Women's Rugby League in Israel Looking to Expand to Eight Teams

League considering adding club in southern city of Be'er Sheva

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A Gilbert rugby ball.
A Gilbert rugby ball.Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Grant Cole

The women’s rugby league in Israel is eyeing an expansion to eight teams for the upcoming season, which will open in October, by adding a club in Be’er Sheva.

“It’s very intense recruiting, teaching women the game of rugby,” Shiri Shafry, the team coach, told Haaretz. “If I get more Brits, Australians and South Africans it’ll be great because they know what rugby is.”

Shafri, a certified trainer who is completing her certification as a coach from the Orde Wingate Institute for Physical Education and Sports, said she is mainly targeting college students because they are at an age when they are most available but she “wouldn’t say no” to older applicants. She noted that the league is partnering with ASA Ben-Gurion, so the team will be affiliated with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Shafry began playing rugby as a freshman at Haifa’s Technion Israel Institute of Technology in 2007. She chose it, she says, in order to receive extra physical education credit for participating in a competitive sport. After graduating, she married and moved to a kibbutz near Afula. She joined a rugby development program there that did not pan out.

She moved to Be’er Sheva over two years ago, and now her passion for the support has led her to the challenge of starting a brand new club.

“We’re trying to teach women about rugby – the rules, passing techniques, contact, working on fitness as well,” she said. “That’s a challenge all coaches here in Israel face because most of the players have no previous experience.” In addition to teaching them about the game and what they need to do, Shafry said she wants the team “to enjoy the fun of it and be a part of the rugby community, which is international.”

Currently, the league consists of two teams in Tel Aviv, two in Haifa and one each in Jerusalem, Galilee and Ra’anana. The newest is the Ra’anana Raptors. Founded by Liat Geller, who got her start in Haifa, the team is entering its fourth season.

While rugby is associated mainly with men, Shafry says women get a lot from playing the sport.

“First, they understand that they can, especially women from my generation who struggle with ball games or sports and the stereotypes, being told it’s not for you,” she explained. “And all of a sudden, they see they can play rugby, be tough and still be women. A lot of them like the fact they can get their aggression out and get the stress out of their system and at the same place have fun and have a social place be in. That’s another thing I’ve noticed in myself, teammates and opponents as well.”

Practices are on Tuesdays, but Shafry says the team will probably expand to twice a week next month. Anyone interested in trying out for the squad can call her at 050-986-0998.