Womens’ rugby union is on a high right now in Australia with the 7’s team just being crowned World Champions and off to the Rio Olympics and the 15’s team just scoring a major naming rights sponsor. In the mid 90’s a pioneering group of women played in the formative years of the game in Australia. Leanne Matthewson (nee Wilkes) was one of those women. She played and captained her beloved University of Queensland for 9 years, represented Queensland for 8 years (including as captain) and represented Australia. We caught up recently to have a yarn about those early days and what’s on her sporting bucket list right now…
You were part of a pioneering group of women playing rugby union in the initial years – tell us about those early days…
I remember all our training equipment were hand-me-downs – the tackle bags had lost their punch and the scrum machines had their pads falling off. We had no sponsors and had to fundraise for our own kits. Our Australian playing shorts were left over men’s sizes!
We played NZ once a year (this was before there was a Womens’ World Cup). I remember sitting on the bench for an Australia v NZ Test match at Concorde Oval, Sydney. It was pouring rain and sleet and was a forward’s mud bath – the Kiwis were lapping it up because it was just like a home game for them! It was mid week and there was hardly any crowd except for a few parents. I remember watching the battle in front of me thinking I couldn’t wait to get out there even though I knew I was going to get hammered. We got killed by the Kiwis. Things have progressed since then!
I recall one club trip travelling by train to the Nationals to play and there were no sleepers on the train. In order for the bigger forwards to have some more leg room, the smaller backs laid out on the luggage racks hanging from the roof above the seats. Although it was sometimes hard going there’s no doubt it was formative of the culture and spirit that developed in the team.
Do you remember the moment you found out you had been selected to play for Australia?
I was at training for Uni and was passed on the news by our coach. In those days we didn’t have mobile phones so the selectors rang our coach who passed on the good news at our next training session!
What is your most memorable sporting moment?
Watching Kieren Perkins win the 1500m gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games from lane 8.
What is your favourite sporting team, athlete or event to support/watch?
St George Dragons. I was a fan of Peter Gill who had come from my home town Toowoomba to go and play for the Dragons in the NRL.
What is on your sporting bucket list?
I’d like to go to Wimbledon one day and watch an Aussie woman with a fierce volley win on the No 1 Court.
It was a pleasure to catch up with Leanne (right) at the recent University of Queensland pre Wallaby Test corporate luncheon along with media professional Alexandria Bernard (middle).