Women’s Game Continues to Thrive Within Local Schools

Women’s Game Continues to Thrive Within Local Schools

Despite Scotland Men’s first international taking place 122 years prior to their female counterparts, women’s rugby has excelled in recent years both professionally and at grassroots level.

From the trailblazers of Scotland’s first international game in 1993 and the Grand Slam win in 1998 to the current squad qualifying for the 2021 Rugby World Cup (played in 2022), Scotland Women continue to be role models, promoting and demonstrating the positive opportunities the sport can provide for women and girls at all levels.

In the decade up to 2022, participation levels in female rugby in Scotland saw a substantial increase from 2,680 to 6,173 and numbers have continued to rise since. As of last year, there are 57 women’s teams playing across seven National and Regional leagues with more than 15 other developing teams involved in the Evolution and Aspiring leagues.

State schools have continued their efforts to lay the foundations and provide opportunities towards the growth of the women’s game. This has been done through the adoption of a multitude of approaches, such as forming club links, encouraging a welcoming playing environment and, most importantly, providing frequent training and gameplay opportunities.

Braes High School in Falkirk has seen a rapid uptake of female rugby players, and now have the numbers to field multiple teams across the S1-S5 age group. The rugby offering at Braes is led by the PE department’s Ross Ledger, a recent Scottish Rugby Community Recognition Award Winner, and Susan Ferguson, but support from others within the school has allowed rugby to flourish.

Photo: Braes’ High School’s Ross Ledger and Susan Ferguson discussing their expanding girls rugby setup on a recent episode of the Blueprint Blether.

Ross said: “When Susan and I started off we had two teams – one boys and one girls’ team. Now we’re looking to put out five to six teams a year from S1-S5 across both boys and girls. There’s been real growth, especially since Susan started and we’ve had more staff across the school who have been able to support.

“We can be in two places at once almost and provide that experience of gameplay as well as continuing their training, so they’re not missing out. Now we are progressing to linking up with Grangemouth Rugby Club with our Development Officer Cammy Wilson, who has been a great help”.

A key part of the ethos at Braes has been towards providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for new female players to be part of, increasing the chances of them committing to the game and excelling. This approach seems to be working, with plenty of signs that the school’s efforts are setting the female game on an upwards trajectory.

“We’ve had the biggest growth in our girl’s section in the last couple of years. It used to be that boys and girls training was on the same night but now we’ve had to make girls training a separate night because there’s so many, which is great to see. We’ve got a lot of girls who you would think would never want to try rugby, let alone stick at it. They’ve come up against girls who are training with clubs and have rugby running through their school and they’ve really had to dig deep. They’re now starting to see the benefits of training every week, putting in the effort and just going out there and not being afraid.

“It’s massively important for them to have that space where they can be active with their friends and enjoy what they’re doing with no pressure. There’s never any pressure to play, it’s always about just turning up and learning new skills”.

As well as Braes, Preston Lodge High School have also seen healthy growth in the women’s game recently. PE teacher Iain Kay is one of the cogs in the wheel of rugby delivery at the school and has been thrilled with the enthusiasm shown by those in the girls’ setup, resulting in noticeable progress on the pitch. Also noted by Iain was how eager his pupils are to learn and develop their skills, progressing from touch to full contact through exposing themselves to inter-school gameplay.

“We have a fantastic set of girls who are great friends, enthusiastic and are really enjoying their rugby. The best thing for them was the emerging schools (event) because I had tried to introduce contact and they didn’t really like it.

“We then went to the Emerging Schools event to play touch and saw some other girls playing contact. The girls came straight over to me and said they were keen to play contact. Since that tournament we’ve been playing contact and recently we had our first contact game at Leith Academy.

“It’s really built a buzz. Some of them hadn’t even played rugby a year ago and are now playing contact. Even at school of rugby they’re getting in amongst the boys and showing them how to do it”.

Photo: PE Teacher Iain Kay is one of those driving forward girls rugby at Preston Lodge High School.

With already noticeable strides being made towards growing the female game at school level, there is optimism that Scottish Rugby Schools Week will only help enhance this motion. As the Guinness Women’s Six Nations taking centre stage over the next month-and-a-half, women’s rugby continues to edge further into the spotlight.

Behind the cameras and glamour of the international tournaments, the value of the work done by schools to encourage the next generation of women’s rugby stars is vital. Without the efforts of those at grassroots level, the game would simply not have the opportunity to thrive at the likes of Braes, Preston Lodge and everywhere in between.

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