The different faces of the women’s rugby boom
Women’s participation in rugby around the world is at an all-time high, with latest figures showing 2.7 million players involved in the game. World Rugby launched the global campaign ‘Try And Stop Us’ on Tuesday to build on that success and get even more involved.
AFP Sports spoke to three women from different backgrounds about how they ended up involved in the sport.
Maelle Filopon (France)
Filopon’s rugby-playing foster family were key in her decision to opt for the sport, although for a time she preferred judo. The dashing centre has not regretted her choice despite the crushing blow of two torn cruciate ligaments — one in each knee.
The highlight of the Toulouse star’s career was a stunning try for France against New Zealand last November in front of her home crowd in Grenoble.
“I was the last one to come out of the dressing room and there was a huge crowd of people. There must have been half my village present. It was impressive,” she told AFP.
Filopon, who cannot hear high-pitched or low tones but refuses to wear a hearing aid when playing, fearing it will fall out, said people are overcoming their earlier scepticism about the women’s game.
“We went out and had a drink (after the New Zealand game) and I realised the match had made an impression on plenty of people. They came up and in a rather surprised tone of voice said ‘it is pleasant to watch’ and ‘even women can play the game well’.”
Whether she and many of her contemporaries can make a living out of rugby, time will tell. Filopon is paid a match fee by Toulouse, but is also studying for a marketing degree.
Bianca Silva (Brazil)
Rugby’s sense of community saw Silva shun football for rugby in soccer-crazy Brazil.
She started aged 11 through the social project Rugby Para Todos (Rugby For All) and has developed into a quicksilver sevens specialist — who once played as the only girl in a 15-a-side under-15 boys’ team.
The 21-year-old is looking forward to “tears of joy and not sadness” when she’s expected to play at next year’s Olympics, having been told she was too young to appear on home turf at the 2016 edition.
Despite her youth, Silva has become an idol for girls such as school pupil Carla, who have had similar upbringings in a favela.
“I am her biggest role model. She comes from kind of the same place, sort of same dynamic in terms of socio-eco background and it is strange but great having this very direct relationship with a younger girl who hopes to be like me some day.”
Silva’s mother was perplexed when she first saw her daughter being tackled to the ground.
However, what makes Silva happiest is that she can now provide for her mother, a house maid, and two sisters in Sao Paulo’s favela of Paraisopolis.
“My mother was always able to provide the basics but one thing playing rugby has helped with is I am in a financial condition to support my family and give a little bit more comfort than just the basics,” she said.
Lucky Nirere (Uganda)
“Is she 12 or have I forgotten when I produced her… is she 18?” asks Lucky’s mother, former Ugandan front row international, Fortunate. It is easy to see why Fortunate should pinch herself sometimes.
Her precocious daughter, her only child, played her first game of tag rugby aged two, presented a match ball for the Wales v Australia pool match at the 2015 World Cup, and now aged 12, as a coach-educator, has put 50 grassroots’ coaches through their paces.
“I like rugby because it is a simple game played by both males and females and intelligent people,” Lucky tells AFP.
Lucky, whose hero is former New Zealand fly-half Dan Carter, and her mother, a former social worker, oversee Whales Rugby Academy based in the town of Entebbe.
Fortunate says Lucky, who also enjoys refereeing, has made her tackle her own faults.
“When I am coaching she (Lucky) can identify better than me when I raise my voice. She just comes in and says ‘mummy calm down’.”