On the eve of a new era for the Women's Game

(IRB.COM) Thursday 29 November 2012
 On the eve of a new era for the Women's Game
Brazil are competing at the first round of the Women's Series in Dubai, which also serves as a warm-up for Rugby World Cup Sevens qualifying

IRB Women's Development Manager Susan Carty writes for the Women's Sevens World Series website on the eve of the inaugural tournament in Dubai.

Here in the players’ hotel there is a real buzz among the 144 women’s players - a great sense of anticipation. Everyone knows they are part of something special.

The Manager’s Meeting was this morning was at 7am, but nobody seemed to mind! Some managers had been up since 5am getting ready, ensuring that everything was in place in time and their team had everything they needed.

I had breakfast with some of the Canadian team players and management. You could feel both the sense of excitement and nerves from them but they are confident they are ready for this and can't wait to get started.

Interestingly, while chatting about the Women’s Sevens World Series and how much it will help grow the Game globally for women and girls, they also asked me about Women's Fifteens and were delighted to hear that a lot of emphasis is still being placed by the IRB on that.

Most of the players are convinced that Sevens will help Fifteens, but conversely also that many of them have only come through to Sevens because of their Fifteens programmes.

It will be interesting to see that balance evolve over the coming years, especially in the different countries and continents around the world. Someone like Barbara Mervin from Canada started playing Rugby when she was 16 and arrived from a gymnastics background, completely taken in by the Game and how inclusive it was for those only just taking up the sport.

I feel inspired by Barbara’s story. Identified as having a learning disability in school, she was quickly labelled and never considered University, unlike the rest of her family. But she excelled in Rugby and made the Provincial Under 19 team, where her coaches encouraged her to go to University. They helped her get the support she needed and she made the grade. Barbara is now a successful businesswoman, having set up her own company, Aptoella Rugby, designing and manufacturing female Rugby gear, including shoulder and breast padding customised with fun colours and patterns.

Video: Barbara Mervin on Total Rugby

She considers that Rugby is the best thing that’s ever happened for her and will be forever grateful to those coaches.

As the Canadians headed off to their team meeting over popped the Netherlands Rugby Union Chief Executive and some of his colleagues. They are here to see how the tournament is run from behind the scenes as part of their preparations for hosting the final round of the World Series, in Amsterdam in May.

They are so motivated, it's infectious. They talked about getting more girls involved and are already working with schools to get more girls into the Game and will also involve them in the tournament in Amsterdam. The whole town is already getting behind it.

There is no doubt that the profile and interest in Women's Rugby is reaching new levels with attention already focused on the Olympic Games in Rio 2016.

We expected to see athletes from other sports coming into the Game, but I never thought we would see it happen so quickly, and at national team level. New Zealand’s Go4Gold programme has already produced one of their current team, who is also a top netball player and had never played Rugby before, and it seems there are others too waiting in the wings.

Rio 2016 hosts Brazil are here too, but they are not looking too far ahead. Just one spot remains at Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 in Moscow and that place will go to the winners of the South American qualification tournament next February. Joao Nogueira, Brazil's High Performance Manager, is determined that his team must qualify and was telling me that their goal is to perform well here in Dubai and build on the experience of the IRB Women's Sevens Challenge Cup last year.

We started planning for the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series months ago and I cannot believe we are now here on the eve of kick-off. Like the Canadians, I feel both nervous and excited. This is the start of a new era in Women's Rugby.

Best of luck to all!