Head Coach of Berkshire Barbarians girls U18s, Malcolm Darvell, admits there is only one way to describe the team’s last few years, “incredible”.
Looking at the results, it’s hard to disagree. The girls side won the treble last year (National Cup, National 7s and Worthing 10s) having only lost won game all year and are on course to retain their trophies once again this season.
As well as producing results, the team has become something of a conveyor belt of future international players. Half of the current team are now playing South West academy rugby and are pushing to join teammate Abby Dow who at 18 years old has already been picked to rSo what’s the secret? According to Darvell, it’s the result of a rather unique collaboration between Reading RFC and their neighbours Newbury who have pooled resources and players to help grow girls rugby in the region.
“Before the Barbarians existed we kept having to change names depending on where we played to either Reading or Newbury,” says Darvell. “We realised that the best solution to help the girls be successful was forming a cluster team and we’ve gone from strength to strength.”
Since the two clubs have come together to share facilities and coaches, the girls game has boomed with the success of the U18 girls team mirrored by increased participation amongst the U15s and juniors.
“About half of our U18 team are those who have come through the juniors but the others are now first time players who are part of the growth of women’s rugby across the country,” says Darvell.
At this stage, it is looking like the U18s will once again repeat the triumphs of last year having beaten Welwyn over two legs to reach the semi-finals of the National Cup.Forwards coach Sam Driver is hoping the final will be less tense than last year should they reach it. “We had to come back from 17 points down to win it and only scored in the last few minutes of the game. It was an emotional day but a great one for the girls which they completely deserved."
The team aren’t short of accolades off the pitch either having been presented the Wokingham Borough Council Chairman Award by RFU President Jason Leonard as well as being shortlisted for the Berkshire Get Active Awards.
One of the many success stories to come from the team in recent years has been Abby Dow who recently signed for Wasps Ladies having gone through the system at the Barbarians. Dow is now part of the England U20 team and says the Barbarians made it all possible.
“I wouldn’t have got this far without the Barbarians,” says Dow. “Malcolm and the coaches have built an amazing structure and atmosphere that encourages the girls to take control of how we want to play.”
“It’s become like a family," added Dow. "It’s no surprise there are so many girls pushing for international recognition because we all want to emulate the others who have gone on to do it.”
It's been an impressive journey for a team that has become a real success story of girls rugby.
And this is what the Youth Chairman of Reding RFC said about Women & Girls rugby in Berkshire:
" behalf of Ian Cameron-Webb, President, Andy Clark, Chairman and all the Exec Committee, all team coaches, volunteers and supporters at Reading RFC, please pass on our thanks to all the coaching staff, managers, first aiders, volunteers, parents and, most of, all the girls for an amazing success story."
"The RFU article quite rightly putting the spotlight on girls rugby in Berkshire, fully deserved not just for the last few years. At Reading RFC we are celebrating the Ladies 25th year, and those ladies, coaches, managers supporters who started it way back then have also played a huge part in the growth and demand for ladies and girls rugby. "
"Women’s and Girls rugby is not only growing at Reading and Newbury, also Abbey, Maidenhead, Crowthorne, Windsor, and in every youth section across Berkshire we are seeing the numbers of girls wanting to take part is growing week in week out. We are having to respond daily to the demand from schools for coaching support for girls rugby alongside the RFU Community coaches, who do a great job. The demand needs further support from the governing body to ensure more community clubs can help grow the grassroots girls game alongside the boys for future generations."
Updated 27th February 2016.