a player and coach, said: “These are taster events where people who have never played before can have a go and see if it’s for them. We don’t do heavy contact as it’s their first time, but we have games that replicate elements of rugby.
“There’s also that social element straight afterwards – you don’t have to drink if you don’t want to, but we’re going to the pub, and you’re more than welcome to join us.
“That’s a really important part of it, it’s all for fun. Nobody gets paid. You have got to make it worthwhile.
“We’ve linked up nicely with the men’s squad over the past couple of seasons – we’ll promote their games and they’ll promote ours.
“It’s slowly starting to come together as a one-club approach. It’s taken a few years to get there, but a good relationship is starting to form.”
Five years ago, Barnes Ladies struggled to make one squad, but a friendly reputation – and a positive pre-season when 31 new players were recruited – mean there is now a first XV and a development side.
Bethan Phillips, the development XV co-captain, explained: “It tends to be a rag tag bunch of whoever can play and we all muck in and play fun rugby. The first team tend to play together a bit more.
“In the development game, you have a lot more time to talk through things and train people and support them. That’s not as common in women’s rugby.
“I’m a community palliative care nurse. It’s completely different to what I do 9 to 5. I do a very high-pressured job where I talk to a lot of people and I’m quite sedentary.
“Coming out here is a release for me. It’s a different type of communication. I wouldn’t be a nurse if it wasn’t for rugby – I wouldn’t have stayed at university. But I persevered through it and I like my job now.
“It’s becoming more normal for women to play rugby. It’s just about beating stereotypes.”
Barnes head coach Kirsty Openshaw only started at the club this season, but has already made her impression known, urging her team to volunteer with the men’s first team on the weekends. She also knows how to get her players to perform their best on matchdays.
Kirsty said: “My main thing is people enjoy themselves. When they’re enjoying themselves, they perform better and they are more willing to learn.
“The word is spreading that we’re a nice team, but we also like to play. We’re competitive, we’re aggressive in the right way. We’re a group of women who want to play rugby. We’ve created a positive environment to be in which makes people want to be a part of that.”
As development officer at the Harlequins Foundation, Kirsty helps take the sport to those who are not from traditional rugby backgrounds.
She works with girls specifically with Switch, a programme which builds relationships with schools and allows young players to come through.
It’s a real contrast from her own beginnings in rugby.
Kirsty said: “I got started when I was 30. It’s my biggest regret that I didn’t start earlier. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
“It’s given me so much strength and confidence outside of rugby. It really has been the making of me, and I would say to anybody that you can do it because there’s plenty of opportunities around.”