Break the Bias: Karen Penrose | Latest Rugby News

While a lot of people start their Rugby journeys on the sideline of a field, very few could claim they were there to support a referee alongside their sister.

“Dad had a reputation for being whistle happy; I have very fond memories of him practicing blowing his whistle on a Saturday morning.” Rugby Australia’s board director Karen Penrose recalled.

Having watched her father, former Test referee, Carl Collett, most of his career, there was no doubting Penrose’s affinity for the game.

A proud Wallaby First member since 1997, and having watched Rugby at all levels, from the Wallabies down to Super Rugby, school rugby and then community, Karen’s passion for the game runs deep. However, nothing is more powerful than her hopes for the women’s game.

As Rugby Australia celebrates International Women’s Day, RUGBY.com.au sat down with board director Karen Penrose to discuss her Rugby journey and hopes for the game.

Having transitioned from a successful corporate career to serve as a director on the boards of some large Australian listed companies , some may argue that becoming the Barker Old Boys Rugby Club president in 2019 would have been an easy job. However, as a passionate Rugby fan, some may say this is where she has made her most significant impact.

Penrose joined the club with two key priorities that were successfully achieved in her first twelve months. The first, a review of the club’s governance structure as they looked to become incorporated and secondly, to develop a women’s sevens team.

“At the heart of it, the club is a Division Two Subbies club, formed in 1968, not unusual in the sense that many Rugby clubs have long heritages. Some are newer clubs and all clubs work hard to evolve so they are relevant to their communities and build a love for the game – players on the field, supporters on the sidelines, and as coaches and managers – for everyone of all ages,” Penrose said.

However, the Barker Old Boys’ evolution has made it into one of the country’s growing numbers of inclusive Rugby Clubs. Following the successful development of the women’s sevens program, the BOBs needed to change their name, to become more representative of the whole community.

“So, we became the Old Barker Rugby Club,” Penrose proudly boasted.

However, like all clubs, the exponential growth of the women’s game has seen facilities, in particular, field space begin to strain. When asked about a proposed solution, its simplicity would not only help more young women pick up a Rugby ball but fundamentally get more children and families active the country over.

“If there’s one thing I can change, I’d like to see a greater commitment from governments and councils to an investment in lighting at our training facilities.

“The reason why is that we need our local infrastructure to be fit for purpose, and we are already seeing ground and ovals at capacity. So if we want more people of all ages, coming through playing irrespective of gender, or even sporting code, then we need access to facilities, and if we’re already at capacity, we need to extend the hours of use of these facilities.

Penrose believes that an ability to put in lighting means that suburban rugby teams, much like the Old Barker Rugby Club, can train over longer hours, play competitions for longer hours and be more flexible to host matches on a weeknight. Penrose believes these ideas will also help foster a greater sense of community within clubland.

“At subbies level, we would then play colts and grade teams and host women’s sevens before first grade, so women would play as a part of a club and feel that inclusion.”

At heart though, Karen’s introduction to Rugby supporting a referee is something which she has maintained.

“I love our game. I did my assistant referee course last year, just to run the line for the women’s sevens.”

And it is this passion for match officials and their continual development that also sees Karen support Amy Perrett’s new Match Official Female Leadership Program

The program is designed to create sustainable pathways for match officials while ensuring female voices are heard within all levels of Rugby. And with 2022 shaping up to be one of the biggest years on record for the women’s game, this participation push couldn’t come at a better time.

“Rugby lends itself to everybody; it’s inclusive and accessible to people of all shapes and sizes to play as a team.”

“As a game, it is played from little ones through to golden oldies in ways which are appropriate for each age group and skill level. And the game is incredibly mindful of player well-being, starting with games that are played as non-contact Rugby” Penrose added.

However, most importantly, it’s a sport that lends itself to a community team. Here, you rely on the person next to you in the ruck, scrum, and all aspects of the game, making it a critical life skill.

It is this reliance, growth in community and teamwork that Penrose loves most about the game. To build a community around a club, play longer into the evenings and have the game more accessible to all will enable more clubs to thrive.

And while it may just start with one women’s sevens team for a club in 2022, it will grow to two and continue to build around the support it receives.

“Women’s Rugby is on the rise, and it won’t be long before we’re integrated so that we won’t point out ‘firsts’ for our game, instead a female referee will take charge of a men’s game, and no one will think differently, that’s what I’m most looking forward to,” Penrose concluded

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