The Army Women’s Rugby Union team are preparing for a busy 2019 where they will play five games against five international teams.
The team will defend their Inter Services title at the end of April, but in the lead up, they are scheduled to face up to international talent such as Scotland, Germany, Sweden and Belgium.
Major Gemma Stonebridge-Smith has recently taken the jump from player to Head Coach and while her focus is on retaining the Inter Services crown, she is excited for the upcoming season.
She said: “We are looking to maintain the same level of opposition so we will play some great international fixtures.
“Some of them are for the first time so we are looking for Sweden’s full international team to come across this year. It’s some really exciting fixtures to put the girls under some pressure.”
The head coach also revealed that a possible fixture against Spain is in the works and a rematch against the England U20s has been confirmed.
“What we really want to look at is how we can pitch ourselves at international standard,” she said.
“At the moment, we are playing against teams that or 16th or 15th in the international league table and that’s where we want to be pitching ourselves.
“We are really trying to drive forward the standard of women’s rugby and services rugby.”
Maj Stonebridge-Smith was speaking at a two-day training camp held at Aldershot which has seen regular and reservist soldiers report for coaching. The time with the team has given the head coach the opportunity to examine what is at her disposal.
She said: “We’ve got the funding for two full teams now so what we are looking to do is develop our A team so we have a pull-through to the senior squad.
“I’m really blessed to have a real plethora of international talent but on the flipside of that, we have a lot of grassroots talents that we’ve been able to pull through from within the service. I’m really blessed as a coach to have a real spectrum of talent that we can push going forward.”
When discussing the Inter Services tournament in April, the head coach discussed the need for a closer gap between the three teams.
“Nobody wants to see a game of rugby where it is a whitewash from one side,” she said. “The closer we can get all three of the teams to make it a real spectacle of women’s rugby, the better as far as I am concerned.
“Obviously, I want to maintain the championship title and that is one of our goals this season. We’ll be really pushing the girls forward to make sure we do that.”
Maj Stonebridge-Smith also spoke about her transition from player to head coach.
She said: “It’s been seamless in the sense that I have been coaching for a while.
“It was always going to be difficult stepping out of being a player and being the head coach, particularly with the relationships you have with those people. I think, certainly from my perspective, it’s a positive move and from the player’s perspective, I think it is as well.”