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Solomons sevens sisterhood tackling tired traditions

The national squad has been described as a family
The national squad has been described as a family.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

The Solomon Islands Women's Sevens Rugby team is counting down to the Oceania Championships and while they are unlikely to defeat newly-crowned Olympic champions Australia, Australian Aid is helping them enjoy victory of a different kind.

The women of the Solomon Islands national Rugby Sevens squad are proudly brave, but perhaps not for the reason you might expect.

As they assemble at Town Ground in the capital Honiara, determined to make the final line-up for the Oceania Championships in Fiji (November 11-12, 2016), they know they will need to hit hard and be hit, in order to succeed. But they have proven their bravery long before now.

"We had stigma," says Solomon Islands Rugby Union Federation CEO and women's Sevens national coach Nick Hatigeva, who has been developing women's rugby in the Pacific nation since 2009.

Solomon Islands Rugby Union Federation CEO and women’s Sevens national coach Nick Hatigeva
Solomon Islands Rugby Union Federation CEO and women’s Sevens national coach Nick Hatigeva.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

"Some ethnic groups here felt they'd rather have their girls play another sport. They'd say 'Women should do this or that' but that is slowly fading.

"Over time, we've had girls who've taken up this interest and it gives the wider community a different perspective of how the sport is."

-Nick Hatigeva, coach

Physically, socially and culturally brave.

Lindsay Kakai is an original. She answered a call for players she heard on the radio back in 2009. Her young son Dan, shadows her as she warms up with the squad.

Lindsay Kakai prepares for training with her young son
Lindsay Kakai prepares for training with her young son.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

"Some of my friends, they say to me 'Why you want to play?'," she says.

"Where I come from they stick to the culture. To me, there's culture but, you know, you have to mix it."

She has a well-practiced comeback for the doubters, pointing out that basketball and other sports are shared by men and women, so why not rugby? The constant criticism has galvanised Lindsay and others.

"When they make that tough choice to play rugby that's breaking a lot of barriers," Nick says.

"And I think they are confident in themselves because they've managed to overcome those sort of things."

The recent meteoric rise of women's rugby, culminating in the gold medal for Australia at the Rio Olympics, has attracted fresh interest in the game. For smaller, less-developed, and traditionally-weaker rugby nations, it presents unprecedented opportunity. Women are now the great hope of many rugby nations seeking success.

Accordingly, the Solomon Islands women, smaller in stature on average than many of their Pacific counterparts, are developing their own style.

Solomon Islands are developing their own style of play
Solomon Islands are developing their own style of play.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

"We don't see ourselves as favourites in any way but we dwell on the strengths we have and develop our game around it," Nick says of their strategic approach to the Oceanic Championships.

"We don't have the size but we do have a few fast girls so we very much adopt a runaway rugby game style."

The professional training session and quality coaching prove this is a serious elite development program and on-field success is deserved, but in a nation where ethnic differences still tug at social cohesion, societal change seems to matter as much as the score.

"Some of these girls, when they joined up, it gave them a sense of belonging to a group," Nick says, watching over his players.

"They train rugby and they have a name, being identified with something in the community. They are keen to learn and good listeners but not forgetting we use some of the sessions to laugh our hearts out."

The players enjoy the team environment as much as the sport.
The players enjoy the team environment as much as the sport.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

Lindsay admits the team environment, as much as the tackling, attracts her.

"We all come from different backgrounds but when we come together it is more like a family," she says.

"Woman to woman, playing rugby is more physical but when you are into it is like a hobby, something different."

-Lindsay Kakai, player

Women's rugby is growing in the Solomon Islands
Women's rugby is growing in the Solomon Islands.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

Pikinini Dan patrols the sideline. Increasingly obsessed with rugby, he constantly quizzes mum Lindsay about the game. To this little man, rugby is not simply a man's game. His first rugby memories will be of wandering amidst the warrior women of the Solomon Islands.

Importantly, nearby, he also sees the men’s team training, and dares to dream.

Perhaps Lindsay has started a Solomon Islands rugby dynasty.

This story was produced by ABC International Development as part of the Pacific Sports Partnership funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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