Down and Dirty

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Home > McGill News > 2001 > Winter 2001-2002 > Down and Dirty
Getting Down and Dirty with Women's Rugby

By Helen Dyer
Photos by Andrew Dobrowolskyj and Owen Egan

It's early October and autumn colour is in full glory in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, the Montreal suburb that's home to Macdonald Campus. But by 8:30 on a warm, still night, the tree-lined side streets around the campus are dark and silent.

I turn a corner and a sudden glare of floodlights burns through the darkness over the McEwen sports field to reveal a game in progress. A pile of arms, legs and red and maroon jerseys is heaped up on one side of the pitch. Yells of encouragement drift over the field as I cross to join the McGill fans. "Go Jess! Go Jess!" Coach Vince deGrandpré is on the sideline watching intently. His colleague, Sylvie Genest, paces and brandishes a clipboard. "Come on Reds!" someone bawls in my ear.

The legs and arms disengage and 30 women, some tall, some not so tall, pound down the field in pursuit of the ball. A player in a red jersey catches and throws it. Fans whistle. "Nice pass!" hollers a fan to my left. Dogs bark and tumble and a small child catches the mood and jumps up and down, clapping.

This is women's rugby -- yes, rugby. It's fast, it's fun, and tonight it's the McGill Martlets agains the Concordia Stingers in a game that's traditionally linked with blood and mud and almost certain injury. We won't see any mud on this dry evening, but the jury's still out on the blood and injury. Sports therapist Derek Della Rocca stands nearby with an eagle eye on a couple of players with bandaged knees.


The legs and sweaters come together again briefly, then they break up and the teams pursue the ball down the field. Someone throws it, runs like the wind to catch it again and touches it down in the end zone. "Way to go Steph, way to go!" I clap with the rest of the McGill fans, applauding what is obviously a moment of triumph.

"What happened there?" I ask Della Rocca. "Steph Lynam has scored a try," he explains, kind in the face of my obvious ignorance. "That's five points." Minutes later Steph hoists the ball over the goal post and scores a convert -- two more points. "What's the score now?" I wonder. "Around 10-0 to McGill!" Della Rocca calls over his shoulder as he heads off down the field to perform what he calls a "minor patch-up." We're almost at half-time. Forty minutes to go.

Although rugby is a relatively new game on the women's sport scene, it's believed to have originated in 1823 in the village of Rugby, England, after a schoolboy gave in to an impulse during a soccer game to pick up the ball and run with it. The Rugby Union was formed in the United Kingdom in 1870, and the laws of Rugby Football were codified in 1871. Rugby is now played in more than 100 countries, and despite its longstanding reputation as the ultimate in rough, manly sports, approximately 8,000 of its players are women.

McGill's women have been playing since the mid-1970s, and it's a sport that some play to the exclusion of any other. What the Martlets -- and many other women -- love about the game is the contact, the speed and the feeling of empowerment that comes from playing as a team.

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