Friday 23 August 2019

'It's amazing how many teams there are across Ireland'

Suttonians RFC

Rob Kearney is tackled by Will Connors, left, and Max Deegan during Leinster squad training at Energia Park in Donnybrook, Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Rob Kearney is tackled by Will Connors, left, and Max Deegan during Leinster squad training at Energia Park in Donnybrook, Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Nicole Purdom

For someone born and bred in New Zealand, working in Leinster Rugby circles was not on the radar. Rugby in general, now that's a different story.

Immersed in the sport since the age of four, Nicole Purdom's life has been surrounded by rugby in some shape or form since.

Now the Rugby Community Officer (CCRO) in Suttonians RFC, she is a long way from home but in her 18 months in Ireland, she has achieved a lot, both on and off the field.

Having played with her male peers in New Zealand up until U-15, she was always going to be cut out for the game and following on from playing senior women's and representative rugby for Canterbury, where she won the national title, she was a key member of the Suttonians team who recently won the Division 1 Leinster trophy.

Leinster interpro caps have also come her way while she has been invited in to the Ireland camp on numerous occasions.

In her role as CCRO for Suttonians, Purdom has a hectic schedule while also trying to balance her playing career. In fact, she takes to the field this weekend as they look to beat Shannon and earn promotion to the AIL.

"We just won the Women's Division 1 title so we are the top team in Leinster. We play Shannon who are top in Munster and if we win that, we play the winner of the Ulster and Connacht leagues to go into the AIL."

She is currently spreading the rugby word in 12 primary schools and three secondary schools in the Suttonians catchment area but is hoping to build on that again in the next school year.

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Only in the job since September, she has hit the ground running and is thankful for all the support she has received.

"This is my first time in the job and I have been lucky enough to have major support from the club to help me and get connections in the area to make the job successful," Purdom (pictured below) says.

"I also have Aiden Kearney here at the club who did the job last year so he helped and guided me a lot which I'm very thankful for.

"This is only my first year in it but it is really good. I get to go to all the local schools.

"Having only been in the country for the last 18 months, it has helped me understand where everything is and see parts of Dublin that I wouldn't actually see. The support from the club has been amazing."

As a CCRO, Nicole can only do so much in the time she is allocated in the schools and she has been keen to get teachers on board when it comes to coaching.

"Every school that I have been into have wanted the tag rugby," she says.

"They don't really have enough rugby background as teachers to teach rugby themselves.

"I get the teachers involved and start them doing the games with the kids so when I left, they could continue it on. We also had workshops throughout the season for the teachers and the coaches in the club to come and learn.

"It is only really about one hour a week in each school so I basically jam-pack our lessons. We do five weeks in a block and then on the sixth week, they go to a tag blitz. The teachers actually get just as competitive as the kids and are always encouraging the kids."

Her main job is often to give kids their first taste of rugby and give them an opportunity to experience it with the hope that they will come down and join Suttonians RFC.

There has been an increase in numbers already with further plans to increase the club's base next year.

"The age group that I was focusing on was fifth and sixth class which would be U-11s and U-13s and the numbers for that group have definitely increased in the club.

"Next season, we are going to start looking at the third and fourth classes which will help get our U-8s to U-10s numbers boosted back up in the club because that is where our numbers are lacking."

Having come from New Zealand and grew up in a time when women's rugby wasn't as popular as it is now, she has been bowled over by the amount of young girls playing the game and the amount of teams and divisions on offer in Ireland.

"I think it is amazing how many teams there are across Ireland. Obviously Leinster is a big province that there is so many divisions and teams.

"I remember when I first came over, there were girls' teams at U-6 level which I thought was amazing because in New Zealand, I grew up playing with the boys as there wasn't enough girls to play and have our own team.

"The volunteer numbers are amazing also. We have over 60 volunteer coaches in our club alone and they are all down on a Sunday morning. It is definitely growing and the club is really developing."

This school year might be coming near the end but the Suttonians CCRO has high hopes for next year in further developing the game in the secondary schools and helping some of the younger kids make the transition from tag rugby to contact rugby.

"I definitely want to get the secondary school in Portmarnock up a level. They play in 3A at the moment but I would love to see them promoted.

"I would also love to get all the kids that I am doing tag rugby with signed up and into the club and teaching them the tackle.

"We can't teach them the tackle in the primary schools but that is what all the kids are asking for."

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