No Woman, No Try - A Documentary On The State of Play in Women's Rugby
By: Jackie Finlan, The Rugby Breakdown
When women’s rugby players revisit their introduction to the sport, “Love at first hit,” is a commonly shared response. No Woman, No Try, an hour-long documentary now streaming on Amazon Prime Sport, pays homage to that truth through its thoughtful, charismatic cast, which includes Ruggette RFC founder Stef Evans. But director Victoria Rush also builds tension, as the devotees contrast their origin stories with the on-going struggles for the respect and investment that they’ve already earned. The film is an engrossing journey that educates the uninitiated, stirs the familiar into action, and arms everyone with information that can actually shape opinion.
No Woman, No Try also has an origin story, and it begins with Rush. A content producer for O2, O2 Sport, Rush created the #IAmEnough movement in summer 2020. The rugby player and general women’s sport advocate wanted to turn that momentum into something tangible, and so she consulted her friend, Evans, who had experience in doing just that.
“She wanted to do a storytelling piece, but before she nailed down a concept, we were just talking about the different things that she does,” Evans said of Rush’s professional background. “With Ruggette and the business, we usually end up having a lot to talk about.
“What story needs to be told around our community and sport and the vast array of things that are widely misunderstood by those who aren’t familiar with rugby,” Evans traced the thematic development. “A part of that, because of what I do day in and day out, is the business of rugby and the potential market reach of our sport and of women’s rugby specifically.”
Market research is the conversation fodder for investment in the sport, and that’s what Evans relied on when launching Ruggette in 2018. Back then, Evans was “selfishly” trying to solve her own problems associated with wearing men’s rugby shorts – the chafing, the repositioning before every scrum, the mental distraction that comes with constantly adjusting one’s kit. When her hip mobility degraded, the desire for women’s rugby shorts developed into a necessity.
“A lot of people, even a lot of women, that I spoke to in the beginning were, ‘That would be nice, but do you think there’s a market for it? Do you think it’s important,’” Evans recited initial feedback. “They weren’t saying that in a negative way. It was more that everyone was used to wearing the men’s kit, so does it really matter? It was more, ‘Are you just wasting your money?’ sort of thing.”
Evans knew the numbers were there in terms of the market. She considered how many women were actively playing, the rate of growth internationally, what that looked like if she could capture 5-10% of the market.
“All those numbers were no-brainers,” Evans said in reference to launching the company. “But wearing men’s kit has become the status quo for us to just wear the men’s kit. It was normalized. I wasn’t at all unsure about whether there were enough women playing rugby to make it work. I was unsure about whether or not we had accepted this for so long that it wasn’t going to feel like a priority for some people.”
Five years later, Evans reflects fondly on how mindsets have changed once options - for apparel and all things women’s rugby - were provided.
“One of the rewarding things I’ve had from people’s feedback on the film was how positively they react around the explanation of why it’s so important for us to have kit that’s made for us,” Evans said.
No Woman, No Try consciously celebrates gains like those achieved by Ruggette, but always lends context. There’s a sobering segment where Evans takes that same market research that supported the decision to create a women’s rugby apparel company, and wonders why that data hasn’t spurred investment in the sport elsewhere. That’s not stupidity, Evans asserts, that’s sexism.
These are all topics with which Evans and Rush have discussed in personal conversations, and the director gets face time as well. Rugby isn’t her be-all, but when Canterbury debuted Ireland’s new kit in 2020, using rugby players for the men’s promos and models for the women’s promos, Rush responded with the #IAmEnough campaign. The movement gained worldwide traction, especially as women’s sporting events and competitions were the first to be postponed or canceled during the pandemic era.
You feel that anguish in Shaunagh Brown, who noted a regrettable lack of surprise following the Canterbury incident. The documentary spends the most time with the 32-year-old, who debuted for England two years after she started playing the sport. Today, Brown plays her Allianz Premier 15s ball with the Harlequins and has been on a full-time professional contract with England RFU since 2019.
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You’re on a ride-along with Brown, who is forthcoming about her upbringing and a life enveloped by sports, and the highs and lows in between. She’s equal parts charm and inspiration, so that when it’s time for her to accept the MVP award at the 2021 Premier 15s championship final, you’re primed to feel that moment alongside her. In a post-match interview that instantly went viral, Brown tells the watching world to give women’s rugby its platform, its chance, and it’ll show up as it always does.
“I didn’t plan it or anything,” Brown said of the MVP speech. “It’s just the thoughts that are in my head all day every day.”
Rush builds you up with Ugo Monye, an England legend whose example of support can reach spaces otherwise inaccessible to people like Brown and Evans. Monye inadvertently introduces Sue Anstiss, co-founder of the Women’s Sports Collective, among many other posts and accolades. Monye’s glowing praise is replayed for her while sitting for the interview. She welcomes the compliments, and then dives into the robust purchasing and consuming power of the women’s sporting community. Zainab Alema talks about finding her niche in the sport as a Muslim woman. The Richmond prop wants to make the England team and is documenting that process on social media. As she scrolls through the supportive messages, she imagines what the world would be like if positive comments, and not trolling, were the norm on social media.
No Woman, No Try portrays everyone using the tools at their disposal to influence conversations around women’s rugby, whether that’s through one’s own company, like Ruggette RFC, or a retweet from a massively popular account. Viewers are left wondering how they can help, and that impact is an important one.