Abby, Kylah break rugby barriers

Abby Lockhart and Kylah Olliver have been breaking tackles and any other barriers that get in their way in a sport dominated by boys for a few years now.

GIRL POWER: Abby Lockhart (left) and Kylah Olliver have been kicking gender barriers for touch at Pakuranga United Rugby Club.Times photo Scott Yeoman.

The two 12-year-old rugby players, year eight students at Somerville Intermediate, are far from concerned that they are the only girls in their teams.

“It’s fine, it doesn’t stop me from doing anything,” said Abby, who plays for Pakuranga United’s U12 Green side.

Kylah, a member of the club’s U13 Green team, agreed.

“I’ve kind of gotten used to it from it happening so often,” she said.

“When it first started it just seemed a little weird. Not that new now.”

They have both been playing rugby for about seven years.

“It’s a great game,” said Abby, who lives in Howick.

“It’s fast and active and I just love the sport. Running, tacking people – it’s pretty fun.”

She plays first five-eighth and in 2015 was the first girl to be picked for Pakuranga’s Beecroft Cherrybrook Tour in Sydney, Australia.

There were no girls in the Australian opposition and their reaction to Abby was priceless.

“I wear head gear,” she explained. “And at the end of the game, when I took it off, all the guys were like, ‘Oh, that’s a girl’.”

When she’s not playing rugby she’s playing representative touch for Counties Manukau or tag20 rugby for New Zealand, not to mention a myriad of other sports teams.

Her love of the oval ball game came from watching her older brother play, she said, and she wants to eventually play for the New Zealand Women’s Sevens team.

Kylah, who lives in Shelly Park, has the same goal.

She wants to play professionally. Her connection to the sport didn’t come from her family but nevertheless started early.

The front rower remembers playing rugby with boys in kindergarten and doing the haka.

“I’ve always looked up to the All Blacks. When I was little, most people would ask the girls ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ They’d be like, ‘Oh, I want to be a princess’… I’d be like, ‘I want to be an All Black’.”

Kylah said one of her big goals is to win her first championship and get her name on the wall at the Pakuranga United clubrooms.

“Because then I would be one of the first girls on the wall and … that would just mean I could leave my mark here.”

Abby and Kylah will go to Howick College next year and hope to play for the school’s women’s sevens team.

Their parents are right behind them.

Jenny Lockhart thinks it’s great that the girls have stuck with it, despite the challenges they’ve faced along the way.

“They’ve both grown with the game,” she said.

Nigel Olliver said Kylah and Abby were the first girls to go this far at Pakuranga.

Usually girls stop playing junior rugby when tackling is introduced.

“When they first started, you didn’t really know…where you could go, how far you could take this,” Mr Olliver said.

“As time progressed, and they were getting older, it [meant] asking the club how long the girls could keep playing for, because they were playing with the boys, and nobody could really answer it. It was a precedent that hadn’t been set yet.”

The girls trialled to get into their teams, he said, meaning they have been picked on merit.

Mr Olliver said he hopes this opens up opportunities for other young girls who want to play rugby at the club.

Both Kylah and Abby, meanwhile, said they would also like to promote girls’ rugby and would like to see more of it. As they move on to high school next year, their time playing for Pakuranga United is almost over.

But you get the feeling these two barrier-breakers are not done and might just be back in the green and orange someday soon.

By: Scott Yeoman