Rugby club’s girls’ section aims to cash in on sport’s Olympic triumph

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Olympic Games debutant Rugby Sevens was one of the big hits in Rio — and Mansfield Rugby Club is hoping to benefit from the sport’s exposure and popularity in Brazil.

The Great Britain men’s team won an unexpected silver medal and the performance of the fourth-placed women’s team also caught the eye as the sport more than justified its inclusion in the games for the first time.

GB’s women finished fourth after a good tournament that saw them win all three group games — against Brazil, Japan and Canada — and their quarter-final against Fiji, before defeats in the semi-finals by New Zealand and then by Canada in the bronze medal match.

Now Mansfield Rugby Club is hoping to add to its ever-increasing girls’ squads on the back of that success and attract more youngsters into the sport.

The head of the girls’ section, Pete Haskell, said: “In 2014, when England’s women won the World Cup, we saw an increase to our playing numbers and we hope that the same effect will be created again.

“We are hoping that the excitement for the new Olympic event of women’s Rugby Sevens inspires another wave of girls to join the club and try the sport.”

Mansfield, which first launched a girls’ side in 2013, now has a section devoted to its girls with sides at under-11, under-13 and under-15 level, which cater for girls in school years 4-10. In 2017 it plans to launch an under-18s side.

There has been a massive progression after starting the girls’ section just three years ago with six girls who had come through the club’s tag rugby age group, but didn’t want to go straight into contact rugby.

To build their confidence and core skills, the girls played touch rugby with the club using a regional touch rugby festival as the focus for their training.

Since then numbers have increased and the section now has more than 50 player in its under-11, under-13 and under-15 teams as well as nine qualified coaches.

In 2014 Mansfield Rugby Club received royal recognition for its development of young female participants when one satisfied parent, Darren Sayer, wrote to rugby-loving Prince Harry to share his praise of the initiative at Eakring Road.

Prince Harry replied, saying “he was pleased to learn of the progress made by the club to encourage girls to play the sport.”

Last year four players — Georgina Tasker, Heidi Seaton, Lois Markland and Emily Bingley - were selected for the Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Derbyshire (NLD) under-15 girls’ representative squad after successful trials in their first season at that level of rugby.

Other Mansfield girls have also taken part in the NLD under-15 development squad.

Georgina and Heidi continued their success in January when they were selected for the under-15 girls’ Midlands Divisional squad trials — and Heidi made the squad, attending training camps.

Heidi was then chosen for the Midlands starting squad against the South West in March at Birmingham — the first Mansfield player to play at under-15 divisional level in the club’s first season of fielding an under-15s team.

And to cap a successful season for the teenager, Heidi was called up to the England under-15s Talent Development Squad, which involves a programme of monthly training sessions and national training camps.

Pete Haskell said: “They have been excellent achievements for the girls’ section to date.

“But the highlight for all the coaches, apart from the headline achievements, is when we get a player who arrives with no rugby experience, but then through positive coaching and confidence-building blossoms into a full-flowing player.

“We watch them move up the age-groups over the years. At the end of every season we always stand back and see numerous players who have achieved massive development stages at different age-levels — and for me that’s the main highlight.”

The girls train every Friday at the club and either play or train again on a Sunday afternoon.

All the training is done at the club’s Eakring Road headquarters, which boasts fantastic facilities that allow the club to create the right environment for players to develop and grow their potential.

Pete said: “We have created a conveyor belt process where the under-11 girls play touch rugby with a focus on core skills at this important entry level. The under-13 and under-15s play full contact rugby.

“However, new starters who join us at any age group are always gradually introduced into contact rugby over a controlled period of time in order for the players to learn the correct skills and, more importantly, gain confidence — we never rush anyone.”

All the teams play regular friendly and festival games at other regional clubs and the under-15s take part in the RFU U15 Girls’ Cup, which involves teams from Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Northamptonshire and Leicestershire.

The Mansfield girls receive support and advice from a large pool of RFU qualified coaches. A school sixth-form student also works alongside the club’s main under-11 coach as part of her A-Level course.

The growth of girls’ rugby at Mansfield has been helped by schools coaching and strong links that the club has established with numerous Mansfield primary and secondary schools.

The Mansfield Rugby Schools Coaching Programme sees the club support schools in their rugby after-school activities and PE lessons, working alongside Nicki Biggs, the Mansfield School Games organiser; the RFU; and funding from Sport Nottinghamshire.

Those links have also helped Manafield school teams. Samworth Academy girls’ Years 9/10 team reached the National Schools Rugby finals in May and Brunts Academy’s Year 7 girls won the recent Notts Summer Games tag rugby competition.

Pete said: “This has allowed a great pathway to be formed for any schoolgirl to come to the club and try the sport.

“It’s great to see so many girls now trying the sport, whether at primary or secondary school, in its different formats.

“With the facilities and coaches we have at Mansfield Rugby Club, it’s a great next step for the girls to come and try the sport at the club — and hopefully we can discover the next batch of rugby Olympians.”

The club is working hard to make its girls section sustainable — a feed from the new players at under-11 and under-U13 levels, and next year plans to launch a new under-18 side.

Pete said: “With the ongoing schools coaching; the hard work of all our coaches, who are encouraging girls of all ages in our local area to try the sport; plus the fantastic achievements of our current players to date, the future is focused to create established under-11, under-13, under-15 and under-18 teams.

“Where this takes us who knows, but it’s going to be a great journey I’m sure.” 

For more details on the girls’ section at Mansfield Rugby Club, call Pete Haskell on 07990 662685 or email phaskell08@btinternet.com or go to www.mansfieldrugby.co.uk   ‘