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Canterbury of New Zealand

#PositiveEnergy: ‘We’re Now Seeing Girls Picking Up The Skills Of Rugby From A Much Earlier Age’

#PositiveEnergy: ‘We’re Now Seeing Girls Picking Up The Skills Of Rugby From A Much Earlier Age’

IrishRugby.ie paid a visit to Ollie Campbell Park to see how Old Belvedere are looking forward to the Energia All-Ireland League for 2021/22 and benefitting from participation programmes like Canterbury ‘Give It A Try’ in both the long and short term.

You can see more in the video below:

Old Belvedere were one of 90 clubs to take part in Canterbury ‘Give It A Try’ this summer. Club coach and former Ireland star Nora Stapleton said:

Not only is ‘Give It A Try’ important to give girls the opportunity to play rugby, but from a pathway point of view we’re now seeing girls who are picking up the skills of rugby from a much earlier age.

“They’re learning how to pass, they’re learning how to tackle, they’re learning how to evade and that then is filtering through to the underage club teams here in Old Belvedere and in other clubs as well.

“That then has a knock-on to underage interpro teams in Sevens or 15s. You have girls playing in those set-ups, who now have been playing rugby for five, six or seven years before they reach adult level.”

Old Belvedere back rower Erin King (pictured below, on the left) was one of Leinster’s shining lights during their unbeaten run in the 2021 PwC IRFU Under-18 Women’s Interprovincial Series.

Stapleton says the emergence of these types of player is a massive boost in driving standards and participation for Energia All-Ireland League clubs.

“We still have new adult players which is just fantastic but younger players are stepping up from the underage rugby complete with so many skills and they just get stuck in. It’s just great to see,” she admitted.

More attention to participation programmes in AIL clubs has also helped evolve the wider culture within their rugby community.

“‘Give it a Try’ showed that girls play too. People got more familiar with seeing younger girls out playing rugby and that showed.

Clubs are now a place where the whole family can come down and play rugby and it’s just inclusive to everybody now.”

Old Belvedere shared the challenges other clubs faced in the 81 weeks since the last Energia All-Ireland League fixture. The easing of public health restrictions in May gave them the chance to reopen their gates for contact training.

“It was more about basic skills, enjoyment and giving the girls a chance to hang out with each other,” explained Stapleton.

“The restrictions were hard to follow, but we did and thankfully everybody stayed safe over those months. We’ve also had girls playing other sports and that’s something we’ve encouraged them to do.

“We had no sport for such a long time, so if there were matches in another sport over the summer, we wanted our girls to go and play. Those girls are coming back now and it’s great that they’ve been ticking over.

“All in all, training has gone really well. We’ve a great coaching set up here, we’re ready and the girls are just really excited to get going.”