From Little Things, Big Things Grow: Three Komodos Women Players Make Indonesia 7s Rugby Team

Rugby is a fantastic game for taking a person out of their comfort zone, not just through the physical but also mental contest. Think about what it means to be a young lady from an orphanage here in Indonesia and then play out that scenario on the rugby training or playing pitch and you may just see life in parallel. For the past three years, Jakarta Komodos Women’s Rugby Coach Stephen Barber has had the task of coaching a number of young ladies from the Mama Sayang Orphanage how to play rugby and with it teach them the core values and ethos of this wonderful game. He knows how rugby has helped change and enhance their lives for the betterment of not just themselves but all those around them, whether on or off the pitch. Life changing moments happen in different ways for all of us and this week three young ladies from Mama Sayang not only finished high school but were selected for the Indonesian National Women’s Sevens Team to tour Singapore.

When I kicked off Indonesian Women’s Rugby three years ago with the help of my good mate David Nye, we thought to each other how we would be able to get something up and running that was sustainable. Given that David and I had already had a long involvement in the game here we were worried as to how we could do something that would work in terms of player participation numbers on a regular weekly basis … step back in time and fortunately I had met Mike and Jev Hilliard from the Mama Sayang Orphanage, which is located at Jonggol, south of Jakarta. Late in 2012, Mike spoke to me at the annual Christmas Eve Dinner at Aphrodite in Klub Rasuna and asked me if I was able to teach a group of young ladies from the orphanage how to play Rugby … David and I had our player base.

When we first kicked off Women’s Rugby we needed a couple of things, including a pitch and some playing gear. Thankfully, the Jakarta Intercultural School (JIS) stepped in and offered us a pitch and David’s father, the late Alan Nye kindly offered via his company Britmindo to buy the ladies playing kit, boots, mouth guards, kit bags and rugby balls. Like anything that you start from scratch it takes time and effort, but given I was learning as a coach and they were learning as players we were able to work together and start to see results and with these results came sponsorship support from the Priscilla Hall Memorial Foundation (PHMF). This also included a fantastic opportunity to send a team across to the “2013 Bali Rugby Fest” in October that year backed by PHMF and a group of eight mates called “Gr8Mates”, where I was helped by a young Australian Youth Ambassador, Peter Klestov. Anyone who was in Bali that weekend we will remember the fabulous generosity of those there who donated money and second hand team jerseys, shorts, socks, balls and kit bags to the girls. After that trip I knew that Indonesian Women’s Rugby was here to stay.

In mid-2014, I invited Wallaby Legend, Joe Roff along to training with the Mama Sayang girls. None of the girls had ever met a player like Joe who had achieved so much success on the Rugby pitch, but I think that day he left a mark on the girls, when he said to them that “If they work hard they too one day might just achieve selection in their National Team”. Another interesting comment Joe made later that evening at the “Indonesian Rugby 10 Year Anniversary Dinner” was that for the first time in his Rugby career that he had ever seen so much love in a tackle, saying “I noticed after each time they made a tackle they would give the lass on the ground a hug and get her back to her feet”. This love for each other and this love for the game of Rugby is something that has been experienced to be understood, but it is would makes the girls come back to training every week.

Running a rugby team alone is a daunting task, so in late 2014, I approached the Jakarta Komodos Junior Rugby Club and asked Scott Biggs and Kyle Larson if the Mama Sayang girls or “Red Ants” as they had called themselves by then could join the club. These gents were very welcoming to the girls and in joining the club more sponsorship funds were needed. However thanks to a worthy partnership between PHMF and Britcham’s “Give Kids a Sporting Chance” Foundation the Mama Sayang girls now had a club and this new identity was a massive boost for all. As anyone who has played team sport would know, playing for a club means a team jersey, shorts, socks and kit bag, but when you come from an under-privileged background like the ladies from Mama Sayang’s it was like all your Christmas’ had come at once!

Throughout 2015, the Jakarta Komodos Women’s Rugby Club continued to thrive and the players were developing on and off the field as fine young ambassadors of the game. I still had a core group from 2013 to work with but I also had a new crop of young players wanting to learn about the game. I also had a new Assistant Coach in my good mate, Aaron Meadows and together we decided to step the girls up to a new level by pushing them a bit harder. By early this year there was suddenly Women’s Rugby Teams in Papua, Jakarta, Bandung and more recently Bali… the bug was catching on and more young Indonesian ladies were wanting to get out and play Rugby. In late February 2016, Persatuan Rugby Union Indonesia (PRUI) hosted the inaugural “ Nusantara Sevens Tournament” and with a bit of persuasion, Women’s Rugby was included in the format of the Kartini Cup.

The Women’s section of the tournament was contested by two teams from the Jakarta Komodos, Bandung and Universitas Negeri Jakarta (UNJ). This was the first time in the history of Indonesian Rugby outside of the Jakarta School’s Rugby Tournament that local female teams had participated in domestic competition. It was a watershed moment for all, but not one that was lost on the more experienced and determined Jakarta Komodos ladies who showed they had what it takes to play hard and win fair, defeating UNJ 15-5 in the Kartini Cup Final. Three years of hard work and endless hours on the training pitch, coupled with the will to battle against adversity delivered the proudest moment in not just the history of Jakarta Komodos Women’s Rugby Club, but also for a core group of young ladies from the Mama Sayang Orphanage and who would have thought all this was possible three years ago?

I have always encouraged the young ladies who I coach to believe in themselves as individuals and their ability to work as a team, as this is what my coaches taught me when I was younger. This week three of my core group from 2013, namely Eunike Anggelina Tombokan (Angel), Augustina Leha and Putri Emriani who were honoured to be selected as members of the Indonesian National Women’s Sevens Team that will play in the inaugural “Southeast Asia Sevens Tournament” on April 15-16 at the National Stadium in Singapore. This is a wonderful achievement for these young ladies who have battled wholeheartedly against the adversity of rugby and life to not only achieve National Team selection but also finish high school in the same week.

When I think back to Joe Roff’s words, Angel, Leha and Putri were listening that day as I am sure all the others and I know when the three of them run out onto the field representing Indonesia next weekend they will do themselves, their families, their friends and their country proud.

Thanks to all involved and all the rest

Personally there are so many people to thank for this achievement and firstly I would like to thank all the wonderful Mama Sayang and other young Jakarta Komodos’ ladies who I have coached since 2013; Mike and Jev Hilliard from Mama Sayang Orphanage; David Nye, Peter Klestov & Aaron Meadows who have helped me coach along the way; Fred from the Aphrodite Group; David and the late Alan Nye from Britmindo; the PHMF Committee; Britcham’s “Give Kids a Sporting Chance” Foundation; Gr8 Mates; those who donated at the 2013 Bali Rugby Fest; the Jakarta Komodo’s Rugby Club; the other Women’s Rugby Clubs and Schools in Indonesia; PRUI; and the Indonesian Rugby community.