Hampstead Ladies keep on moving the goalposts

AS women’s rugby has enjoyed a surge in popularity in recent years, nowhere has the sport’s progress been more evident than at Hampstead Ladies Rugby Club.

In many ways Hampstead mirror the development of the national game; formed for the 2004/05 season, Hampstead Ladies went on to gain promotion twice in the last three years, and now find themselves second in the RFUW National Challenge South-East 1 League after six wins from their first seven matches.

A further indication of the club’s relentless development came earlier this month when, for the first time, they were able to name two competitive teams, the firsts defeating Ealing and the seconds drawing 17-17 on their debut appearance in a friendly with Metropolitan Police.

With new recruits on an almost weekly basis Hampstead, as with the national game, are in rude health, and as the first team harbour promotion hopes yet again, things can only get better.

“We’re just carrying on from an amazing season last year, we’ve continued to grow and develop, and because of that we knew we’d need to form a second team this season,” says club captain Hannah Stephen. “We were getting 28, 29 or 30 girls turning up for each match when we could only field a squad of 22.

“We went through last season undefeated; that spoke volumes. I’d say we’re now up there with clubs like Ealing as one of the top women’s clubs in London. “We’re progressing quickly, within a few seasons we’d like to get a third team going as well.”

The seconds must now play a further four matches before they can qualify for a friendly league next season, while the firsts have their eyes fixed firmly on a mouth-watering showdown with unbeaten league leaders Woodbridge this Sunday, where victory would establish them as favourites to make the leap up to the Championship.

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“Woodbridge are probably marginal favourites, they’re unbeaten this season, but we’ve only lost once and that was to them so we’re not far behind,” adds Stephen. “We’ll be putting our heart and souls into getting the win; blood, sweat, tears – you name it.”

As well as skipper and front-row player Stephen, the Ladies will once again be looking towards their stand-out players to guide them to promotion, including top try-scorer Anna Jones, an ex-Wasps player who touched down 15 times last season and already has six tries to her name this campaign.

Marcella Collins leads from the front, while fly-half Nadine Mason is a candidate for the club’s most improved player this season.

Team coach John Taylor believes Hampstead not only have the quality to defeat Woodbridge this weekend, but is backing his side to make it all the way to Championship level either this season or next year.

“It’s been a bit of a difficult balancing act between the two teams because we have to focus on the first team’s target of winning the league, so maybe that has made it harder for players joining the club because competition for starting spots is so high,” says Taylor.

“Woodbridge beat us earlier in the season, but the scoreline doesn’t show that it was 12-7 for much of the game and we never quite got the break to put ourselves in front, then they got a try in the last few seconds to nick it. But we know that when we are on our game, we can beat them.”