As the women’s Inter Service games reach the huge milestone of a 20th anniversary, Paula Bennett-Smith, one of the original founders of women’s rugby union in the Royal Navy, reflects on how it all began from her perspective.
How and why did you get into women’s rugby in the first place?
I have always loved watching rugby. My Father is Welsh so I was brought up on Welsh rugby. The first live game I went to watch was Abertillery V South Wales Police.
Sadly girls didn’t play rugby when I was at school, nor did they for the first nine years of my naval career. However, every Wednesday afternoon we used to do sports afternoons and sometimes a women’s sports afternoon competition.
One Wednesday afternoon in 1999 we played tag rugby at Devonport Services. We were playing against BRNC and I got a little annoyed at “Tag” rugby and accidentally tackled someone! Luckily no one was hurt!! The Devonport Services coach later that day asked me if I had ever played rugby, to which I said no, and he replied with “Do you want to?” Clearly, I jumped at the opportunity and the rest as they say is history! I played for
Devonport Services and not long after that game the RNRU(W) team was born!
Do you think women’s rugby is continuing to grow in popularity and, if so, why?
Women’s rugby is and continues to grow in popularity. It is great to see it being played across the UK in schools and in clubs. Its more recent growth is clearly down to the Red Roses, whose success is due not only to the players but because they have the weight of the RFU behind them, which is fantastic to see. Without support and commitment, any team, male or female, will struggle. Players need investment and time and that’s what
the Red Roses have had and therefore been hugely successful.
Any advice you would like to give to someone starting out today?
The sky is your limit. If you want to play rugby just do it. It doesn’t matter if you have never touched a rugby ball before, as there are plenty of opportunities to give it a go at grass roots level. You won’t regret it!
The next opportunity to watch the women’s Royal Navy Rugby Union is on 13 May 2023 at Twickenham for the Army V Navy match. Click here to get your ticket.