Hes East Women’s Rugby: “I couldn’t be prouder”

Jacob interviews their President, Funmilayo Adelaja and Captain, Neave Smeaton

(Image: Neave Smeaton)

Before the start of this academic year, a group of East Campus girls got together and formed Heslington East Women’s RFC, meaning that the University has three functioning collegiate women’s rugby sides, alongside Derwent and Vanbrugh (with Alcuin unfortunately folding in the past year). 

After an inaugural season of Varsity triumph, four College Sport nominations and impressive Roses representation in UYWRUFC’s clean sweep over Lancaster, Vision’s Sport Editor Jacob Bassford interviews President Funmilayo ‘Fun’ Adelaja and Captain Neave Smeaton in a reflection on their first season as a team, future plans and the general state of Women’s Rugby in general nationally. 

1. How successful would you say the first year has been for Hes East women?

Fun: Honestly, amazing. We’ve managed to attract and retain a group of women who had never played rugby before university, teach them a whole new sport and finish second in the Varsity playoffs against the other colleges and to top it all off, we won our Varsity match [against Grey/Trevelyan Colleges, Durham]. Every single girl that plays for Hes East has moved up into the University’s women’s first or second rugby team and everyone played in Roses which was a fantastic achievement. I couldn’t be prouder of what we have achieved in such a short space of time!

2. Has there been any support from the Hes East men’s team at all?

Fun: The men’s team has been great, we all know each other to some degree and we’ve even had a joint social to get to know each other in a fun way. They’re a lovely group of guys and hopefully the relationship between the two teams gets stronger next year.

3. How was the experience of Roses for your players? 

Fun: As you might have seen, it was a whitewash in the Rugby at Roses, all three of the men’s teams and both of the women’s teams won their matches!! We had two players (myself and Ase Anifowose) play for the first team and everyone else played for the second team. It was amazing to watch the teams support each other, it was a very emotional moment and well deserved celebration at Revs followed.

4. How was Varsity?

Fun: Varsity was so much fun, we were a bit nervous going into it because we hadn’t been playing for very long but we smashed it! At full time we were drawing 4-4 and the ref asked if we wanted to take the draw or go into extra time and though I was hesitant because I didn’t want anyone’s heads to drop, the team decided, in the spirit of varsity, to fight for it and we won by just 1 point. I couldn’t be prouder of the girls for not giving up and there was definitely a lesson in that experience for me to never underestimate myself or my team.

5. Are there any plans for Women’s college rugby to go contact in the near future?

Fun: Yes, we are currently in talks with the YUSU Rugby Development Officer, the RFU representative for the Uni. Because we’ve managed to get so many girls up to the full contact Uni team, there is a lot of interest in the college sphere mirroring that of the men’s league. It would be great but, baby steps obviously. Our current hope is that next year we would start with touch and gradually integrate contact into training sessions as the season progresses.

Neave: In the future, our club is definitely aiming towards making college rugby full contact, this is something that has been discussed as an aim by many of the women’s teams in York and in Durham. 

6. Hes East Men have been controversial for their socials (like most rugby teams), how have socials been for the women this year and do you think there is too much emphasis potentially on both university and collegiate sport on social participation?

Fun: I think there’s a real misconception about the men’s rugby clubs and their socials. Granted they have a very interesting way of having fun, I wouldn’t say it reflects badly on them as people. Hes East Men are an amazing group of guys, they always check on us on nights out and have been nothing but respectful. There’s no denying that there is a culture attached to men’s rugby but don’t think that this doesn’t happen in women’s sports clubs as well – we also love a memorable social. In relation to the second question, I wouldn’t say there is too much emphasis on uni and college sports’ social participation because for many that is the very reason why they join these clubs. Sports is what keeps so many people going through uni, through the stress of exams and life in general. I’ve made friends for life through rugby and there are many girls that have joined Hes East only for the socials. If anything, I would love it if there was more emphasis on the social side, especially in women’s rugby when we’re trying to attract people to a sport that can seem quite daunting.

7. Will the club be getting their own kit for next season?

Fun: One would hope so, I think we’ve proved ourselves worthy of funding for kit! 

8. With the Red Roses soaring in popularity at the moment, what do you think the University should be doing to expand Women’s collegiate rugby as well as the university team (which boasted double wins over Lancaster in Roses)? 

Neave: YUSU have in the last term already started moving to expanding collegiate rugby along with uni rugby through the implementation of ‘Inner Warrior’ [an RFU scheme designed to attract young girls into rugby], after multiple meetings with both college and uni women’s rugby. This moves to expand participation and introduce women to rugby and act as a pathway into college, uni and uni touch. Next year we are also considering starting some form of league in order to increase the amount of games we can play throughout the year, as opposed to only playing varsity and qualifiers. 

Editor’s Comment:

As someone who is a self-confessed big fan of rugby and is a member of Constantine College, I am delighted by the progress made by Hes East Women in the past year. It’s great to see strong connections with uni women and their male counterparts as well and I really hope women’s rugby continues its expansion at collegiate level at the university. 

I also hope they can sort themselves their own kit soon. Hes East Men RFC have one of the nicest kits of all the college sport teams, so it would be awesome to see the women don an equivalent soon, hopefully by the start of next season. It will also be really good to see Hes East Women, as well as the other collegiate sides, going full contact soon, and I hope the relevant people at the university get this over the line in time for next season.