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Ladies play full-contact rugby

WOMEN of the Shanghai Sharks are playing full contact rugby sevens and Chinese lasses are tackling their fears and bigger foreign footballers in a tournament on Saturday. Sam Riley keeps score.

Shanghai's female rugby players are proving they are no shrinking violets, having started playing full-contact games, and their Shanghai Sharks team will compete in a sevens tournament in the city on Saturday.

The tournament will feature women's teams from Shanghai, Beijing and Seoul, as well as men's rugby and youth rugby.

It is hosted by the Shanghai Sharks who recently played their first full contact game against Shangrao Normal College in Jiangxi Province.

Titled "Rugby for All," the Shanghai seven-a-side tournament will be staged on Saturday at the rugby facilities in Pudong's Waigaoqiao.

The Shanghai Sharks have a reciprocal relationship with the South Korean rugby team, Seoul Sisters, and, along with their male counterparts from Shanghai's Hairy Crabs, they will travel to South Korea to play at the end of May.

The Shanghai Sharks grew out of the city's popular touch rugby competition and they have about 15 players coached by Laura Cowan, former coach of the Hong Kong women's team.

"Some of our touch players wanted to try something new, and while there may have been some initial uncertainty about playing full-contact rugby, once they played their first game they were hooked," says the Shanghai Sharks captain, Canadian Claire Wilkins.

Wilkins has played rugby for more than 10 years and the former gymnast says that the rough and tumble rugby isn't just for men.

"Rugby isn't a violent sport but an aggressive sport," she says. "The aggressive nature and assertiveness of women is highly underestimated, and rugby gives women an outlet and an opportunity to use these qualities that they may not get to use in other aspects of their lives."

The Shanghai Sharks is made up of both expat and local players and includes both beginner and experienced contact players.

Local player Jewel Wang started playing full-contact rugby in February after seeing her boyfriend coach the men's team, the Hairy Crabs. A keen touch rugby player, Wang says she had some initial trepidation about playing the full contact version of the game.

"I was worried at the beginning because I saw many players get injured in my boyfriend's team," Wang says. "But I think women's sevens is different, it's more about team work and quick decision-making.

"I like sports like that, as I used to play football and basketball when I was in school. So, I decided to give a try," she adds.

Wang showed she was a natural, scoring a try in her first game and she says she isn't intimidated by the level of physicality in rugby.

Risk of injury

"Rugby does have risk of injury, but what sports doesn't?" she asks.

"To avoid injury, you need to build up your body for the game and improve your fitness and strength as well as flexibility, which makes you healthier generally."

The Shanghai Sharks had their first hit out against the Shangrao university side in late April.

The Shangrao Tornadoes, as they are known, are coached by the college's New Zealand English teacher David Murray.

The Tornadoes' first training session saw many of the prospective players turn out in tight jeans and high heels, only to be given a training kit and told to change into shorts and T-shirt.

When they were tackled for the first time, some broke into tears, but soon picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and threw themselves enthusiastically back into the fray.

Wilkins says the Shanghai Sharks defeated their less-experienced opposition 8 tries to 1 but says both sides had a chance to put their skills into practice.

"It is often the case that many Asian women may not have played a contact sport before, and there was definitely some initial trepidation at tackling foreign women who might have been bigger physically," she says.

But the Shangrao side soon learned they had speed and youth on their side and that the game was much more about skills and finesse than brute strength.

Rugby sevens has recently been accepted into the 2016 Olympics, and Wilkins hopes that games like the one played at Shangrao and the upcoming Shanghai tournament will lift the profile of the sport in China.

Events like these can open the nation to the idea of women in contact sports both recreationally and competitively, she says.

"With rugby sevens recently being admitted into the Olympics, now is the time to encourage young women in China to pick up the ball and run with it. The potential in China for a sport that focuses on skill, fitness and agility, is boundless," Wilkins says.

She says the team is always looking for new players with, or without experience, as well as supporters.

The Shanghai Women's Sevens Rugby Team trains on Thursdays from 7:30pm to 9:30pm alongside the Hairy Crabs at Huochetou (Locomotive) Stadium (955 Gonghexin Road, Zhabei District).

They also train on on Saturdays at 3:30pm at Shanghai Rugby Football Club at Waigaoqiao near Zhangyang Road N. and Wuzhou Ave in Pudong.

The New Balance Sassy Shrimps women's touch team practices on Tuesdays from 8pm to 10pm at Huochetou Stadium and on Saturdays from 2pm to 4pm in Waigaoqiao.

Shanghai tournament

Date: May 15, 8am-4pm

Venue: Waigaoqiao, near Zhangyang Road N. and Wuzhou Ave, Pudong

Tickets: Free

To find out more about rugby in Shanghai, visit


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