Aspiring Women and Girls inspire future players in inaugural league programme
Earlier this year, Scottish Rugby launched a brand-new non-competitive league programme for women and girls designed to support players progress and improve their skills in tailored environments as growing numbers come into the Scottish game.
Over the course of the season so far, regional ‘Aspiring Leagues’ have delivered playing opportunities for emerging women’s and girls’ teams involving more than 500 players across the country.
The Aspiring Leagues will come to a conclusion in December with finals events at Oriam, Dumbreck, Ravenscraig and Dundee RPC.
Karen McMichael of Lasswade RFC is one of 250 women who have taken part in the Aspiring Women’s League this season.
“My kids are now a little bit easier to put to bed at night, so there was a wee glimpse of freedom for me in the evenings”, said Karen.
Having collected 16 international caps for Scotland in touch rugby, the 37-year-old has some experience in the sport, but union was brand-new to the mother of two.
“I missed touch, the training and being part of a team. But I’ve had a big break from that and was keen to try something different. I saw an advert on social media saying that Lasswade had started a team. The timing felt right, and I thought ‘actually I could do that, I can catch, pass and run about’. I just thought it would be fun to try.
“At the start I didn’t know much about rugby union had to work quite hard to unlearn things from my touch rugby days, but our coach was amazing at building us up bit by bit each session. It was a gentle approach for us with most of us being beginners, and that helped build up our confidence.”
Between March and September, Karen and her team-mates continued to develop their skills and confidence, and began playing in the East/Midlands Aspiring League, making their debut at Meadowmill on Sunday 4 September.
Pictured: Lasswade women’s team after their debut in the Women’s Aspiring League (Karen, front row, far right).
“Playing in our first league game was a big moment for us. Many of us were beginners to rugby, but for a few others they were coming back into it after only play at university, and for others they hadn’t played since they were kids, because when they were growing up there weren’t local women’s teams. So, to finally be playing was quite special.
“We were definitely nervous, but there was a lot of excitement. For me, after ten minutes the fear melted away and I was just able to enjoy it. It was reassuring to be playing against other teams in the same position as us too.”
To celebrate this milestone in the club’s history, members of the club turned out in force to support the team.
“We had a lot of support on the side-lines from the club which was amazing. Towards the end of the last game, I could hear them shouting, ‘come on Karen!’ and it was so nice to have such encouragement.
“The club have supported us a lot with transport and access to the gym, and they’ve made us feel just like the other teams at the club.”
Karen has also found that this positive energy ripples beyond the club, adding: “I had one game where I ended up having to play at scrum-half and I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing, but the opposition nine was giving me pointers, and that was really nice. It’s nice to play in such a supportive environment.”
Reflecting on the last six months of her rugby journey, Karen has a lot of personal positives to take away too.
“Getting into rugby has given me so much. I have made a brilliant bunch of friends in my teammates, and the social side is a lot of fun too.
“It’s also been a great way to motivate me to keep up my fitness. Rugby gives you that accountability, because you have training nights. And it’s made fitness fun, because I’m also learning something new.”
Pictured: Players in the Caledonia North Aspiring League competition from Highland RFC and Stornoway RFC (Photo credit: Gareth Falls)