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Niamh Horan on women in rugby: 'I never play a game without my tan'


Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan in the front row of the scrum with Fiona Spillane, Lisa Callander, Ali Bird and Aoife Maher

Niamh Horan in the front row of the scrum with Fiona Spillane, Lisa Callander, Ali Bird and Aoife Maher

Niam Horan tries rugby

Niam Horan tries rugby

Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan


Niamh Horan

As I bent over with a blonde's hand slipping around the top of my thigh, I pondered how there are worse ways to burn 
calories on a sleepy Thursday evening.

Now usually I'd make someone buy me dinner before getting into this position.

But here I was, getting my first taste of the world of women's rugby.

The Irish team 
have dominated front pages this week reaching the World Cup semi-final. So the powers that be decided I should try the sport first-hand.

I just didn't think it would be quite so literal.

"You should see where I usually put my hand," laughed one of the players in the women's Railway Union squad, from somewhere underneath me.

I was sandwiched - cheek to cheek - between two other girls, so I had to turn around to see her demonstrate how she would cling to a girl's shorts just below her crotch.

This could well be the most action I've gotten in weeks.

Before we all get carried away, let me shatter your misconceptions about
 women in the sport.

These are not butch, masculine, beer-swilling, men-hating women.

They are fit, toned, effortlessly pretty players who love nothing more than getting dolled up for the evening - and that's just to step on the field.

"I never play a game without my tan," says Shirley Corcoran, clocking my relief.

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Minutes earlier, I had arrived with full hair and make-up for a post match night out, expecting a few raised eyebrows from my new-found team mates.

"Most of the girls are like that," Shirley continues. "Our scrum half, Jessica, never goes on the pitch without her blonde hair done, a full face of make-up and her nails perfectly manicured.

"You should see some of the guys," she smiles, nodding on the pitch towards the lads' team - some who look like they've just strutted off a catwalk. "We call them The Spice Boys," she chuckles before someone catches her eye.

"Hey, where did he come out of?" A tall, muscular man trots by.

"Jaypers. Where do I sign up for next season?" I mouth.

"Put that on," someone said, throwing a jersey my way. I stretch around to check it out in front of my new gang: "Does my bum look big in this?"

But I quickly find out vanity is pointless in this game. Not because of 
muddy faces or grassy knees - but because you are having so much fun you forget about everything else.

We try a move I understand is called a 'line out' where they lift me high above their heads. It causes me to break into a little cheer-leading routine.

"Give me an R," I yell before the Railway Union squad ease me down.

(Note to self: must find out how to get more of these in the game)

Next up came the tackle.

As I lay flat on my back after being wrestled to the ground for the umpteenth time, I wondered how much they really dislike me back in the newsroom

The photographer flashed away gleefully beside me. In fact, when I got back to the office I never saw so many people
interested in seeing the 
photos from a job. Their fits of laughter brought me back to the moment on the pitch.

"Don't go easy on me," I had said to Eve, an
international player
watched from the sidelines by her proud dad. "Give me everything you've got."

I charged at her with the ball, picturing Simon Zebo just over her shoulder for some motivation.

Suddenly she was only inches away, her arms flaying at me to take me out from under my knees. All I could do was muster a
high-pitched screech.

"No! It's ok, it's ok! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"

What I had to be sorry for, God only knows. But it was too late. BANG.

I could hear the roars of laughter from the sideline just above the ringing in my ears.

"Thank God that happened in front of just women," I gasped. Before the camera flashed again.

The girls' coach John Cronin, who trains both the male and female squads, explained the difference in putting the men and 
women through their paces, and - given the international girls' heroics last week - there are no guesses for who comes out on top.

"Women are far easier to train. More inquisitive, curious and faster learners, whereas the guys take on ingrained habits.

"Watching women's rugby is like watching men's in the Seventies and Eighties, when the men were around 10 stone rather than big and bulky like the guys you see today. There was a time when the focus was more on skill."

Regardless of the 
comparisons, it seems the guys are keen on the new set of players too.

Shirley, who is the first female president of the club in its 107-year existence,
 recalls their first day
 joining the men on the pitch. "We were all wondering about how they would react. It was nerve-
wracking," she said.

"When we got here, we saw them all standing around at the other end of the pitch. All of a 
sudden, they started 
walking towards us. We didn't know what was going on or what they would say.

"Without uttering a word they formed a large circle around us. Then the captain gave a speech about how glad they were to have us on board, encouraging us all and making a promise that they would be at the
 sideline the next day to 
support us at our game. Sure enough they were."

Before I left, I couldn't resist asking the question: any rugby threesomes then?

"We don't get up to that sort here," I was told bluntly.

The girls, it appears, are able to conduct themselves better off the pitch too.

For further information on Railway Union RFC visit www.railwayunionrfc.com.

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