To Sandal Beasts For A Rugby Feast

I think it was around a year ago that the rugby media made a bit of a fuss over the comments of a (male) Australian rugby player about how he felt that the game wasn’t an appropriate one for women. At the time, in addition to vehemently disagreeing with the point of view, I remember being somewhat surprised. If the views ever had relevance at all, it was a decade or more ago. However, if an odd rugby dinosaur needed any convincing, they should have been at Sandal Rugby Club at the beginning of October for the annual Sandal Beasts Girls Rugby Festival.

For me it was the second year of being invited to photograph the event and I was delighted to attend once again. Sandal Beasts is the name of the girls teams at Sandal. I think it’s my favourite, beaten only by Halifax Vandals. Although the festival had cut down to three age groups this year, the number and geographical range of teams had expanded considerably. I saw clubs present from as far as Hull in the east to Ellesmere Port in the west and many locations in between.

There were under 13, under 15 and under 18 tournaments played across no less than five pitches; a wide area which this year ickledot was able to cover swiftly on his trusty e-bike. Competition was fierce and mostly of a very high standard in all three contests.

Three of the pitches were alongside or adjacent to each other so it was possibly to photograph two games at the same time for much of the day. The 300mm lens came in really useful, filling the frame with action without the need for too much cropping later.

This courageous charge down almost led to a try - at the last second the ball slipped away

Though there were a good number of people spectating they were spread out over a wide area so many pictures have the girls playing in front of a vast expanse of green. The choice then is either to crop tight into the action or celebrate the beautiful green background by leaving a wider view.

I have to admit I’m not sure who won the under 13 and under 15 tournaments. The pictures tell me that Sandal Beasts themselves were in the under 15 final against possibly Old Crossleyans but I forget who came out on top. The under 18 final was won by a team new to the festival, Ellesmere Port. Well done to them. Congratulations and thanks also to Sandal Beasts for organising such a great event and for inviting me along to witness it. Apologies for not reporting about it before now. You can see (and buy) many more images from the day over in the ickledot shop.

Just one of several running tries by Ellesmere Port in the under 18 final

I think this hugely successful girls rugby festival and the countless others held right around the country prove that rugby is much more than appropriate; rugby is a game made for girls. How’s that for a controversial statement?

Handshakes all round at the end of each contest

And I hesitate to write this as I hardly dare think it’s actually going to happen. Next weekend, dear readers, ickledot is to photograph the cream of the nation’s female rugby players: England! Can’t wait!

One of my favourite pictures from an England training session at Bishop Burton college in May 2017.