Women’s rugby keeps growing as World Cup comes to Hackney

International rugby coaches from England and Ireland helped to train 30 aspiring young players at Pe

International rugby coaches from England and Ireland helped to train 30 aspiring young players at Petchey Academy in Stoke Newington - Credit: Archant

A touch of World Cup glory descended on Hackney last month as the Women’s Rugby World Cup trophy, lifted by England in the 2014 final in Paris, came to Petchey Academy in Stoke Newington.

International rugby coaches from England and Ireland helped to train 30 aspiring young players, as girls from the school and the Hackney Belles, the borough’s local girls’ rugby team, gathered to learn what it takes to achieve the ultimate prize of women’s rugby.

Grassroots interest in the sport has swelled since England’s victory over New Zealand in the World Cup Final last year. Female rugby is now one of the fastest-growing sports in England, with over 18,000 women and girls registered as playing regularly in the past 12 months.

The bug is clearly active in Hackney, as young players demonstrated their skills on the Petchey Academy pitches, before being put through their paces by guest coaches Kerrie Ann Craddock and Sonia Green – international players who have represented Ireland and England respectively.

Ladies from Hackney’s only women’s rugby team, the Hackney RFC Gladies, were also on hand to give advice and help coach the young girls, whose parents and teachers gathered to watch.

Gladies captain Sarah Barber beamed at the growing interest in women and girls’ rugby.

An experienced player, Barber explained that the level of enthusiasm generated by England winning the World Cup last year means that more girls than ever are picking up a rugby ball.

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“With the excitement around the World Cup win, and the excellent ‘This Girl Can’ campaign dominating the country at the moment, women’s rugby is quickly becoming the fastest-growing sport in the UK,” Barber told the Gazette.

“Locally, Hackney Rugby Club demonstrates this through its thriving women’s and junior girls’ divisions, with the Hackney Belles girls’ team and the Gladies comprising a large section of the growing club.”

Support for the girls’ game is increasing, emphasised byMP Diane Abbott and the deputy speaker of Hackney Council, Cllr Sade Etti, attending the event to cheer on those involved in the training session, to speak with those behind the growing Hackney rugby scene and to pose for pictures with the World Cup trophy.

Just about everyone wanted a ‘selfie’ with the famous cup and Helen Clayton, an England international with 88 caps, thanked Mrs Abbott and Cllr Etti, insisting it was extremely important that support for the game continues to blossom.

“Rugby has taught me lifelong skills. I have learnt about discipline, how to better communicate, how to make lasting friendships and how to present myself,” said Clayton, before the former Saracens flanker went on to praise Petchey Academy.

“Petchey’s motto is ‘If I think I can, I can’ – this is so appropriate for women’s rugby,” she said. “You will see girls of all different sizes, of varying ages, careers and sporting ability – women’s rugby is like a family that looks after you.”

The girls from the Hackney Belles and Petchey Academy took time out from picture-posing with the trophy to speak with guests from all over Hackney, and their enthusiasm for the sport was evident.

Hackney Belles player Lola Martinez thanked the coaches for their ongoing support and said: “We are grateful for the opportunity given to our generation to become World Cup winners.”

If you are interested in trying rugby, or would like to attend a training session, please visit Hackney RFC website www.hackneyrfc.co.uk for more information.

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