The DB Pirates senior women’s team is well into its second season in the Hong Kong Women’s National 10’s league.
Although squad numbers have at times been a little down, the girls are certainly giving it a red-hot go. Sam Agars reports.
While rugby may not traditionally be a women’s sport, it has a healthy following in Hong Kong, and the Discovery Bay Pirates has a particularly enthusiastic senior squad. The team is made up of players ranging from as young as 17 to as old as 40. Most are new to the game but they have been quick to pick up the rules and, while they don’t have the size and speed of the men, there is no shortage of commitment and aggression.
Competing in the Hong Kong Women’s National 10’s league, and after finishing last season in fourth place, the DB ladies are currently sitting midway up the table, with high hopes for further match wins before season end in March.
Sisterhood of trust
According to Pirates’ director of women’s rugby Renee McCreadie, who has lived in DB for 20 years, women are not always keen to try rugby due to the perception created by the super-physical men’s version of the game. However, the ones that do give it a go soon fall in love with the game.
“There is something different about playing a contact sport with a team,” says Renee, who played for the Pirates last year but is sitting out this season due to pregnancy. “You have to really support and be there for each other. It forms a sisterhood of trust. Contact sport is such a different feeling and when people play it and feel it, they love it.”
The Pirates are hoping to attract more numbers – they currently have 13 women in the senior squad but are targeting 20 – and Renee urges anyone keen to try their hand to take the plunge.
“People are intimidated by the contact and that it is rugby,” Renee says. “They watch the guys play rugby but it is really nothing like that, especially in development. It’s full contact but whoever you are playing, usually it is their first season as well so they are not too strong. We welcome everyone who wants to come to training. You don’t have to commit to it, just come and see if you like it.”
Giving it a go
One man who has seen first-hand what the girls can dish up is senior women’s coach Steve Kean, who is also the Pirates’ chairman. “We have got a whole bunch, who are completely new to the sport and it takes a while in terms of learning,” he says. “If you gauged it by scores and results, then we would be… struggling. But in other senses, if you look at the spirit, the commitment, the energy and the enthusiasm they have, they are an outstanding bunch of ladies.”
Sports teams are so often judged by their results on the field, but for senior women’s assistant coach Shonagh Ryan, the spirit of camaraderie is what’s important.
“The Pirates is a great social team – we all get along so well,” says 21-year-old Shonagh, who played junior rugby for the Pirates and is now playing (rugby) for Hong Kong Football Club (HKFC) in the Hong Kong Women’s Premiership. “There is a community feel and people love staying with the club. The Pirates taught me what it means to be a team. I will always feel like I’m a Pirate and feel like I’m part of the team even when I’m not playing with them.”
Renee echoes Shonagh’s thoughts, also pointing out that the women’s and men’s sections of the club work together both on and off the field, and support each other wherever possible. “It’s really good, the connection between the two teams,” she says.
And when it comes to putting their bodies on the line for the cause, there are no questions asked. “There is no holding back,” Steve says. “Most of the women don’t have the bulk or the pace that the guys do, but I think you get the same commitment and a relative level of physicality. It’s a bit gentler in some respects, they are generally more polite than the guys, but they go at it just as frantically.”
Pathway to the top
Fourteen-year DB residents, Shonagh and her 19-year-old sister Aileen, who also plays for HKFC, are two of the most promising products to come out of the Pirates women’s system. Aileen has represented Hong Kong at junior and senior level, while Shonagh was named in the national senior squad for the Asian Rugby Championship in May, before missing out due to injury, and is edging closer to her debut.
For Shonagh, coming through the ranks with her sister and playing alongside her at HKFC has been a special experience, while the lure of one day lining up with Aileen for Hong Kong is driving her on. “I love playing with her,” Shonagh says. “She’s a back and I’m a forward; it’s really cool when we get to play together.”
Aileen first played for Hong Kong when she was just 17 and, while the Pirates themselves have aspirations of eventually moving up into a 15s league, Renee says the club will never stand in the way of someone looking to better themselves.
“If you want to move up, if you want to play in the 15s, we will encourage you,” Renee says. “Two under 19s from last year have moved to Hong Kong Cricket Club to play.”