Ross Sutherland Rugby Club feel renewed determination for women's set-up in Invergordon after false dawns
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Ross Sutherland Rugby Club finally feel as though they have a clear path to success for their women's team.
Playing their first match in October 2021, the last couple of years have been stop and start in Invergordon – and it is not the only area of the club to have been hit by setbacks.
Now though, with their new clubhouse complete, more time can be dedicated to ensuring that a girls' and women's section can thrive at the Naval Grounds – and that is exactly what the Stags intend to do from top to bottom.
"It would be fair to say that our women's and girls' section has had a couple of false starts," club chairman John Scott said.
"We're now at a stage with the clubhouse finished off that we can really go at it.
"We've got plenty scope in terms of changing rooms for women and girls, and we're really determined as a board and as a club to really do something with it.
"We've got the full support of Scottish Rugby, who we've talked to a lot about it, and it's one of the fastest growing sports in the country.
"We want to make sure we've got enough resources in terms of people and time going into making it happen.
"It's different to men's and boys' rugby, it's a different approach when you're coaching, but we're here to learn, and we're really excited with what the potential is."
The core of any club's future lies in its youth development, and with Ross Sutherland's community section burgeoning, girls are coming along for the ride.
Discussions are ongoing between the club and Dingwall Academy, but there are already designated girls' rugby groups – one for S1 pupils, and a joint group for S2 and S3 pupils – ran by the club at secondary schools in Tain, Invergordon, Alness and Golspie.
At each of those, there are close to a full team's worth of girls interested and playing, and they are then feeding into age group teams for the Stags.
Ross Sutherland, though, are considering a move to tailor rugby to girls at an even younger age in a bid to keep them engaged with the club.
"My daughter has just started playing rugby, and she absolutely loves it. She's going up to P7 next year, and she's terrified she's going to be the only girl, so we've got to sort that out," board member Peter Blythe said.
"She's getting to an age now where she's getting more self-conscious, so we've got to look at perhaps separating girls a wee bit earlier than they traditionally have been, maybe around P6 or P7, so that they have their own training sessions.
"I think that would keep girls more involved too, as boys can be a bit rougher and tougher. Girls can be rough and tough too, but they want to do it among themselves – or at least that's what I'm hearing from my daughter.
"We want to keep motivating them and keep them coming down. My daughter has two or three other girls at her school that would like to come down next season, so we'll try to keep that going.
"It's vitally important for girls rugby and women's rugby that we have a base here that we can grow."
Scott added: "Historically the age boys and girls split when they get to secondary school age, but there can be a big drop off at P6 or P7 ages for the reasons Peter articulated.
"I know my own daughter stopped playing at that age, so if we had a separate section for girls at that age she might have kept playing.
"That's something we're keen to look at for next season – how do we get enough numbers to make sure we can coach these girls at P6 and P7? Then, when festivals for minis and micros come, are there enough other girls we can play against there?
"It is an opportunity for us now to talk to other girls in the north and see how many girls they will have playing next year.
"Even if a club has six or seven girls we can play against, we can have some fun with that. It's something we're engaging with Scottish Rugby on."
That focus on getting girls involved at a young age speaks to Ross Sutherland's ambition to become a place where anyone can come along to the Naval Grounds and get involved, regardless of ability, age, gender or any other characteristic.
Scott knows from first-hand experience the kind of role that sport can play in someone's life, and he is adamant that such joy should be available to all who want it.
"I remember the original clubhouse – that smokey environment with no women in there," he explained.
"The club has come forward so much. These days it's important that we provide opportunity for everyone.
"We've hosted some women's matches for Inverness Craig Dunain, and the fun that those women of all ages, shapes and sizes were having was cracking. They were all smiling afterwards when they came up for a couple of drinks, and we want to be able to create that environment for girls and women to fulfil their ambition in sport through rugby.
"That may be coming here and playing three or four games a year. That may be developing and going on to play at age grade level like Morven Thomson has done.
"She is a player who came through our minis and micros, then went to help out Caithness and eventually got into the Scotland under-18 sevens team, which is fantastic.
"Whatever level people want to achieve, it's important that we can facilitate that.
"From a girls and boys, men's and women's point of view, success comes in different ways. Success could be that national recognition, but it also could be a child from a challenging background, or who maybe isn't in the best space, or is struggling a little bit with confidence, just getting out of the house and coming here twice a week.
"If they get involved and make friends who will help them develop in a safe environment, and go on to get a job locally, throughout their life the rugby club can be a big part as something that's always there for them.
"I remember meeting someone a couple of years ago who'd had a couple of different wives, and he said the rugby club was always there for him – wives and partners can come and go, but he always had the rugby club.
"It's really important that we're inclusive in every way we can be.
"Personally, I've had the rugby club ever since I came down as a 16-year-old, and now I'm nearly 50. It has given so much to me. If I think about it, looking back the way, what happens if there was a 16-year-old girl who came along, and what could it have given them?
"As a board, it is our responsibility to make sure that we give opportunities to our daughters, and other people's daughters, and women in the area to get involved with this wonderful sport and get the benefit of that."
Ross Sutherland are running come and try sessions at the club in Invergordon between 7pm and 8pm on July 12, 19 and 26. For more information, contact Rosscmd@gmail.com