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Never to Pretty to Play: Women’s Rugby in Hangzhou.

Just five days before the showdown match between France and Wales in the first quarter-final of the 2019 Rugby World Cup I meet the French Captain of the Hangzhou Harlequins Women’s Rugby Team Lucie Toulancoat. Over a civilised coffee outside the Café Box close to where she works as a fashion merchandiser for French clothing companies we put our own countries rugby rivalries behind us and talk women’s rugby.

Lucie tells me back in France she’d played handball for nearly 20 years. This is a fast and high scoring game, where players pass a ball using their hands with the aim of throwing it into the goal of the other team. On arriving in Hangzhou around 2 years ago she was looking for something similar to stay fit and to find people to socialise with. The Harlequins Women’s Rugby Team was the answer.

Currently, the team is made up of women from all over the world including China. Lucie emphasises the team is not just for expats, they welcome all-comers. At the moment there are 8 or 9 women’s teams across China and according to Wikipedia on the 1st July 2019, the Chinese women's XV side was ranked 24thin the world. China was affiliated to the International Rugby Board in 1997.

Training at the Harlequins is twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday this is mixed with the men’s team. Female only training is also held on Saturdays. If you just want to get fit and throw the ball around you will be very welcome to attend the training – you do not have to play in the matches. But Captain Lucie mentions that the women’s team does need new players. The Tuesday session focuses on fitness while Thursday is touch rugby (no contact). Saturday is (women only) full contact training and match days.

If you want to join either just for fitness, or as a player, there is a 300rmb annual fee which covers insurance and other costs. This also includes free access to the Oakwood Gym who are one of the sponsors of the team. Contact Lucie via the details below if you want to know more.

Be sure to know that rugby is not just about the battles on the pitch it’s also about the camaraderie and friendships one makes, not only within the team, but amongst everyone involved in the game. Rugby has a big social reputation both in the clubhouse after a hard match and away from the pitch. “It’s one big family”, Lucie tells me, “I’ve made many friends and we even go on holidays together.”

Travel is a vital aspect of the game. In November the women’s team will travel to Xiamen to attend a big tournament where teams from across China will be playing. This is on top of the bi-monthly matches that sees teams travelling to different cities to face each other on a muddy pitch. This leads into questions about how the team affords to continue to play. Lucie explains they have some sponsors such as the team’s president, Frank who contributes to the club and College Bar is also a sponsor. Negotiations are ongoing with other prospective sponsors in Hangzhou.

Hangzhou Harlequins are actively looking for sponsorship to help with the costs of running the club. They also need a permanent pitch, somewhere where they can play, preferably grass but AstroTurf is also acceptable. If you can help please contact Lucie.

On a more prosaic level I ask her to give me five words connected with her rugby playing. The first word is “family” and as she explained rugby is a family that represents the whole world. The second word is almost obvious, “social” an important aspect of the sport on and off the field. “Fitness” is next, to play this hard game one has to be fit. Watching the French national team play underlines this, they play fast and open rugby. The final words are discipline and commitment, two things a rugby player and a team captain has to have in spades.

And finally, when I ask Captain Lucie what she misses most living in China, I get most French of all answers – good bread and cheese - bien sûr– of course.

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