rugby rookies

As a relatively new convert to this glorious game, my recent love of rugby just keeps on growing. I still don't know all of the rules but with the help of GeordieLad and my own Mini Harlequins - BigL and LittleE I'm learning quickly. Here, I share our rugby thoughts and moments.  





WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

The roar of the crowd, stamping my hands and feet in the February cold, cheering the home side on, watching my rugby girls getting inspired by the #RedRoses at the national stadium. These elements add up to what should be a good Saturday night. Me and my girls (plus two of BigL's friends) could have curled up in front of the telly with a pizza and watched the Women's England game vs France in the warmth of my living room.  But we didn't. We hopped on buses and walked in a snake line against the crowd spilling out of Twickenham Rugby Stadium after the Men's game. After the exodus had quietened, we headed into the arena and chose seats with a good view for all the girls, careful to avoid any drunken revellers from the game before - obviously this will happen but with young girls in tow, I'm always aware that behaviour and language can get a bit fruity.

I spent my younger years and pre-mum days regularly attending football matches. Although much improved since the '80s, I often heard the misogynist chants and racist abuse that made for an extremely uncomfortable experience. Even as an adult the venom that was spat across the terraces frightened me and I knew, on the birth of my first daughter, that I wouldn't be visiting a football game anytime soon.  Thankfully the GeordieLad introduced me to the beautiful game of rugby and I've never once felt threatened by the atmosphere or fans at either club or country matches. Which is why I am more than happy to take our young daughters to rugby stadiums; mainly choosing women's games due to the inspirational value and cost.

However last weekend was the first time I had to challenge people about their vile use of expletives even after they had clocked that I was sitting with young girls. On five occasions, we were treated to the F word within five minutes of kick off - yep, do the maths - guess what I thought we were going to get for the rest of the first half? The bunch of happy blokes behind me soon noticed the youngsters, apologised and I overheard an embarrassed 'I didn't notice there were kids there' so all good. Unlike the group of young women who interspersed every other word with f-ing and jeffing and upon me (ever so politely) asking them to just bear in mind I hang youngsters with me, threw me a side-eye before ceasing the language until starting it all up again before the end of the second half.  We were sat down first but I thought it better to scoot out for some hot chocolates and move seats during half time.

Second half resumed, the Red Roses start improving their play and we're at a quieter end of the stand. Girls are happy with their popcorn and crisps - all is well with the world. For only a few minutes when two drunken lads head to the seats behind us and drop a couple of C-bombs! I mean... come on - it wasn't even in reference to the game. Cue frustrated but mild mannered mother giving a couple of lads my 'teacher talk' about respect, discipline and enjoyment - notice any importance about those key words?  After throwing a sarcastic comment my way they left because they weren't watching the game anyway, we finished our snacks and enjoyed England Women winning the match.

I'm not naive enough to think this might not happen at matches but as I said, usually when people spot young kids, they reign in the language. So why not on Saturday? Am I being unreasonable? I don't want to stop taking girls to rugby matches and it's not like this experience has been the norm, but what a shame? Seeing my youngest daughter, who plays mini rugby every Sunday and dreams of being England captain, get upset because her mummy had to 'tell that man off' has definitely made me question whether we stay at home and watch it on the telly next time.




HARLEQUINS PITCH UP & PLAY
So in my last Rugby Rookies post I mentioned a certain Pitch up and Play at Harlequin Ladies Amateurs. How could I not take part? Heading into my 6th year pitchside with two daughters freezing their toes off every Sunday, I had to show willing.

And so I did, with two other brave mums from our Girls Rugby team. A bit nervous, maybe a bit regretful but also a little excited we sent our girls off to one end of the Old Isleworthians training ground with Coach Brian and awaited the start of our first ever rugby training session.

Welcomed with big smiles and a quick warm up session which involved us throwing a rugby ball and learning each other's names (more about that later) and then pretty much getting the basics out of the way with passing, running in the right direction and making sure 40+ year old muscles can still move (in my case anyway).

Having watched many a coaching session I'd like to think I'm pretty adept with my rugby rules knowledge but I soon discovered being on the pitch and playing within those rules was a different matter.  I clearly knew that the ball could only be passed backwards but it was like my brain refused to accept this as the norm so I often found myself running and aiming the ball netball-stylee to a team mate ahead....nearer the front, right...No. No. No. Luckily BigL was too busy with her own training to notice her mother making a multitude of mistakes.

And this is where the importance of knowing each other's names comes in. Thanks to the simple but repeated warm up I soon knew all the names which was so necessary in feeling confident when calling for the ball but also in hearing your own name when receiving guidance and constructive criticism during play. This meant that by half-way through the training session I felt clearer about where I should be and what I should be doing. This is literally an hour after playing rugby for the first time...ever.

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After two hours, my legs were burning with a tiredness that screams 'why didn't you keep running in your 30s?' and I was now sporting the fashionista look commonly known as The Mummy Wears Mud. But I had learnt so much about the beautiful game and gained an incredible amount of respect for my girls who have kept at the sport for so long. It's so easy to stand watching with a hot brew emitting the occasional tut and sigh when one of them looks fit to tear-burst holding up freezing fingers mouthing I want to go home. But walking off the pitch that morning I had a little taster of what they do and I felt brilliant. To the point that I wished rugby had been available to me as a kid or that I had discovered it pre-mummyhood.


Mixing skills training and learning rules and adding them into short games definitely made me feel more secure in making passes or decisions in play. I'm not saying I got them right all the time but I succeeded in tackling (after newbies paired up with the experienced to learn this technique) and scoring a couple of tries. And yes thankfully BigL saw so it did happen...I have a witness! I even got a round of applause after my first tackle - yay me!


And then the morning peaked to perfection when BigL ran over to me telling me she saw me the tackles and tries and said 'Mummy I'm so proud of you'. So thank you Harlequin Ladies Amateurs for creating a moment I may never get to witness again!!

Seriously though, all of us mums learnt so much, were instantly made to feel part of the team, were treated with respect despite our initial reluctance to get stuck in (that soon changed once the competition element kicked in) and really enjoyed our morning to the point that I would definitely recommend giving the game and the Ladies (http://www.harlequinladies.co.uk) a visit - and try something new...see what I did there...'try'...geddit??!





RR vs NZ
In the years of Sundays on the sidelines, it was a pleasant shock to the system to be out doing the rugby thing last Saturday. Starting with a morning coaching session with our Girls squad to the international match in the afternoon, our day at The Stoop (home of the Harlequins) began in the blistering cold, wrapped up to the eyeballs in hats, gloves and scarves and hands wrapped around take away coffees - well the parents anyway.  The girls got down to business and were soon rugby-ing the morning away; I know it's not a verb but you get the idea.

What's really becoming apparent as the end of the calendar year approaches is that these girls are determined, keen to progress, enjoying and passionate about their rugby.  For some this is still early days - the rules are still a little hazy and they've yet to weather winter training.  For others who have played for years or get coached weekly in school, this is the chance to build their confidence and start experimenting with positions they feel secure in.
Goosebumps watching the Black Ferns Haka

Whilst we grown-ups natter and shout an occasional 'well done', the girls are honing their skills and developing camaraderie - a key factor in the reason we suggested staying at The Stoop for the Red Roses vs the Black Ferns match that afternoon (oh that's England women vs New Zealand women to the uninitiated among you).

After a welcome warm up listening to a quick QandA session with a Red Rose player, the girls and grown ups hunkered down with crisps and sweets (and a pint or two) to cheer on the mighty Red Roses. And although the result didn't go our way, it was an action-packed , well played match which hopefully gave our girls some inspiration.

It's still early days in our little corner of the training ground but right now, it's working and it's proving to be a great experience. I find myself regularly wishing that rugby had been a sport I'd had the opportunity to play when I was a youngster. 

What's that? There's a Pitch Up and Play training session for women with the Harlequin Ladies Amateurs next week?

We'll see...we'll see...the old dodgy back you know...





ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS
We have put the swimming costumes and beach balls away. Summer is over. We are now searching for the gumshield, breaking nails whilst stretching on socks and hastily cleaning last season's mud off the rugby boots. Rugby season has begun.

New kit for a new season
But this season is a teeny bit different over at the Mini Quins. BigL - a veteran 11 years old - is now a member of the inaugural girls team.  In celebration of Harlequins 150th anniversary and under the watchful eye of a new coach, a new section for girls, aged 10 plus, has been created and an extremely impressive number of all abilities gathered on the first Sunday to be put through their paces.

No one more than me is excited about the prospect of seeing a girls team develop their knowledge, skills and ability on the rugby field throughout their teenage years.  Although extremely happy with the support and encouragement given to BigL (and now LittleE) as a minority girl amongst the boys, I was mindful of what would happen after the forced gender split at 13. How would we encourage her to keep playing until she was able to rejoin a club at 18?

Worry no more! The instigation of the girls team provides a through path for the young girls playing club rugby and an alternative to schoolgirls who want to branch out. I especially love that the girls in other age groups around the field are able to see their future path and aspire to keep playing well into their teens.

I am excited for the season ahead and hope that the ever increasing new members of the Quins Ams family stay with us past balmy September through the occasional blustery Sunday mornings and into many seasons ahead.

Onwards and upwards girls!





HAPPY ENDINGS
We are at season end. Having completed a relatively warm winter, by all standards, and successful double whammy of BigL and LittleE still maintaining their passion for playing rugby, me and the GeordieLad are muchos happy.

The support at MiniHarlequins this year has been outstanding.  Our girls are supported, encouraged and come home every Sunday having learnt a new skill or technique.  As we see another group of little ones (and their parents) finish their first season outdoors, having moved from the comfort of the indoor gym, I realise that I am now an experienced rugbymum; I'm one of the parents on the touchline that gets asked the whats and whens. When did that happen? When did I develop the look of I-know-how-this-malarky-works? But somehow I did and I love it that as LittleE awaits her third season in September, BigL has completed her sixth year and is looking forward to the new season; with a direction shift at her club and hopefully new opportunities in high school.

The season ended for both girls on a massive high as they both gained invitations to the England Junior Supporters Club to train with national rugby capped players at the actual Twickenham Stadium! Yes and parents were allowed on there too! I often had to tone down the grin I had and remember who the event was actually for!

Still bleary eyed from our holiday flight home, we packed a picnic and set off to join a sizeable group of families sporting their England tops outside stadium. Inside the children were separated into aged groups and received a goody bag with a special event kit which all the kids promptly went off to get changed into. This meant they got to use the stadium changing rooms - there was a separate one for girls but I only found this by accident so it would have been nice to have got that info earlier as poor BigL found herself in a large changing room with a bunch of 11 year old boys so had to change in the loos.

After the initial excitement of taking pics in the tunnel, the kids were greeted by Will Greenwood and got to charge out of the tunnel onto the world famous pitch and line up to sing the national anthem.  Amidst the frenzy camera phones, I think there were many a teary-eyed parent that morning.             But on with the real reason they were here: to train with the stars. BigL went off with the older kids and met Scott Quinell who put them through their paces. whilst LittleE in the younger group learnt some training skills with Rachael Burford. There were three training sessions in all which all four groups of kids got to do on a rotation; the fourth activity being a talk in the real life England changing rooms with Will Greenwood.  This man was absolutely brilliant at building the atmosphere and letting the next generation feel a sense of what it's like to get ready to play for your country.

After all the kids had worked hard and learnt lots, and the parents had drank their body weight in tea and coffee; there was a chance for photos and signings and soaking up the atmosphere on the hallowed turf.

I have to say this event was absolutely brilliant and a real lift for our whole family on the last day of the half term hols.  It was amazingly organized, plenty of detailed information, lots of cheery staff on hand to help, and of course there was Ruckley the mascot - always ready for a photo opp. 

Me and the GeordieLad often talk about the supremacy of rugby over football. Don't get me wrong - he's a massive footy fan and I grew up watching the game religiously. However since being part of the rugby family for the last 6 years we definitely feel that this is a sport that respects its players and its supporters; especially the next generation. The kids were treated well, had time to ask questions, were enthused about the what could lie ahead for them in the world of rugby.

Our girls came away from this day on top of the world having spent the day building on the passion that they had developed during the season at MiniHarlequins.

Favourite bits of the day:


  • When BigL got some one-to-one advice during a game with Rachael Burford
  • MiniE scoring two tries
  • Our two girls (full of nerves) getting interviewed at the end of the day
There's no stopping this little one!
Getting inspired by a leading lady

Getting media savvy already.

So a massive thank you to the organisers of the Junior Supporters Club - I definitely recommend joining up, for a tenner a year it's well worth it. Whether or not the girls or boys of today go onto become future rugby stars, coaches, physios, mascots, it doesn't matter. Today seemed to be about being involved with the Twickenham stadium community, about being inspired by those who have worked hard and got to the top of their game, about understanding the benefits of playing sport and having a good day with the family.




TOUGHING IT OUT

I hear in the news today (02.03.16) that medical professionals have asked ministers to ensure that tackling is banned in rugby matches played in schools. I'm not sure if they are omitting kid's rugby clubs in this but it seems they are targeting schools because the risk of injury is extremely severe if the players are tackling.

At club level we have seen our girls trained brilliantly: with precision, patience, and time. Each basic skill has been taught with the utmost concern for safety. We don't know what it's like at school because any form of after school rugby has been tag but that's because it's primary school.

But look the thing is if kids aren't playing tackle rugby until they are 18 consider the effect on the national game? Unless you join a club outside of school your skills will be way behind that of other countries - which in turn, in years will have a knock on effect on the youth teams.  Not every child has the funds, support or opportunity to play for a local club so they may rely on their school team to pursue their passion and develop their skills in rugby.

My 10 year old suggested that schools use a rugby coach when they are doing rugby so that they are taught the skills in the way she has experienced it at Harlequins. With the implementing of age grade rugby from September 2016 there are clear guidelines that schools and clubs have to follow. For a few hours a week I'm sure there are enough ex-rugby players and coaches that would be happy to come in and teach tackling, rucking and the rest properly.

I don't agree with everything that's been bandied around this morning - someone said that contact rugby helps develop masculinity (mmmm tell that to all the girls and women around the world who play) or that if you take away tackling what have you got left. I see youngsters every week being challenged, learning and enjoying tag or touch rugby. But there is a progression of ability and knowledge in the sport which develops as you get older. 

I definitely agree with rugby building character and raising the profile of sportmanship -  I'd stand in any rugby stadium before football any day.  Because of the physical aspect of the game there is a respect that is demanded, you can't just go kicking shins all over the pitch and match officials are all over the safety issues in the game. I also understand the concerns over the damage that can be caused if children are making bad tackles - life threatening injuries.

But instead of banning it (I'm not sure how many schools actually have compulsory rugby anyway) why not look to improve the training of rugby in schools? Is it fair to remove the possibility of schools nurturing the next Owen Farrell or Maggie Alphonsi? What will we lose next - hockey or gymnastics?






AWAY DAYS
Whilst many of my friends might be curled up in bed with a cuppa and the Sunday paper or (like the other half of my friends) mooching bleary eyed around a kitchen with toddlers, me and the GeordieLad and the 3G were being blown across a blustery muddy field in Acton, London. Our two mini 'Quins were playing away at Wasps today. I really like travelling away occasionally because you get a sneaky peek into other clubs. My top three away-games check list are:

  • How many other girls do the other teams have in the different age groups?
  • What is the attitude of parents/coaches on the touchline?
  • What is the clubhouse like?
Because we play on a University ground it doesn't really belong to us - although it is a great space and MiddleS (who doesn't play) gets to do her homework in a warm clubhouse.

I'm starting to notice that there is a definite increase in girls playing across all ages - with us having girls at two ends of the age scale it's encouraging to see girls being welcomed to rugby clubs.  LittleE is really lucky to have a female coach working with her too. I'm not taking anything away from the dad coaches who are bloody brilliant and have always supported our girls but it's inspiring to see a woman playing and training with the kids, plus she's offered support for BigL too with any tactical or confidence queries. Honestly she totally inspires me too and I wish I'd had the opportunity to play rugby in my younger days - it's a great sport.

So tick - the girls told me they played against a few girls today in both the home team and other visiting teams today.

It's always great to see adults on the touchline - people who are raising their children with sport in their lives which will stay with them forever. I've written before about the marvellous attitude towards kids playing at Harlequins Amateurs - it's so positive, encouraging, welcoming and never ever have I heard a cross or bad word directed at any children who come to play (behaviour is still kept in check but in the right way because kids are kids, right?). It's not always the case at other clubs and GeordieLad has returned home sometimes with tales of parents shouting at the kids across the pitch and arguing with the coach refs. I mean come on it's kids Sunday morning rugby not the World Cup Final! Anyway we felt very welcome at Wasps and once all the groups had found their relevant pitch the morning was a success - a Wasps coach gave lovely feedback comments at the end and it was cheers and hotdogs all round...

Which leads me to the clubhouse. Now this one is always going to be easy to please with me. Clean toilets and warmth and I'm happy. So imagine my surprise when I popped in to get MiddleS a hot chocolate and strolled into the blissful scene of a large pub-like clubhouse, with hot drinks at two stations (other adult based beverages were also available - much later though), televisions, comfy seats, plenty of toilets for both boys and girls, a decking area outside and great invention - a fake grass boot cleaner thingy for the girls to clean their boots before going home. Hah! Brilliant!

So yes I was the coldest I've been this season. But the girls played well. The chat with some other rugby mums was most welcome and a good laugh. So all in all great start to Sunday.
Thanks Wasps!

The cold before the warm bath thaw!




COULD DO BETTER

An invitation to watch the England Men's Rugby team training at Twickenham Stadium. Bypassing the resident's ballot ticket I volunteered to accompany some primary school children from my daughters' school - seeing as she was lucky enough to be taking part in the Guard of Honour it was the least I could do.

Camera in hand, wrapped up like the proverbial Michelin man, off I went ready to enjoy a day where the youngsters were being given the opportunity to be inspired by national sportsmen. 

The initial mood walking into the greatest stadium in the world was immense. All ages of spectators were welcomed with music, Ruckly the muscled mascot and the big screen capturing the smiles and excitement as we waited for the team to come out. 

The west stand erupted as the England squad came out and I was all cock-a-hoop as I could see my eldest down there on the pitch. And then the atmosphere was akin to the last balloon at a kid's party. Sitting amongst a few thousand school children of all ages I could feel the interest waning at a rate of knots.

Watch the ERTV short video and the morning will seem like an absolute success but I was there and having spoken to kids, teachers and rugby fans over the last few days there is definitely a grading of could-do-better about the whole event.

Which is a massive shame because I'm sure everyone behind the scenes worked really hard; it's no mean feat putting an event like that together.  But I did leave wondering what was the actual desired outcome?

Was it to introduce rugby to those who don't really know much about it or maybe inspire those who do - giving them a little peek into the lives of the people they wish to emulate one day? Was it to give back  something to the fans who tune in and turn up to international games or was it to tick a box marked RWC legacy, Education and Community?

My daughter was one of the lucky ones: she got to see the players close up, get an autograph, sit pitchside. What about the thousands of kids up in the stands - many of whom have never experienced any form of rugby and may never again. Surely this was a chance make a connection and involve the crowd.

My comments are well intentioned because as I said it was great that we got to be there in the first place and the actual organisation of the event was brilliant. But here are a few tips that may come in useful next time so that more youngsters go away with some more knowledge, interest and possible desire to get involved in the wonderful sport of rugby:


  • Line the players up to introduce them over the tannoy - possibly with big screen image of name, club, position, caps (surely there must a some of these saved on a laptop somewhere)
  • When the training / skills bit is going on maybe title or briefly summarise what is happening on the big screen. Admittedly this was done at random intervals so possibly using the guy with the microphone to embellish the info.
  • When the teams played against each other, involve the crowd using the big screen - getting them to choose between the red or yellow bibbed teams and cheer accordingly.
  • (Ok kids aren't supposed to have phones in school as a general rule but I saw plenty of selfie snaps going on so...) pose questions or teasers on the big screen that the crowd could tweet or text answers to - in this hashtag age the interaction with youngsters has to be immediate. No names need be on screen just the answers.
  • I loved the idea of a couple of kids creating a video diary for ERTV and getting to interview Danny Care so maybe extending that to school age rugby players - there are so many kids clubs around the country that it wouldn't have taken long to put together a video montage of why kids play rugby outside of school (especially as so many schools don't play it pre-secondary school).
Did you notice how many times the big screen was suggested there? So I'm not pushing for the players to do anything too onerous extra to their training session.

I'm concerned that the outcome of the day did more damage than good for the education and community involvement in rugby.







THE ANTHEM FACTOR

There's been a rush of opinion in the media this week regarding the news that MPs will be voting on whether England should have a national anthem separate to 'God save the Queen' recognised as the anthem for the United Kingdom.

Well I've been banging on this bandwagon for aeons, in fact every time I watch a national sporting event you can hear me berating the fact that there is no mention of England (at least in the couple of verses heard around various stadiums) so how are teams expected to be fired up to play at their best for a posh lady in a crown? Some might say that a national anthem shouldn't/really affect your prowess on the pitch but come on... I challenge you to sing the Irish sporting anthem (more on that later) without feeling a surge of pride and the desire to pound your opponents into the ground - even though your only contact with the Emerald Isle is via Craggy Island in the 1990s! 

A national anthem at sporting events is important. Athletes are out there representing their country and it allows the loyal, paying supporters to bond with their team; for that one moment they are one. However, before I start waving flags, England's national anthem issue is an ancient problem that needs resolving. Look at the other home nations: Scotland have their flower as they proudly fight for hill and glenWales stand brave and true for their landIreland's modern anthem written to encompass players from both sides of the border may not appease political persuasions but at least the effort was made to raise sporting spirits as one nation. The symbolism here of strong athletes marching forwards together is not lost in all three anthems.

Can the same be said of all three anthems that seem to be in rotation for English squads. Firstly God Save the Queen; patriotic yes but singing to make a monarch 'happy and glorious' amidst the throes of submission as she 'reigns over us' will hardly bring about the drive to beat down the All Blacks after the Haka will it? 

Cricket has long since favoured Blake's Jerusalem which does refer to England's green and pleasant land and has the rousing line of 'I will not cease from mental fight' but has a tune reminiscent of church hymns which inspires images of quaint village greens, cucumber sandwiches, vicars and straw boaters; jarring with the rivers of mud heaving with rucks and mauls. 

Then there's Land of Hope and Glory. The flag waving anthem concluding the Last Night of the Proms seems to be a front runner in many polls as the favourite replacement anthem at sporting events. But as a child of the 80s I can't help but be reminded of the sitcom It ain't half hot mum which ended with it being sung in a 'comedy' Indian accent and clearly the reference to Empire with 'wider and wider' bounds being set, I'm not the ancestors of slaves would agree that we should be extolling any 'Mother of the Free'. Free being an oxymoron on so many levels.

So is it just a song to be rolled out at the ceremonial entrance and exit of international sporting events? With a contrast of anthem choices between rugby union, cricket,rugby league, and even the men and women's lacrosse teams differ, I would say no, it's more than that. But I would argue against the daft suggestions of modern pop songs from the likes of Blur, The Beatles or Kate Bush but do agree that if you're representing England then one song should suffice.





DIDN'T WE HAVE A LUVERLY TIME...?
And so it's all over. The London 2015 Rugby World Cup is done and dusted. Already the adornments of the whole shebang are lying forlorn on vans heading away from Twickenham Stadium. Despite being unable to attend any of the actual matches, it's been an entertaining old time in Twickers over the last few weeks.

A highlight for me was cycling up an empty A316 with BigL just before coachloads of Aussie and English fans arrived. The unusual silence of the dual carriageway was soon surpassed as we snuck down residential streets and deposited ourselves opposite the entrance of the illuminated stadium amid cheers, whistles and most brilliantly a sea of yellow jacketed Australians entered the ground.

The stadium is usually wallpaper to us as we live ten minutes away and often drive past on the way back from the weekly shop. Watching the colours of the stadium change as the Opening Ceremony drew closer was exciting enough but nothing could compare with the atmosphere created on match days.

Luckily for us it wasn't all about the matches - these being spent on our living room sofa waving our snaffled yellow TRY banners - we were able to hang out at the Richmond fanzone and watch a couple of home nation matches. The importance of this venue is paramount because it gave families a place to watch the games in a safe environment with a stadium vibe. The pubs and bars were available in abundance for adult only spectators but this was a place where we could argue, cheer, applaud, groan in frustration, let the kids run around, have a beer 'n a burger or indeed a G&T without the worry of tanked up geezers or language unfit for younger ears.

Before it was over me and the girls challenged ourselves to find all of the 5 big rugby balls hidden around the local area. A couple were found easily as they were on the school or shopping run  but some of the others were a little farther afield. We decided on the penultimate weekend to jump in the Mini and scout SouthWest London to get pics taken with the balls, which I'm so glad we did as within a week of the competition being over they were all gone to the big rugby ball graveyard. 

A wonderful event which made Twickenham a haven of colour and culture and has sparked our desire to ensure we get along to the Six Nations games in body as well as spirit. 






WHY DON'T YOU...?
The happiness that comes with being a rugby loving family living in Twickenham took a little tumble on Saturday night as Wales tipped the score in into the red corner. Yet we were not disheartened for long and instead decided to soak up the Rugby World Cup atmosphere along the way in Richmond at the Fanzone. What a way to get the whole family involved in this fantastic event. From the walk up the Richmond Road where we took pics with a giant England rugby ball to checking out Scotland scoop a win over USA whilst chilling in Old Deer Park. Inside the park there were two massive screens - one definitely dedicated for families as it had huge play chairs for kids to jump around on and picnic benches . A semi-circle of pop up beer and food stalls made easy pickings for sustenance - although we watched an afternoon match, no doubt an evening game would probably mean more queuing, but you can still see the screens easy so bonus! Also there is a wide open space for anyone to have a kick around with teeny rugby balls - nothing ferocious and great for the little ones to burn off their energy.

Once the game had ended we mooched around the rugby world cup shop, got free teeny weeny coca-cola cans and then watched the kids on a couple of fairground rides. We were extremely lucky with the weather so picnic blankets on the ground worked however there is a huge tent for any rainy days ahead during the tournament. 

I'd love to pop down here for a massive evening match sans enfant as I imagine the atmosphere would be electric, especially for any of the home nations. But even in the day the mood was of good sportsmanship and crowds who just wanted to enjoy international rugby in a safe environment. This is brilliant thing about living in London - I would wager that every team in the 2015 World Cup is represented in large numbers wherever you're watching it. That makes for great viewing in an open space.

We didn't manage to get tickets on the residents ballot or couldn't possibly afford any available seats now at Twickenham but we're able to take part in this World Cup with the whole family outside of our living room, thanks to this fanzone.  Well worth a visit and thanks Richmond!






NO SHOUTING PLEASE - WE'RE RUGBY PARENTS
Back in the day I was a massive footy fan. To the point of obsession. Until I grew up and realised that I wasn't bothered with all the antics on the pitch and the racist/sexist abuse in the stands. Okay I'll plonk myself down on the sofa to follow the World Cup but that is pretty much it. It's been all about the Rugby for quite a while at TwickersTowers - I mean look at where we live, how could it not be? What impresses me about this game: the respect for the ref, the get-on-with-it attitude on the pitch, the (on the whole) decent behaviour from the fans. I have no issue heading to a game with the 3G in tow. Since watching BigL and now Little E playing rugby I've been relieved with the ethos set by the coaches that work with them. The high profile of enjoyment, fair play, team effort and respect permeates every training session. When you're standing in a rainy, snowy, windy field on a Sunday morning there is a massive sense of relief that all of the parents and coaches share a common goal of encouragement for all of the children. 

Anyway GeordieLad passed me this article clipping recently about the Yorkshire RFU putting their foot down against shouty parents on the touchline. And this is brilliant. Because what I have noticed when we go off to festivals are the parents (from other clubs I hasten to add) who are roaring at the ref and shouting their Sunday socks off 'til their hoarse. Look there's always going to be a certain amount of tutting, throat growling and clenched fists when your offspring has forgotten all the skills learnt over the course of a season. But we have learnt, from other club parents around us, that there is always a Well Done as you help them back into their tracksuits, possibly followed with a Next Time What You Could Do Is....

This isn't molly-coddling. Having watched a bunch of nine year old play for two hours in the driving sleet, there certainly isn't any coddling of any mollys going on. This support is what keeps them getting up and progressing at this wonderful sport. This is a life lesson which will shape a parent's relationship with a child. This is also model behaviour for the world outside.

So we cheer and clap - our successes and that of the opposition. Until she steps out for England that is - then you just try and keep me quiet!





A LESSON LEARNT
September brings the start of the rugby season for BigL, and she is about to embark on her 4th year playing rugby. Each year that passes makes me and the GeordieLad a little bit prouder that she is sticking with it and becoming more confident each season. But there has been something niggling me since last summer when I witnessed a boy team-mate poking fun at an all girl team, despite the fact that they had a girl on their own team. This then escalated to her overhearing a comment about someone having sex with her... I had to call on every ounce of strength and decorum not to drag her back to the security of our home. I refuse to accept that these things are part of the course of growing up - not at 8 years old. Not at all. However I felt absolutely powerless to resolve the situation: newbie rugby mum, big tournament, nothing seemingly noticed by other adults around, aware of the fact that the teacher in me could have verbally roasted that child within an inch of his life. So I did nothing. And it has rattled me ever since. #mumfailure. 

So come the new season, we took the opportunity to check out another club that offered a through route for girls all the way to grown up, which her current set-up didn't provide. It wasn't exclusively girls but the future chances for BigL seemed well planned - they had suggested that they had a good set-up for girls after the gender split took place at age 12/13. After the session GeordieLad came home fuming with reports of a club that had wooed us with promises of many girls already in their teams to discover that BigL was the only one there, of coaches and touchline parents barking instructions to the kids on the pitch and a whole session of streamed matches without any skills training. Discussing it with BigL it was decided she would remain at her first club who stand by their motto 'you play better when you smile' - it really is about fun. Also they learn the basics of the game before using those particular elements in an end of session game, enabling them to become confident, educated rugby players in future tournaments. More importantly, the coaches use the strategies I see in many classrooms - encouraging, advising, teaching, challenging and oh yeah...coaching!

Talking things through with the Head Coach, GeordieLad felt better as he had 'fessed up about the visit to another team and there had been a discussion about how girls could be supported more as they get older, whilst still playing in mixed teams. BigL felt better as she was staying in the team she has grown to enjoy and a lesson was learnt in loyalty and good coaching. Did I feel better? Yes and No. There is still the matter of the inappropriate behaviour. I now think that too much time has passed and I should have dealt with it better at the time by raising it with the coaches who I know would have supported us.  'Til then I will support and prepare BigL for situations that may arise as she gets older and provide her with the tools that she can make the right choices, but to call on me if she needs. And I am constantly scouring sites and forums to find rugby camps or one off girl only sessions. Girls need to play together more, and they need to see more of their role models on the mainstream rugby stage. The search continues....





ENGLISH ROSES CARRY IT HOME
Me and BigL sat huddled over my laptop with all fingers crossed waiting the start of the Women's Rugby World Cup Final in France. Well we weren't in France - the World Cup was - we were in Manchester, halfway through our family tour of the North. I'll admit we were a little smug as we reminisced the strong performance put in by England vs our opponents Canada a few days before, but were also a little nervous at their amazing performance against host nation, France. Cheers arrived early as England put in a strong start but we were soon quietened by a few fumbles and Canada raising their game to new heights. It got so tense I was soon up and down re-boiling the kettle in order to avoid watching yet another Canadian try close the gap.  Perched with my fifth cup of tea, the clock is ticking down, and there it was. The final whistle, and BigL and I hugged the end of our first Rugby World Cup together. This will always be a special tournament to us, in the same way that fathers and son reminiscence over the 1966 Football World Cup. This was the year that BigL moved from tag to touch rugby, the year that she was mascot for this amazing England Squad at Twickenham, and the year that the Women brought the World Cup home.  Just think, just maybe, if BigL does get to play for England, maybe women won't have to head back to their days jobs after international tournaments!

Congrats England - it's been absolutely brilliant and inspirational to a whole new generation for girls playing rugby.







LE RUGBY ... C'EST MAGNIFIQUE!
We have witnessed some spectacular rugby over in France this week at the Women's Rugby World Cup. The early group stages followed via Twitter due to our holidaying in Cornwall left us a little nervous but pleased that the England women had made it through to another match. And what a match that was. Huddled round my laptop via jumpy online coverage we were on the edge of our seats for the England vs Ireland game which finished 40-7; which sounds like a breeze but honestly, the first half definitely gave us cause for concern. Woman of the Match : Emily Scarrat (England) for overcoming a few early nervous kicks to confidently blasting her way through an Ireland defence.

So pumped up were we with this match, we were desperate to find out who we would face in the final so tuned in to the other semi: Canada vs France. This was a tough one because we had already drawn with Canada in an earlier game, so figured that we wouldn't mind meeting them again in a final - mental advantage and all that. Also France would have a truly supportive home crowd behind them. So who to support? Well there wasn't time to decide because from start to finish this was a breath-taking game, with France seemingly having the upper hand and taking early leads. Goodness knows what was said or done in the Canadian teamroom at half time, but those women came out with a mission. Some decisive manoeuvres and a few misdirected kicks left this game with the host nation out losing 16-18, and England facing Canada in the final on Sunday. Woman of the Match: Magali Harvey (Canada) for an amazing run from one end of the pitch to the other and to touch down with a flourish. Magnificent.





We wait with baited breath and our England shirts on for Sunday 5.45 - find SkySports wherever you can!! You will not be disappointed.





WHERE IT ALL BEGAN...

GeordieLad was raised on the stuff, but when we met we were both football fanatics: him Newcastle United (obvs) and me QPR. When the BigL arrived on the scene I started to consider taking her to Loftus Road when she was older and very quickly came to the conclusion that I couldn't, I wouldn't and judging by my experiences on my last few trips inside a football ground - I shouldn't. Even in the most family friendly stands there are the swearing, the racist comments and the sexist chants. So no - that was it, I was done. To be honest, the aggressive supporters and the over-paid flouncing on the pitch every Saturday were wearing thin.

I'd been taken to a couple of Rugby Sevens games as we live near the glorious Twickenham Stadium and I clocked the atmosphere immediately; it was fun, chilled, sociable, and best of all - there were loads of women!!! People in fancy dress, soaking up the atmosphere, lots of different teams to cheer on, enjoying a few  drinks, families together - this was a place I knew I would be happy bringing our children. And a few years on that is exactly what has happened.



Monster flag waving!
GeordieLad got in touch with our local rugby team, Harlequins, and signed BigL up for the under7s playing at St. Mary's University sports hall in Twickenham. Off they went on Sunday mornings to learn the basics of rugby and gain confidence in throwing, catching and passing. There has only ever been one other girl in BigL's year group, and to be honest we don't really see many other girls, which is a real shame and I definitely think is an issue the older she gets. But she enjoyed it and her first season was capped off joining her team-mates at Twickenham as mascots for the Harlequins men's team. Definitely a way to keep the youngsters keen and a great reward.



MiddleS and LittleE get in on BigL's glory!
The next season as BigL moved up to the under8s the training sessions moved outdoors to a training pitch in Teddington. One of those fields you might drive past where there seem to be a million children playing  hundred games. It's not that packed and is so magnificently organised, and more importantly the kids all seem to be enjoying it  -even on windy, rain-soaked mornings. The pitch is lined with mainly dads and a few mums huddled under umbrellas nursing welcome teas and coffees. I've had to take BigL occasionally if GeordieLad is away and I've usually enjoyed it...I say usually because I suddenly realise how competitive I am, and have to hold myself back from being one of those parents. You know the ones that stand on the touchline screeching their heads off and look almost ready to pound the referee into the ground if a decision goes against their precious offspring. Well, I'm not that bad - and it's usually training drills rather than matches I attend, but still...you can almost imagine me on the side:chewing gum, sheepskin coat, earpiece recording comments for playback later (I'm joking I'm joking). So now her ability is slowing improving and she is started to get more interested in the men's games that GeordieLad takes her to every now and then, especially when Twickenham offers the £5 for kids tickets. Another great way to get the whole family and future generations to keep coming to live games.



So anyway, BigL has been playing a couple of seasons now and she's growing in confidence. There was a slight dip in interest a season ago so it was time to question whether she really wanted to continue. As a young athlete I experienced moments of wanting to give up, but these were short lived so although we didn't want to push her, we also needed to make sure this wasn't just a -it's cold and I'm tired moment - rather than a - I hate rugby and don't want to do it any more moment.
Luckily it was the former and she is still going strong. 


It's been a huge learning curve for BigL as this is not a sport she is experiencing at school, or had particularly watched on TV; we also need to remember this is not a sport that is promoted for girls at this age. There have been many instances where she has been ignored by boy team-mates who haven't passed to her. Now this could be because sometimes she can be seen strolling, seemingly uninterested, around the pitch (until we worked out that she was so cold she just shut down #justlikehermama). But as we watched closely we realised this was sometimes a tactical issue. Hear me out. Have you ever watched little boys playing football? Sometimes it looks like 20 boys all running in the same direction after one ball - no one is in a space. Well it can be the same in rugby! But in the training the key aspect of the team is to keep the line so there are always players free to receive the ball (see I do pay attention). So this is what BigL has been doing in games but if all the other boys are running in one direction, she looks like she is standing far away disinterested.  She still has a lot to learn about fighting for the ball, and that hunger to get stuck in; but when she does get the ball she can run a link down a pitch - no one can catch her.



I really believe in her ability and I think this is wonderful sport for kids to learn about teamwork, passion, discipline and strength. There was a defining moment for BigL which I think made her realise what this sport could offer her in the future. GeordieLad entered her into a competition to be team mascot for the England Women's Rugby team at Twickenham vs Ireland. I think it was more to do with the fact that there were free tickets for the men's game beforehand for him and BigL if she won. Whatever... she won and received a brand new England kit, some England goodies and got to meet the team in the dressing room before the game.  We were the proudest parents on earth when our (little) BigL stepped out in front of thousands at Twickenham as sole mascot with the women's team. She stood tall and sang the national anthem and was definitely star of her own team when she returned to training the following Sunday. The day was topped off with England beating the Irish 17-10...result!! They definitely had a lucky mascot that day.


That's our girl!



Happy smiles all round!


BigL isn't usually the most confident of children, but from that day we have seen a spark in her and a determination when it comes to rugby. Interestingly, she seems to have been taken by the fact that Kate McLean, the Women's captain, is a teacher and captain of the team! BigLhas often said she wants to be a teacher and we could see her calculating the fact that she could do both these roles together. Although I hope that by the time BigL is older, that female players will be able to play full time.  We have been to see the England women play again and BigL got to meet Kate McLean a second time, and we are looking forward to the World Cup which starts in a few days (more about that later). 




Then...
...Now
Rugby has given BigL some wonderful moments.  Aside from the training, tournaments, visits to The Stoop (home of the Harlequins) or Twickenham Stadium, each year the parents take the kids to a weekend rugby camp to do activities, get muddy, run around, and stay up late each year. 

There have been tournaments with the Mini Harlequins where she gets to see how other teams play, and pushes herself to win. She is learning a lot about the game and herself. And right now she loves it. Long may it continue.