GIRL'S RIGBY: AFTER a gap of nearly a decade, girls' rugby has returned to Sandbach.
Girls are allowed to play mixed rugby in the mini-rugby age groups and Sandbach has several players, such as Under 11s pair Charlotte Chambers and Katie McEvoy and Under Nines duo Daisy Benson and Charlotte Chambers who are regular members of their teams, together with several others at the lower age groups.
But once girls outgrow mini rugby, there is little provision for them to play the game in Cheshire.
Two Sandbach players, Rachael Smith and Caroline Beech, became interested in the sport when they joined girls from Eaton Bank and Congleton High School to represent Congleton Borough at the Cheshire Youth Games.
Their appetite for rugby was further heightened when, as part of an after-school club, they were trained by qualified coaches from Sport Cheshire and Northwich RUFC.
Even so, they had to travel to Widnes to play for an U16s side, where their team-mates included girls from as far afield as Mold and Glossop.
Last season the pair represented Cheshire and played the North of England at U16s level.
Sandbach secretary Andy Maddock said: 'We wanted to try and provide girls' rugby locally and we now hold training sessions each Monday night at Bradwall Road.
'Nineteen young ladies between the ages of 10 and 16 turned up to the first all-girls' training sessions we held.'
Sessions are overseen by team manager Caroline Tapper, who is supported by several coaches who specialise in junior rugby.
She said: 'We have been delighted to see so many enthusiastic girls wanting to learn to play contact rugby.
'The first few sessions majored on passing, handling and scrummaging, in which all present performed very well.'
Women's rugby was last played at Sandbach in 1995/96 when the team was captained by Rosie Culling. They played in League Four of the North West Division against the likes of Vale of Lune, Manchester, Leigh, Macclesfield and Waterloo. But with interest in the women's game waning, friendly matches were also arranged against Wharfedale, Litchfield, Nottingham Casuals and Llangefni.
With numbers falling, the death knell was sounded when the RFUW had to get in line with the men's game and imposed an over-17s age limit, making it difficult for Sandbach to field a team.
Even so, there were several individual successes.
Sandbach players Tracey Done and Steph Connor won representative honours for the North West and twins Mary and Alice Shepperson went on to play for Cambridge University's ladies in 2001.
The return of girls' rugby has been welcomed by Sport Cheshire's rugby development officer Phil Clarke.
'There is a big interest in rugby among girls and we must show there is a route forward for them to take.
'I also coach at Northwich and, at the moment, we have five girls playing for our U11s team, but after next season, the RFU dictates mixed rugby comes to an end and they are normally lost to the game.'
As the girls' game grows, it is possible it will be reshaped to form U14s and 17s teams, which could eventually feed into a women's team.
'It will be friendlies next season and probably a North West League the season after,' added Clarke, who recently staged a girls' development day at Moss Farm.
Sandbach's training sessions run between 6.30pm and 8pm at Bradwall Road.
Further details are available from the minis and junior chairman Martyn Hurlstone-Johnson on 07990 833 165.