Gina Williamson packs down against HOBM

2018 marks a monumental year for women’s rugby at Old Boys-University with the club appointing their first ever Women’s RDO, Gina Williamson. A 10-year stalwart of the club and former captain of the Impalas, Williamson has more than earned her stripes at OBU but rewind to her days studying in Dunedin and she would never have imagined herself taking up a Women’s RDO position today.

In fact, Gina describes the way in which she got into rugby as “crazy”.

“I only started playing in my final year of uni basically because of a desperate plea from my younger sister to come and play otherwise they wouldn’t have enough players and their team would fold.

“I played 80 minutes of rugby three days after my first training and never looked back. Somehow she got me hooked. I never had an intention of being a rugby player but here I am.”

Born and bred in Dunedin and then completing her law and economics studies at the University of Otago, employment opportunities led Gina up to Wellington where she decided she would continue her rugby journey by joining OBU.

Going into her 10th year at the club in 2018, Gina was offered the role of Women’s RDO at the Club – an opportunity she simply couldn’t say no to.

“OBU has basically been family to me since I moved to Wellington. One of the things I really am quite passionate about, is developing and supporting people… To me it’s just a huge opportunity and a really great privilege to be able to invest in the club and into the women’s team in this way.”

One of Gina’s immediate goals, along with building on and maintaining a strong culture at OBU, is to increase the number of women playing rugby for the Impalas.

“I would love to see us have two OBU women’s teams… To see growth in the women’s side of club is a real driving factor for me. The other is the culture. I’m really keen to invest – right across the club – to have a strong, positive and inclusive culture developed.

“Ultimately a good culture is the way you’re gonna grow the game and a way you’re gonna attract and retain not only amazing players, but amazing people.”

And it’s not as if Gina hasn’t been around the game long enough to know what is and is not effective in terms of expanding the game. In the 10 years she has been playing rugby Gina has seen a lot of change in the world of women’s rugby, which she believes is reason to be excited about where the game is heading.

A large chunk of that excitement stems from the Sevens Go For Gold campaign – a New Zealand Rugby initiative started in 2012 to attract female athletes to give Sevens a crack in the build-up to the 2016 Rio Olympics which resulted in the likes of Michaela Blyde and Portia Woodman pulling on the black jersey.

“Myself and a couple of my OBU teammates at the time were all actually involved in the launch of that campaign in playing at the Wellington Sevens.

“The women’s game, I think, has gone from not even being on the radar to having a real strong buzz about it. You get the sense that this could really explode from here.”

With the Black Ferns winning their fifth Rugby World Cup in 2017, interest in women’s rugby is at an all-time high in New Zealand and Gina is hoping she and the Club can capitalise on that by working with young, aspiring female rugby players.

OBU have paired up with schoolgirl rugby powerhouse St Mary’s after the club realised they could help the school out in terms of resources and facilities which can be hard to come by for a school located near the centre of the city.

“One of the key things that we’re really focussed on is how we can build really strong relationships with some of our local schools and given where OBU is, there are just some really natural feeder schools for us that we should just be building relationships with and investing in as well.

“So when we see the potential of St Mary’s, as well as the way that they’re actually linking up with some of the schools close to them who don’t have enough numbers for rugby teams, and then seeing the fact that they simply don’t have a lot of resource – from the viewpoint of OBU where we’ve got amazing facilities, we’ve got amazing resources – we saw it as a huge opportunity to come in behind and support a school in what they do, and in what they do well.”

As part of that partnership, St Mary’s will this year train at Boyd Wilson and OBU will be looking to help the school’s rugby programme wherever assistance can be provided, though that is just one of the things on Gina’s plate as she enters her first season as Women’s RDO.

When asked if she was going to continue playing in 2018 while juggling the responsibilities that come with being an RDO, Gina replied with all-too-keen “Ohh yeah!”, also adding:

“It’s gonna be a huge season so there’s no way I’m missing it… After last year, where we end up winning a semi-final, finally, the girls are so driven so I’ve got to be a part of it. So, yep, I’ll be on the field!”

The Impalas will begin their quest for Fleurs Trophy and Victoria Tavern Trophy success when their season commences in early April.

Matt Twort