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Cooke can benefit from Irish heroics

By Ali Gordon

Ireland's women's rugby team shot into the spotlight after their outstanding performances in the Women's World Cup, beating New Zealand for the first time in their history earlier this month.

Ulster girls Grace Davitt and Ashleigh Baxter were key members in the Ireland squad, helping Ireland to humble New Zealand in a 17-14 victory and secure a spot in the semi-finals, where they were defeated by eventual winners England.

Maintenance technician Davitt's home team Cooke Women's Rugby Club are hoping to maximise on the current level of interest in women's rugby.

"The World Cup has put women's rugby into people's thoughts and hopefully that'll be positive for us and raise more awareness for women's rugby," said Cooke player Laura Johnston at Monday night's 'Give it a Try' session at Shaw's Bridge.

"We have a long history of women's rugby at Cooke and we've had a number of Ulster and Ireland players here."

Cooke player Nikita Armstrong said: "It was amazing to watch the Ireland team – a massive inspiration. I cried when they lost to England. It's been really good for the club to have someone like Grace on the team."

Team-mate Sorcha Chipperfield added: "She (Grace) worked so hard to get there, alongside a full-time job, and there are people on that Ireland team like Tania Rosser who are parents too so they all lead busy lives and a lot of people don't give them the credit."

Welcoming players from all walks of life, Cooke's women's team have a number of international players.

"There's players from all over the place here. We have players from Spain, South Africa, England, Ireland and New Zealand and everyone from students to professional people so it really does allow you to meet people that you wouldn't normally meet," said Johnston.

After recently moving from Blackrock Women's Rugby Club, South African Alexia McEwan has been impressed by the women's rugby set-up at Cooke since her move to Northern Ireland.

"I started rugby just to make friends when I moved here. I've only been here a month at Cooke but I made instant friendships when I was at Blackrock so I hope to do the same here," McEwan said.

With 25 players currently on their books, membership at Cooke shows no sign of slowing down and the bubbly bunch are keen for new members to join their training sessions on Monday and Thursday evenings.

"We've tried loads of things, like social media, Facebook and new events and we're hoping our reputation will get us some new players too," said Johnston.

Chipperfield continued: "Women's football in England is huge – they seem to have got it right – but we need more media coverage to raise the profile of women's rugby."

Looking ahead to this season, Ulster forward Armstrong is optimistic about her club's chances in the All Ireland League. She said: "We're the only team in Ulster in this league so it'll be tough but fingers crossed we'll get promotion."

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