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Kesteven Rugby ladies are gearing up for their second season

With plans well underway for the 2020/21 rugby season at Kesteven, the home of rugby in Grantham, here is a catch-up with Kesteven Ladies skipper Jade Sheardown.

Find out how the growing band of Black Army Warriors are preparing and their hopes for their second league season.

Women and girls’ rugby union is one of the fastest growing sports in Britain. Kesteven Rugby Club’s experience bears this out.

Kesteven Ladies captain Jade Sheardown. Photo: Graeme Reynolds (40326968)
Kesteven Ladies captain Jade Sheardown. Photo: Graeme Reynolds (40326968)

The Black Army Warriors was set up in November 2017 with the aim of gauging interest in the full-contact sport. Since then, the squad has grown and gone from strength to strength.

In just two years, Kesteven Ladies has developed from a group of curious beginners to a committed team of players now playing and holding their own in the Women’s NC2 North (East) league. Kesteven has also gone on to set up three age-banded girls’ teams, which are now providing a solid talent pipeline to the Ladies squad.

What inspired you to start playing?

I joined Kesteven Ladies in November 2017, the first month the squad started. I was encouraged by my husband, who has been part of Kesteven Rugby Club since he was five years old. I had been coming up to the club with him for the past 10 years. He said: “You know they are setting up a women’s team – you should get involved.” I looked out the window and it was tipping down with rain. It’s November. There’s not a chance! The thought of it petrified me. I was 28 years old and it was something new to do.

I didn’t know if it was for me, but thought, you know what, if you don’t give it a go, you’ll never know. I put on a pair of very cheap football/rugby boots, turned up at the club, was welcomed by the coaches and the women, and got stuck in. About an hour and a half later, I arrived home and sat on the step to take my shoes off and had to admit to my husband that he was right: I absolutely loved it.

It has been one of the best things I have done in my entire life. Even on the days we turn up and there is frost or snow on the ground, I can guarantee you will leave every single session feeling like you’ve achieved something.

Is there a typical Kesteven Ladies player?

The group we’ve got here is phenomenal. We are women aged from 17 to 47 and are an absolutely brilliant squad. There are 35 of us. I can hand on heart say it’s as though you create a new family. And it truly is that.

Everybody is very supportive. Everybody has different levels of fitness. Everyone brings different experiences. It really doesn’t matter. The main thing we say when go out to play a game is that we do ourselves proud. We are not held accountable to anybody else but ourselves. It’s about what we achieve in the game and what we’ve learnt. If ever we criticise ourselves, it’s because we want to develop.

How does women’s rugby fit into the Kesteven Rugby family?

The set-up we’ve got just works. All the club supports us and we have an exciting season coming up. The buzz we’ve had in the last eight weeks when we’ve been doing fitness training and now ball handling again is just incredible. We are getting 25-30 women up here on a Monday night to do a rather gruelling fitness session and everybody loves it, which shows the determination we have.

I’d never since secondary school been part of that team atmosphere. And it is just incredible. It’s not just about standing on the pitch, supporting from the sidelines or training. We talk to each other outside of those events as well. Everyone is just so supportive and have made what I would call lifelong friends. I really mean that.

Is rugby for everybody?

I would say 100 per cent. I am one of three sisters. I am immensely proud to say that all three of us play rugby. We are very different characters, ages and have interests in different things. That just highlights that rugby is for everybody. I have watched both my sisters grow as a person, in confidence, in strength, physically and mentally, throughout this process. Don’t doubt yourself. Just get out there a give it a go and see if it is for you. I can promise you if you come up, meet the women, see what we do and what we stand for and give it a go – it will be for you.

What are your hopes for the season? What do you want to achieve?

We are constantly getting updates from the RFU. The roadmap at the moment is going in the right direction. I perhaps foresee that it isn’t going to be until around Christmas or after Christmas that we can start to play league games. But everyone is in the same situation. That’s what I keep saying to the ladies. We can only carry on doing what we are doing in relation to Covid-19, so we just carry on with our fitness and our mentality of being strong and building up that bond among us all, which is absolutely crucial on the pitch. Then whenever the season starts, we are ready.

I am so excited to see what the season will bring. When we finished 2019-20’s season, our first, I was gobsmacked by how we performed, quite frankly. We were new, the newest team in terms of how long we’ve been set up and in terms of our level of experience, and we finished seventh from nine teams.

At the beginning of the season we set out to win just one match. At the end of it, we had won two and drawn one against far more experienced and established sides. We couldn’t have asked for a better first season and so looking forward to seeing what the next season brings.

l If you are interested in joining Jade and the Kesteven Ladies, find out more at www.kestevenrugby.club

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