The Wolverhampton women who have fallen in love with rugby

It’s a game that’s both physically and mentally challenging but, more importantly, is also great fun to play.

Wolverhampton Ladies Rugby Team members Vicki Benton, Natalie Shaw, Hannah Gee, Jodie Chesterman and Sacha Harley
Wolverhampton Ladies Rugby Team members Vicki Benton, Natalie Shaw, Hannah Gee, Jodie Chesterman and Sacha Harley

Women’s rugby is on the rise as more players discover the exhilarating sport and the camaraderie both on and off the pitch.

Helping to encourage more female players to give it a go are passionate members of Wolverhampton Ladies Rugby Team.

“Rugby is nothing to be scared of,” says vice-captain Vicki Benton.

“As a woman, it’s a great sport to play. It’s a really diverse, really inclusive game,” she tells Weekend.

The team, which participates in the Women’s NC 2 Midlands (South) league, has been playing competitively for six seasons.

Vice-captain Vicki Benton

“We’ve been improving year on year and last season we finished in third place. We’ve got some great coaches who will work with people to help them to learn the basics, specific rules, understand the rules and also help them to carry on improving,” says Vicki who plays inside centre, kicks-off and takes the conversions.

The mother of two, who is continuing her vice-captain role for her fourth season was first encouraged to come along to training during the school run.

“I’ve always been sporty. I was picking up my eldest from school and one of the other mums, who was playing, asked me to go along.

“I had never played rugby before, but I knew the basics, so I thought I would give it a go.

“I love it now and I have made friends for life through playing. We’re a really diverse bunch but we share a love of the game. They’re friendships that will last a lifetime and we’re always there to support each other,” Vicki tells Weekend.

A training session gets under way

There are around 30 players, with an age range of between 17 and 46, register with the team which trains at Wolverhampton Rugby Club in Castlecroft Road.

“We’re proud of the fact that we’ve never gone to a game without a full team. Not everybody is available every game to play due to other commitments so we’re always looking to recruit new players.

“We’ve got a wide range of people. People who had never picked a ball up before, people who had played a bit at uni and people who had been playing for years,”explains Vicki, 41. If you don’t like getting muddy, it might not be the game for you as unless the pitch is waterlogged, it’s not going to be cancelled.

“There is a physical element to the game but you won’t know how you feel about that until you try.

“We pride ourselves on being inclusive so we will do our best to encourage you and build you up.

“Everybody walks off the pitch with a smile on their face, it’s a great sport and women shouldn’t be afraid of giving it a go,” says Vicki.

This year's captain Sacha Harley

The team’s newly-appointed captain is 36-year-old Sacha Harley who first started playing the game in 2014.

“I was a bit of a late starter at almost 30. I took it up having never played before. For me it was the social side that attracted me. Being a single mum with two kids, I didn’t go out much and I didn’t really have many friends so I just wanted to get out and meet new people.

“I saw an advert for training on Facebook and it was the same night my kids were at their dad’s and I was free,” Sacha tells Weekend.

Training is on Tuesdays and Thursdays

After her first training session, she was hooked and Sacha began playing on the wing before later moving to scrum-half.

“They are the best group of girls and the coaches are so helpful. Even if you have no knowledge of rugby, the training sessions are easy to understand so anyone can jump in and get cracking,” she says.

Sacha believes there is a special bond among the teammates and the benefits of the game extend far beyond the field.

“For me my team are like my family. They are definitely my best friends and when we’re on the pitch we support each other.

“Rugby is good for your mind, your body and it’s good for giving you an all-round sense of purpose. I would highly recommend it,” she says.

Natalie Shaw

The team has recently started preparing for the new season with non-contact training but it’s not yet known when the first league match will be played.

“We’ve been given the provisional league so we know the teams we are up against and we are waiting for the RFU to come back with the fixtures.

“Everyone has been working hard on their own fitness during lockdown and we’re itching to start playing games again,” says Sacha.

When the season does finally get underway, the ladies are setting their sights on achieving promotion.

“We have been improving season on season. We can see our strengths and everyone is gelling well together. We just get stronger each season. We’re going to aim for the top, work hard and play hard,” Sacha tells Weekend.

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