Romford Ravens and England Women prove rugby isn’t just for boys

Romford and Gidea Park Ravens

Romford and Gidea Park Ravens - Credit: Archant

England did incredibly well in the world cup this year.

A sentence many wouldn’t believe after Roy Hodgson’s men bowed out of Rio with their tails between their legs in June.

But, this summer saw elite athletes compete in a second international tournament, from which England’s women’s rugby squad carried home the silverware.

The squad’s World Cup victory in Paris was exactly what the sport needed to gain recognition and resulted in 20 players being awarded professional contracts by the Rugby Football Union (RFU) in August.

Fran Mills, player and manager at Romford and Gidea Park Ravens, said: “It’s great that women can now be professional players too. It gives younger players something to strive for.

“They have always shown the same commitment as the men but had to balance it with their jobs too.”

The England Women’s World Cup squad consisted of teachers, policewomen and a plumber, to name a few, who all maintained their intense world-class training schedule around day jobs.

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There are almost 18,000 female rugby players in England and the RFU aims to get 100,000 involved in the game by 2017 in any way, whether it’s full contact, touch, refereeing or coaching.

Fran said: “England already has the largest female rugby playing population in the world.

“The RFU want 25,000 women in full contact rugby 2017 and I think this is really achievable as it has increased by 3,000 in the last year alone.”

The Ravens has been established for more than a decade and the club is doing better than ever. Last season it won its league, which saw it promoted, and the team made history by becoming the first to retain the national cup.

However the stigma ­attached to the sport given the brutish on-pitch aggression often demonstrated by their male counterparts means recruitment can be an issue.

Fran said: “There is a perception that all female rugby players are big and butch. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

“One of the best things about rugby is it needs people of all sizes and shapes, we have a number of girls under 5ft 2ins and less than eight stone while we also have some much bigger girls.”

The 47-year-old is the wife of a former Ravens coach and only started playing herself after she was invited out for a drink with the team 10 years ago.

Following England’s success in the world cup and the inclusion of sevens in the Rio 2016 Olympics more women are embracing the sport, including Amanda Day who joined the Ravens this season having never played before.

“The excitement and adrenaline that runs through my body on the pitch is now something I crave,” she said. “Rugby has become a way of life. I now live, breathe and thrive for the game.”

It is inevitable friendships will form when the players spend so much time together as Amanda Castley, who has been with the Ravens since the very beginning, explained: “They are not just my rugby team, they are my friends and family.

“Our bond does not stop on the pitch, it goes far ­beyond that and the Ravens are always looking for people to join the Raven family.”

Now the English Roses have started their new contracts as professional rugby players they are becoming an inspiration to a whole new generation of strong and healthy women for the RFU to recruit and help develop an already rapidly growing sport.