I’ve just read the 32 pages of ‘This is England Women’s Rugby’ (you can read it too by clicking the image), the RFU/England Rugby’s (not sure which I’m supposed to call them now) strategy for getting more women and girls playing rugby. Overall I don’t think it says much that I haven’t heard before. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as it could mean the right direction was being headed in before, just with loftier expectations now. But there were two bits that caught my eye:
“With a high number of females wanting to play some Saturday rugby supported by the majority of their clubs, we need to reflect on where female rugby really sits in the hearts of our clubs and challenge any negative perceptions. (p.10)”
“A competition structure, capable of expansion with the growth of the game and increasing the number of women’s matches on Saturdays. (p.14)”
The rumours, suggestions and speculation of ladies playing on Saturdays has been loudly audible over the last 18 months, but this is the first time I’ve seen it written down as an official objective. And like I’ve said every time it’s come up before, I don’t see how it’s going to work.
I appreciate that sometimes ‘just do it’ is the best way to make something happen, rather than discussing and planning until everyone has lost interest. And I completely understand the desire to play on a Saturday; to do have a day to recover (from the game, or the drinking, as you prefer); to be around the clubhouse when it’s full of fans rather than parents; other good reasons I can’t think of right now. But for a change of this magnitude I think it needs more than just ‘wanting’.
I’d like to think that Eccles RFC is about as supportive of ladies and girls rugby as it’s possible to be (I’m not going to go on a tangent here with why, but I think you’d get the same response if you asked anybody in the know). We also have four pitches and eight (okay, six) changing rooms so we feel able to cope with most things. But ladies playing on a Saturday would cause problems because the men play on a Saturday, at the prime time kick off slot dictated by the RFU, 15:00 or 14:15 (depending on time of year). That means the ladies would have to play alongside, or at a less attractive time. So:
- If the ladies play at the same time as the men they’re not going to have first choice of pitch (as they currently enjoy on a Sunday) so would end up on one of the ‘back pitches’.
- If the ladies play at the same time as the men the supporters that regularly turn up for both would have to choose one or the other, and the majority are going to choose the men (the players would also be unable to support each other, as is the case now).
- If the ladies played after the men they would need to play on a floodlit pitch. We have a floodlit pitch, but it is used for training on. It’s not the lush turf of the ‘first team pitch’. Plus not all clubs have a floodlit pitch.
- If the ladies played before the men, say a 12:00 kick off during the winter, they’d need to set off at 07:30 for the three hour trips to some of our opponents. Admittedly the strategy talks about facilitating ladies clubs playing closer opponents but that isn’t the case right now, and at the higher levels won’t be for some time.
- Regardless of any of the above options, I’d no longer be able to coach the ladies as I’d be playing on a Saturday, and I don’t intend hanging up my boots for a few years yet. I’m sure I’m not the only person who plays Saturdays, coaches Sundays (in fact I know I’m not as three or four of my team-mates do the same).
Obviously these are just the issues that we and I would experience. I’m sure that there are some clubs where none of these would apply. But I’m also pretty sure there are other clubs in similar boats, or would have different problems. Can we really say that “the majority of (their) clubs” think the positives of Sundays off and busier clubhouses outweigh the negatives of playing on worse pitches, with fewer spectators, without the involvement/support of male players?
As I often say to my players, “assess the situation and make a decision; don’t just guess.” So what do you think?