Valkyries are riding high

Just Regional
May 25, 2020 3 mins read

PAUL MORSE reports on the latest news at North Walsham Rugby Club

Among the representative team jerseys in North Walsham’s Clubhouse is just one from a Ladies team: the England Colleges 2007 awarded to ex-Walsham player Vicky Harris.

“I’d love to add to that,” says Richard Polley, joint coach of the 30-plus-strong Girls squad, which was re-formed two years ago.

Rugby is one of the fastest growing sports amongst women, with participation doubling in five years. More than 25,000 play regularly and England won all their Six Nations matches this seasonthere is a nationwide10 team semi-professional competition and 200 sides compete in leagues below that.

North Walsham Valkyries have three teams – under-13, -15 and -18 (both sexes play together in the under-11s) and eight schools are represented.

Richard credits much of the recent growth to the club’s schools programme, which is “absolutely vital. Two thirds came to us that way [and] without it many wouldn’t have handled a rugby ball or known we existed.”

Matches and training take place on Sunday mornings. In addition to local “friendlies”, there is a monthly Eastern Counties Festival where they partner with West Norfolk to field full teams.

The girls get stuck in during a game against Broadland.

Everyone gets the chance to play, regulations stipulating every squad member must play at least half a game on matchdays. The under-15s, victorious over every Eastern Counties team bar Cambridge, competed in the National Cup, defeating Kettering before losing at Peterborough.

Talking to three 15-year-old players, all new to rugby in 2018, the fun they have and the sport’s sociability shine through.

“I love the team’s family feel, everyone gets on irrespective of background,” says Ali Doe, from Stalham Academy. “Whatever a game’s outcome we always have loads of fun.”

All talk about the life skills it gives them. Tansy Petch (Broadland Academy) explains: “Rugby has taught me patience and that no matter what your background everyone has an important role.”

“Leadership, decision making, teamwork,” said Beth Cass, from Cromer Academy.

Respect for everyone – teammates, opponents, referees, coaches – and the caring atmosphere are other themes.

“We are very good at supporting each other, whatever the issue,” added Ali.  Being rugby there is a big social side:  barbecues and summer and Christmas balls. The girls make the arrangements for the balls and a price cap of £15 per outfit, which must be purchased from a charity shop, makes them inclusive.

Meet the teams.

The squad benefits from two experienced coaches. Richard has been coaching for around 25 years whilst Sophie Bambridge, who still plays for Lakenham Hewett, set up Havant’s successful Girls’ section before returning to Norfolk.

“There is a place for everyone in a rugby team,” commented Sophie. “We’ve seen so many come along and absolutely love it. It’s great to see them develop their rugby skills but, more than anything, I love to see how the team develops.”

The girls clearly value their coaches: “brilliant… fantastic… create the right atmosphere” were amongst their comments.

In January 2018 there were seven girls at the first training session. Last season seven were selected for Eastern Counties teams; maybe that England jersey is on its way. Training restarts on September 6.

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