Evolution Not Revolution: Navy Women’s Rugby Continues its Progress

As Charlie Fredrickson moves over to Head Coach, what next for Women’s XV?
The Women’s XV continues to build its own identity within the family of Navy Rugby.
Emily Park, winner of the Roger Sherratt Trophy, has accumulated 13 caps and one of the current players helping to bring on the talent of the future.
Loz Sainsbury and Paula Bennett-Smith, both former players, now part of the TSG planning the next steps for the team’s evolution.
One of the Navy’s newer caps, Abigail Ashby, still benefitting from game time in the Women’s Development XV.
Becky Bowskill chasing the dream of a first Navy cap.

As Head Coach, Charlie Fredrickson, brings together an extended squad of 26 players, prior to Wednesday’s match against British Police, thoughts are already drifting forward’ to Toulon where the Royal Navy Rugby Union Women’s XV will play their first capped match of the season.  The players of course will never admit this, the mantra being the next game; whatever the sport whatever the level.  But the reality of progression is that there has to be longer term plans and it is pleasing to see that the hard work that the Women’s organisation has made over the previous few years, to grow their playing base and deepen their talent pool, is slowly beginning to pay off.  It allows so much more development to be done when the squad does come together and whilst preparation will be focused on the challenge of the police for some players their development may not be truly appreciated for a couple of seasons, as they are nurtured to become the core Navy players of the future.

The evolution of the Women’s team, since its formation in the late 1990s, has been a slow one.  The journey has had many twists and turns, bumps and scrapes along the way.  But when you look back you can see that there has been steady progress which has been managed by a number of dedicated administrators and coaches who have had the promotion of the Women’s game at the forefront of their thoughts and efforts.  And one mustn’t forget the commitment shown by a number of players through each generation who have provided a tight knit core to the women’s game in the Royal Navy.  This season sees a first in that the Royal Navy Rugby Union’s Women’s team is being led with all the key roles being held by former players who have come through the Navy Women’s game.  Talented players who fully understand the culture of Women’s rugby and as importantly the culture of Navy Rugby.  Whilst all of them no doubt acknowledges the contribution made to their individual development by some of the men who have coached and organised the side, it remains a powerful statement that in the words of the Eurythmics ‘Sisters are Doin It for Themselves’.

With Paula Bennett-Smith as Assistant Director, Jane West, as Team Manager, and with Charlie and Loz Salisbury coaching, the latest evolution of the Women’s game in the Royal Navy is being led by a group whose experience goes back to 1997.  Through involvement with the Mariners and the U23 XV they have gained wider rugby knowledge, to add to their own playing experiences, and also widened their own Navy Rugby understanding.  Together it is as an experienced group as any leading the Representative teams within Navy Rugby and has a clear view of what are the next steps required for the Navy Women’s game, which this season will culminate in an historic Army v Navy Match; when the Women’s XV join their male counterparts by playing at Twickenham Stadium.

Not that there will be talk about Twickenham today or tomorrow as the team prepares for the challenge of the British Police.  The British Police Women’s team are well use to Service opposition having played all three Services before, the most recent outing earlier this season against the Army where they lost 22-6.  Though the Police lost out at Aldershot they will travel to Yeovilton with happy memories of their win last year.  The 41-0 victory over the Navy in February 2019 did not reflect the progress made by the Navy Women’s team later in the season and they will certainly be planning to test the British Police far more on Wednesday.  Charlie Frederickson will be able to select from a squad that contains a good mix of experienced players with a few new faces who have come through the Women’s development side.  No doubt some will receive their first caps next March in Toulon against Marine Nationale Feminine but before then they need to focus on the task at hand and produce a performance against those other ‘Girls in Blue’.

Royal Navy Women’s XV v British Police Women’s XV, RNAS Yeovilton KO: 19:00

Women’s XV Training squad for British Police: SLt Abigail Ashby *, LPT Suz Badger, Lt RN Sam Smale *, AB Ellen Bloxham *, AB Becky Bowskill, AB Ellen Bythell *, AB Rachael Carragher *, MA Hannach Cole *, MA Rhiann Dilmore *, AB Rose Dixon *, LPT Tyler Dunmow, MA Nicola Elvidge *, AB Kiera Gavan, Lt RN Cheryl Goodwin *, AB Lucy Honeybell *, Lt RN Katie Ives *, PO Sarah Jenkins *, PO Alice Kightley *, AET Marie Law, AET Yvonne Mealy *, AB Megan Musgrave, MA Josie Parnaby, LAET Abigail Sondack *, CPO Billi Staite *, Lt RN Helen Stevenson *, LAET Gemma Walker

* - -Denotes capped player

By line: Geraint Ashton Jones
Images credit: © Alligin Photography