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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

RAK women’s team benefit from chance meeting with former England star Jane Leonard

After moving to the UAE for work, the nine-capped international is back involved with rugby aiming to help the progress of the women's game

Jane Leonard is a former England international who is now living and working in the UAE. Antonie Robertson / The National
Jane Leonard is a former England international who is now living and working in the UAE. Antonie Robertson / The National

According to the adage, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. And, when trying to set up a women’s rugby team in a place so light on history for that particular pursuit as Ras Al Khaimah, it pays at least to ask.

Earlier this year, Kylie Masur, one of the co-captains of the newly-formed RAK women’s team, spotted someone watching the Six Nations on TV in a restaurant in Al Hamra. So she thought it was worth the question.

“Kylie was debating whether to come over and speak, and I am really glad she did,” Jane Leonard, the new RAK recruit, said.

“I had hung up my boots in 2016, said that was it, and that I was finished when I came here [to work in UAE]. Then Kylie came over to me and said, ‘So, do you play rugby?’

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“I didn’t want to say I’d played, because I hadn’t touched a ball for 18 months. If a ball came down and I dropped it, all cack-handed, I didn’t want her thinking, ‘Well, you’re a bit of a loser.’

“She said they were throwing a ball around on the beach in Al Hamra, at training on a Monday evening, and that I could come along if I want.

“I was too tempted. It is in me, I love rugby so much. I got sucked back in, and I’m glad I did.

“Instantly, she saw me throw a ball and said, ‘You’ve definitely played before.’ I said, ‘Well, yeah, just a little bit’.”

A little bit … to the tune of nine England caps, despite competing for places with greats of the back-row such as Maggie Alphonsi and Heather Fisher. Of beating the All Blacks at Twickenham.

Of playing on Pitch 1 for England in front of 40,000 people at the Dubai Rugby Sevens. Of over 100 appearances for Wasps, and of being named the British Combined Services and Army Sportswoman of the Year.

All of which represents quite the discovery for a local rugby team in the northern emirates.

The former England flanker arrived in RAK in 2016 to work as a personal trainer. Injuries had beset the final years of her playing days in the UK, and she did not want to risk missing time at work because of injuries sustained on the rugby field, so initially stayed away from the game.

She had missed out on playing at the 2010 World Cup because her day job with the Royal Engineers took her on a tour of duty to Iraq. Four years later, a cruciate ligament injury – the first of three she suffered towards the end of her career – scuppered her chances of making it to the next one.

Now, though, she is delighted to be back involved. She played in two tournaments for her new team before the end of the season, and is keen to play her part in the progress of the rapidly-developing club.

RAK’s female players were mostly newcomers to the game at the start of the team's debut season in domestic competition.

They might be light on experience, but they are unlikely to be easy-beats with a player in their ranks who used to be known as “Mad Dog” – because she shared a similar fiery playing style with the England men’s flanker of the same nickname, Lewis Moody.

“None of them had picked up a rugby ball before September,” Leonard said of her new teammates.

“For me, it is not about playing again at that standard. I want to coach, I want to help these girls. They have so much motivation and they are so keen to learn.

“From the eight months since they started, and in the three months I have seen them, they have come on. Next season and the season after they are going to shine.”

Simon Williams, the RAK Rugby chairman, says Leonard’s presence has been a great boost for the club.

“It is growing phenomenally,” Williams said. “It started with just five girls, not really knowing what they were doing, running around on the practice field and the beach.

“Now it has really built up on this huge keenness to promote the sport. They want to get more girls playing, but they also want to do better as a team.

“It has been amazing to watch where they have come from in the past six or seven months to where they are today.

“Having Jane join us is going to make a massive difference. She is part of the team and enjoying playing again, which is great to see.”

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