Women’s rugby revolution at Caledonian Thebans
In a world that constantly seeks inclusivity, the Caledonian Thebans, an inclusive rugby club based in Edinburgh, stands as a shining example of breaking barriers, embracing diversity, and fostering community that goes beyond the game.
Established in 2002, this pioneering club set out on a mission to unite LGBTQIA+ individuals and their straight allies through the sport of rugby, creating a culture that is not just open but genuinely inclusive for everyone.
Fast forward to 2024, and the club has expanded its horizons with the introduction of Caledonian Thebans Hydra, its inaugural Women’s Plus team. Three players from the team – Dani, Lauren and Amelia – now share their inspiring sporting journeys which have been transformed by the power of rugby.
Life-long rugby loving Dani, could never have imagined she would pick up a rugby ball aged 36. But an internal note in her workplace about an upcoming rugby bootcamp with the Thebans last March was enough to pique her interest after being hesitant about sport for most of her life.
“As a gay woman, I had always struggled with my sexuality”, said Dani.
“It always felt there was a stereotype about women’s sport being intimidating, and that if you aren’t good enough it’s scary place to be and I’ve always had a fear around being accepted. But when I read about the Thebans, who are registered with International Gay Rugby (IGR), and how they go about promoting equality and inclusion, it was an absolute pull.
“I was so nervous when I joined and I had the fear of feeling like an outsider, but everyone takes you for who you are, they take you at face value and it’s genuinely open to everyone.
“I went to my first session in April, and I’ve been training every week since. It’s taken over my life – from training to watching games, playing in touch tournaments to playing with the Women’s Plus team – my life has done a 180 and it’s all for the better.”
Amelia found her way to Thebans through friends playing for the Men’s Plus side. The club’s dedication to inclusivity, evident on social media, drew her in.
She said: “I didn’t come out as bisexual until about a year and a half ago and I wanted to build a community of allies and people who identify as LGBTQ+. I enjoyed PE at school but I wasn’t able to find one that fit me, making access to sport at university difficult, but when I graduated, I was missing being active. I’m so glad I joined; I can’t imagine my life in Edinburgh without the Thebans now.”
At the age of 21, Lauren joined the team after some gentle persuasion from her brother, who is involved with the Men’s Plus side.
“I hadn’t ever really thought about rugby but after my first training session I was hooked”, said Lauren. And quite literally at that, as she now takes centre stage in the scrum as hooker!
She added: “It’s been an amazing outlet for me however the friendships have been the best thing. Being 21, making friends at this age is difficult but every single person at the club is lovely. It’s a great environment to be in.”
The journey of these three women reflects the incredible growth of Caledonian Thebans Hydra. Starting with just a handful of members, the team has now grown to include 18 members, and most recently the team has formed a partnership with Leith Rugby for joint training sessions and matches.
Over the course of the last six months, as the team has blossomed, the identity of the team has evolved to use the term ‘Women’s Plus’, which Amelia explained has been another positive move to promote inclusion in the game: “It was a progression for us as a club to use the “Plus”. Thinking about the people joining us who expressed different gender identities, we reacted and made the change. We know that using it isn’t perfect, but we hope that it can further showcase our inclusive spirit. We go under the name of Hydra which I think is a nice way to get that balance.”
On Sunday 21 January, the Hydra team made history, competing in their first ever 15-a-side match against Hillfoots Vixens.
Dani, Amelia and Lauren all felt the exhilarating mix of nervous anticipation and raw excitement as they stepped onto the rugby field for the first time.
“As captain, I felt like I was in duck mode – calm on the surface but kicking hard under the water”, said Dani.
“We had fourteen starting players who are Hydra, with subs borrowed from other teams. As soon as everyone came into the changing room, it was like ‘you are one of us’ and it felt like we had been together forever. It was a great feeling knowing that we were all there to play rugby and have fun.”
The Hydra came away with a resounding 54-5 win, where Alice Perry picked up Forward of the Match and Alicja Mrozicka earned the kudos of Back of the Match.
The journey doesn’t stop here for the Hydra team. With ambitions to join the Aspiring League before progressing to the Regional Leagues, the club aims to be the representation of everything they missed in their youth – accessibility to sports and a supportive community.
“Hopefully we can be a beacon to show other people who’ve felt the same as us over the years, that sport isn’t for them, that actually, it is”, said Dani.
As they celebrate their achievements, Dani, Amelia and Lauren recognise the efforts of everyone to get them this far, giving particular praise to their coach, Robert ‘Rab’ Lloyd, affectionately known as Papa Rab.
“Rab is the man who truly encapsules what it is to be a Theban”, said Lauren.
“We are so lucky to call him our coach and he is utterly incredible. He believes and advocates for women’s sports and our team to no end.
“He teaches us in such an openly communicative way with so much support and genuine passion that it makes it hard not to love the sport. We truly believe his hard work and dedication to us being able to play and be equal is the driving force of Thebans Hydra and he deserves to be shouted about from the rooftops!”
Dani, Lauren, and Amelia urge others to take the plunge, emphasising that it’s never too late to embrace something new.
“Just go for it, it’s never too late until it’s too late”, said vice-captain, Lauren.
“It’s so easy to write yourself off before you’ve given yourself a chance.”
“Regardless of how you perceive your skillset, there is a place on a rugby team. Everyone brings unique skills to the team and in rugby it’s okay if you’re not good at everything because everyone has a role to play”, added Amelia.
Inclusive rugby is not just a game to Caledonian Thebans Hydra; it’s a life-changing experience that transcends boundaries and empowers individuals to be their authentic selves on and off the field.
You can follow the Thebans on Twitter and Instagram: @ThebansRugby