Women rugby players move from sidelines to front lines

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A group of Bow Valley Grizzlies supporters are moving from the sidelines to the front lines after christening a new women’s rugby squad in Cochrane this season.

“It’s funny, because a bunch of us have watched the Grizz for a such a long time … A good chunk of us have come off the side to play on the women’s team,” said Hannah Begg-Lennon, the fiancée of Grizz captain Connor Gilbert. “My whole friends and family have happened through rugby … I just love how you make friendships and connections and just meet people.

“It’s definitely a big part of our lives now.”

Begg-Lennon is one of a handful of Grizz girlfriends, wives and spouses who have joined forces with other newbie rugby players to create Cochrane’s first women’s full-contact rugby team under the Bow Valley Rugby Club banner.

Erin Callaghan – another former Grizz sideliner who has cheered on her boyfriend, fly-half Hamish Wrafter, for a year – will be coaching the ladies, along with Bow Valley men’s mentor Ty Hawes.

“We’re starting from scratch and building it as we go,” he said. “There’s definitely a want for it in Cochrane.”

Callaghan said about 15 players have signed up, and she’s hoping to build out the roster to at least 23. The goal for this first season is to bring women into the fold who may have some curiosity about the sport, but never had an opportunity to try.

“There’s no pressure to actually play – we’d just love to get them out, teach them a bit about rugby … learn to love it like we do,” said Callaghan, who played in Australia for three years and loved the boost it gives women.

“I like that rugby gives girls a lot of confidence in themselves outside of the sport. When they find out that they can play rugby and it’s something they can achieve and they have the skills to do, it tends to transfer into other parts of their lives.”

Begg-Lennon previously dabbled in touch rugby, but this is the first time she’s made the leap into the full contact arena. She said she’s really “starting to love the sport now.”

“I kind of did the whole 180 thing,” she said. “It was really nerve-wracking for me, the tackling part. I felt like I would get crushed. Just learning the proper positioning and learning where to put your head … it’s all new to me.”

The team will play in Division 3 in the women’s league in Calgary and the season starts in May. Practices take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays and anyone interested in coming out can contact (403) 714-5348.

Begg-Lennon said she encourages anyone with an interest in the sport, even if they have no experience playing, to come and give it a go.

“I just want them to feel comfortable that they can come out,” she said. “It’s great when you’re out there and it’s not as scary as people might have in their heads.

“Once they do, it will change them – for sure.”

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Cochrane Eagle