The Swedish Masters Women’s Rugby Sevens was held in Malmö in mid-August. Eight women’s teams from all over Sweden participated in the sweltering heat, playing short, fast matches. I attended in order to find what it’s really like to be part of a women’s rugby team!
A bit about rugby in Sweden
Rugby might not be the first sport that comes to mind when you think about sport in Sweden, but according to the Swedish Rugby Association, rugby has been played in Sweden since the 1930’s. And, in the 1980’s Sweden was one of the leading nations in Women’s rugby. Rugby is described as a ‘Minor but growing sport’ in Sweden – with the association’s vision to be ‘A sport for all’. Currently, there are over 30 rugby clubs all around Sweden – catering to youth, women and men.
Women’s Rugby Sevens Swedish Maters (SM) Tournament
The rugby SM is usually part of SM week which this year was due to be held in Halmstad. Unfortunately, due to the exceptional circumstances this year, Halmstad postponed hosting SM week until 2021. So, this year Malmö Rugby Club (MRC), Sweden’s second-oldest rugby club, stepped in and hosted the Women’s rugby sevens event at Lindängen sports ground.
- Göteborg RF
- Stockholm Berserkers
- Enköpings RK
- NRK Trojan
- Hammerby IF Rugby
- Uppsala RFC
- Malmö RC
- Lugi RK
Rugby sevens is as it states – seven per side, played on a full-sized pitch for seven minutes each way and only two minutes at half time – it’s short, sharp and nonstop action. Each team has 3 forwards and 4 backs, so less than half the usual number of players on the pitch, resulting in lots more running and generally more scoring. Players need to be fit, strong and fearless.
With temperatures that weekend up to 29c, it was tough conditions, but nevertheless, the teams came on the pitch energized, focused and determined to win. Even though spectators were not allowed to attend this year, the atmosphere at the sports ground was festive and invigorating. Teams cheered each other on and as players hurled down the pitch fending off tackles, battling through rucks, the passion for the sport was evident in every player’s face.
What the players had to say
Between matches, I took the opportunity to interview some of the players about what had attracted them to play rugby and how they felt about being part of the sport.
Anna Olsson, Hammerby IF Rugby, told me that she got into rugby through watching the men’s SM finals ten years ago, she then started playing with a women’s team and loved it straight away. Hammerby’s mission is to help develop rugby in Sweden and encourage more people to play. She tells me, ‘You need all types of people for rugby.’ A sentiment that is reiterated throughout the day.
Rugby is generally known as a male-dominated sport, and I wondered how the female players felt about that. ‘I feel quite empowered…as it’s showing other girls and women that we can also do this, it doesn’t just have to be a men’s sport.’ Says Amanda Swartz, NRK Trojan RC. She also explained that the men’s and women’s teams support each other and sometimes train together.
Michaela Brown, Göteborg RF, had just finished playing a match when I spoke to her about the level of competitiveness in the team. She breathlessly told me that her team try to give each player the chance to play in the tournament’s opening rounds. ‘In the qualification rounds, we think it’s more important with the team and that everyone gets to play.’ She tells me the team is a big part of her life – it’s friendship and family.
Even though I’m not playing in the tournament the friendliness I’m met with from the players is heartwarming. It’s clear how passionate all the players are about Rugby. Martina Vivlund, Lugi RK, has been playing since 2011, and initially got involved as she wanted to play in a team sport. She then fell in love with the physicality of rugby. She also tells me that rugby is a sport for everyone. ‘I’m speaking for my whole team that we absolutely love this sport.’
The desire to grow rugby is apparent and from the hosting club, Malmö RC, PO Jönsson, one of the arrangers of the event, explained that as a club they are really trying to develop Swedish rugby. They have a rugby sevens tournament every spring called Malmö Open, and hope to add a youth festival next year.
Two of the younger players from MRC, Sofya Smolina, age 17, and Sara Sundelöf, age 18, told me they both got into rugby just a few years ago through their high school rugby team and now play for MRC women’s team. Sofya told me, ‘I love the physicality, love putting your body on the line and just giving it your all,’ then said, ‘It’s so amazing on the pitch, but it’s so amazing off the pitch as well, because the community in rugby is so welcoming.’
This is definitely the mindset that I’m experiencing at the tournament too. Both play for the Swedish under 18 girl’s team, they say that rugby has given them loads of opportunities and opened up a global community to them.
Sara told me ‘There are so many different departures in one game…rugby can fit everyone.’ Asked about how tough the sport is, Sarah quotes Sofya that, ‘Rugby is aggressive, but never violent.’ This matches a statement I heard from another player, that when they play they may get bruises, but they’re not out to hurt anyone!
The captain of the MRC rugby sevens team, Sara Jacobsson, has played for MRC for 7 years. Previously, she competed in track and field and said she can utilize her speed in rugby. For her ‘The feeling of belonging to something bigger than just your own performance,’ is a major reason for participating in the sport. She learnt to play rugby by just playing and spending time on the pitch.
She is also in the Swedish national XV’s team which competes in the REIC Trophy, the European league for tier 2 and 3 rugby union. Sweden currently ranks third. Sara tells me that she’s really happy that Swedish rugby has developed so much that it offers her the chance to play at this high level. Being part of a small sport gives the opportunity to play at the highest level in the country.
Pomme Corvellec, MRC, states that ‘Playing at the highest possible level and playing for the love of the sport, that experience and environment is one of the best things I’ve been able to do.’ Another MRC player, Julia Allfelt, expressed that being part of a small sport allows one to develop in the sport quickly. She is in the under 18’s national team, ‘It’s definitely a confidence boost….I’m so glad I picked rugby!’
After speaking to many of the players it was obvious how much women’s rugby is about the people, being part of a team and the rugby community. Emma Kullberg, Stockholm Berserkers, told me just after their match against Uppsala, ‘They’re our best friends and our rivals!’ Emma joined the Stockholm Berserkers team when she moved to Stockholm two years ago, and now the team have become her friends. She told me that rugby gives her confidence and it’s for everyone – echoing the sentiment that everyone is welcome.
I left the tournament as NRK Trojan were celebrating winning the final and being the new Swedish Masters. But, what I saw in all the teams that day was a mixed bunch of people whose pure enjoyment of playing together made everyone a winner.
Results of Women’s Rugby Sevens SM
First – NRK Trojan
Second – Enköpings RK
Third – Lugi RK
You can find further information through the Swedish Rugby Association or in Swedish Svenska Rugbyförbundet
Sweden has it’s own rugby union league – the Allsvenskan, and since 2010 Sweden has had a national rugby sevens series. Sweden has both men’s and women’s national teams, both of which compete internationally.
The SM event host team, MRC is one of the biggest clubs in Sweden and has teams in every age group from age 6 to seniors website.
All photos by Lindsay Armstrong (lindsayarmstrong.com)
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