Sport

Rebecca Clough is a key player in the Wallaroos' bid to lift the IRB Women’s Rugby World Cup. By Richard Cooke.
Credit: Getty Images

Maul world: Bec Clough, 25, rugby player

Western Australia-based Rebecca Clough plays as a lock for the Wallaroos. She was named player of the tournament in last year’s National Women’s Championship, and is currently playing in her second IRB Women’s Rugby World Cup.

Richard Cooke Women’s rugby seems to be a sport people have trouble getting their heads around.

Bec Clough “Why do you play it?” is what I get asked the most. A lot of people think that rugby is a male sport only. Of the general public, probably half don’t know women play.

RC Is it because rugby is seen as such a masculine sport?

BC Yeah, that and the exposure. I always wanted to play rugby, since I was little. I was a bit of a tomboy, and I remember asking my dad [who is rugby mad], if I could play. He was quick to say, “No, girls don’t play rugby.” It wasn’t until I turned 18 and did some research that I found I could actually play it.

RC When you researched it, what did you find?

BC I found an intriguingly big community of women’s rugby players. I played a season in country New South Wales, my first season in Bathurst. Even though it’s a small competition for women’s rugby, it’s still awesome. It’s a great community of girls playing rugby. I haven’t looked back; it’s pretty much changed my life.

RC Is the women’s game tactically different from the men’s? Does reduced kicking distance put more emphasis on tries, for example?

BC Look, we’re not at the same level as the top professional men – I’m not doubting that – but in terms of the speed of our game, it’s actually quite fast. A lot of people who watch women’s rugby, especially the international level, always comment on the speed. It is quite fast-paced, we’re all quite fit. It’s also quite aggressive – the physicality shocks people watching it for the first time.

RC There are some surprising countries where women’s rugby seems to be taking off. Kazakhstan is one.

BC Yeah, completely. The fact they qualify to make the World Cup every four years is extraordinary. They’re quite tall and big girls compared to the Asian teams, so that’s maybe why. But it is interesting to see the differences in the teams. Another one is Canada – Canada’s coming up the ranks something fierce. Unfortunately we just lost to them in New Zealand in our Tri-Nations in June. We played New Zealand and Canada and we lost to both of them, which was a real shame. But Canada is definitely progressing at an extreme rate. They’re putting a lot of money into the Sevens and it’s obviously filtering into their Fifteens.

RC The major rivalry is still Australia and New Zealand though.

BC Yeah, I think in all sports you always want to beat the Kiwis. They’re the trans-Tasman rivals you never want to lose to. Especially in rugby. They’re just a force – rugby is such a part of the New Zealand culture; they are all brought up on it. You do see that here, but not to the same extent.

RC And against New Zealand you played your first full 80-minute game. What was that like?

BC The New Zealand game for me was massive, not only did I get to start but I also played my first 80-minute game. At club and national level we only play 60 or 70 minutes. It was a massive achievement for me and it also kind of showed how far I’d come in four years and how much I’ve grown as a player. So that was a big milestone.

RC Was it your most memorable game so far?

BC Not necessarily. It was one many people might not think is important, but last year my club team, Cottesloe, won the premiership for the first time in eight years. I’d been there for six, so it was a massive achievement for us and the camaraderie that I have with my club team almost sends shivers down my spine – we’re like a family. That’s why I play rugby and that’s why I love it so much. The second one would be my first run on for Australia, which was against France at Twickenham Stoop in the 2010 World Cup. We won, and we came third at the 2010 World Cup, which was an awesome achievement.

RC Apart from winning, what do you want from the World Cup?

BC To get through the entire World Cup without any major injuries, personally and as a team. Because of the nature of the sport, you’ve always got niggles, you’re always managing something and it’s always a shame to lose a player or be unable to play yourself. It’s a massive goal of mine to get through as unscathed as possible.

RC To make it out alive? You’re expecting some casualties, then.

BC Yeah, that’s pretty much it. Some people say it’s like men going off to war –  you have to be willing to die for your teammates, literally.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 9, 2014 as "It’s a maul world". Subscribe here.

Richard Cooke
is a journalist and writer for television. He is The Saturday Paper's sports editor.