Mere Baker finished an Easter rugby camp in Railway Union rugby club with twenty-five girls. “This is our third year running camps, at our first camp, one girl turned up!” The development of the Railway Union Women’s rugby 7’s Academy targets girls’ schools for the development of women’s rugby. Since starting this development nearly four years ago there is now a Leinster girl’s rugby junior and senior cup, being played every April.
The girls 7s academy Takes place during the 7s season, which runs from April to August .It allows talented, enthusiastic and able girls to develop as rugby players and possibly achieve in an Olympic sport. Many of the girls in the Railway academy won’t have played rugby before and will be ‘crossover athletes’ (athletic girls who have never tried rugby but would have skills that would be transferable).
The academy is led by Railway coach Mere Baker, one of the most decorated female players in the game and a former New Zealand 7s international and World Cup winner. So how does Mere think the development of girl’s rugby might avoid some of the pitfalls that school boy rugby has been criticised for previously? “In New Zealand we don’t have that drop off that happens here. Here, once the kids leave school and go to university sport just goes on hold. I think we need to start building rugby earlier in girls schools, at 12 or 13, so that by 4th year, kids are being invited to the clubs, mixing with the adults and building a culture of training twice a week and having an affiliation to a club”.
One of the goals in developing the Academy in Railway Union was to build a women’s 7’s Olympic team for Rio 2016 and with the success of the club’s promotion of the sport in girl’s schools, they are progressing strongly. “As a club this is what we want to do and we want to be very successful at it. We are always looking to the next level with our girls.” As a result the Academy has seen five of their girls going on to the Leinster squad this year and a large proportion of their 16 -21year olds have gone on to the under 18’s Leinster Squad, the Irish under 18’s and the Ireland 7’s team.
With Mere in charge of 7’s skills, tactics and game intelligence, the Academy is benefitting from her mindset, typical of New Zealand rugby. “From a New Zealand perspective we never want to loose, being best is an off-set of that. Loosing hurts too much!” Mere’s own career would inspire any young rugby player. Having played 15’s and 7’s rugby for New Zealand, she won the rugby league world cup with her country and the Hong Kong 7’s on six consecutive occasions. Having also coached international women’s 7’s rugby she is regarded as being the most decorated female rugby coach in the country.
In her own career Mere believes her success came from being scared of being beaten. “In my whole 7’s career I was beaten twice. The first time was in 2008 against England in Amsterdam. It was towards the end of my career and it was not a nice feeling!” In terms of the differences between the development of rugby in Ireland and New Zealand, Mere points out a few key areas that need to be addressed if women’s rugby is to develop further. “The IRFU are starting to develop activities and tournaments but it’s slow, they are about four years behind us and that ‘s frustrating! In GAA the kids have a ball in their hands at 6 years old. We need to apply the same structure the GAA has to rugby. It happens for the boys, we need to apply it in the girls schools now”.
There’s no doubt that the success of the Ireland women’s rugby team at the Six Nations Championship and the rugby World Cup will have inspired a lot of young women to get involved in the game. However, if the success of the Railway Union’s Academy continues, we can look forward to many more titles in women’s 7’s championships, and possibly the Olympics very soon.