Tracking growth in women’s rugby

Photo courtesy of Georgia Tech Women’s Rugby

Tech’s women’s rugby is quickly becoming an unstoppable force. Last weekend, they defeated the University of Tennessee 30-12 while down two players and playing with no substitutions. On a field that was muddy and cold, they had to rely on their skill and grit to win the game.  We sat down with team captain Daphne Willingham to learn what the Tech team is up to.

Willingham, third-year AE, joined women’s rugby her freshman year and like every other girl on the team, she had zero rugby experience before college. She has been able to learn the unique and enjoyable sport and wants more women to share in what rugby has to offer. She believes it promotes individual empowerment while also allowing her to forge lifelong friendships, as most of her time is spent with her rugby teammates. Willingham remarked that “you don’t realize how empowering it is to tackle someone until you try it” but also stresses that the focus of the sport is on willpower rather than aggression. Women’s rugby has grown immensely in recent history. Before 1960 it was a sport that had to be played in secret due to protests from communities. The first women’s World Cup was played in 1991 and was a major milestone in the growth of the sport. Since then, women’s rugby has been one of the fastest growing sports in the world. It is expected that 40% of all rugby players will be women by 2026. The Jackets’ women’s rugby team started in 2006 and continues to grow each year.

The team will have six matches this semester and their performance will determine whether they proceed to the Southeastern Collegiate Women’s Rugby tournament. 

Interestingly enough, their toughest competition is Life University, a school best known for their chiropractic program. Life takes rugby very seriously, and many of their players go on to play for the Atlanta Harlequins, the local semi-pro women’s rugby team. At least if the match gets too rough, they have some people that can help out afterwards. Georgia also has a women’s rugby team and is often a competitive match ­— the Jackets defeated them for the first time in five years last semester. Tech will also play Kennesaw State University as part of their regional schedule.