The association Terres en Melees, one of World Rugby’s ‘Spirit of Rugby’ charities, has produced a documentary about the remarkable rise of women’s rugby in the remotest part of Madagascar, focusing on the achievements of its main champion, a teenage mum by the name of Marcelia.

Marcelia, aged 16, and her two-year-old son live in a fishing village in Antsepoka, on the Sapphire Coast in the south west of Madagascar.

Life was understandably tough. But an introduction to rugby through one of World Rugby’s Get into Rugby initiatives, led by an educator called Pierre, proved transformational.

In a journey that the scriptwriters of Hollywood would be proud to call their own, the documentary charts how Marcelia came to form a women’s team, drawn from her own village and those in the surrounding area, that went on to become national champions.

Pierre Gony, founder of the association Terres en Mêlées, and long-time friend French director Christophe Vindis, managed to convince several partners such as Les Docs Du Nord (a French TV production company), to join them on their creative adventure before going to see broadcasters.

“They were automatically seduced. As soon as we said that it was a film that will highlight the emancipation of girls by rugby in Madagascar, they immediately signed,” said Gony, with a smile on his face.

Real-life story

Marcelia insisted that the film stayed authentic to her experiences. “Everything is real,” Gony explained. “All her friends are rugby players. I met them four years ago. She was a notable leader and took the project into her own hands. She won her place in her community thanks to rugby. We chose her for the main lead because she was the one who lived the furthest, who is the most isolated.”

Gony explains how rugby became part of Marcelia’s life and those around her, men and women.

"It's been four years since we developed rugby in the south-west of Madagascar, a totally isolated area north of Tulear. We have developed rugby in more than 20 villages that are fishing communities and totally inaccessible if not by sea. We have set up training for teachers who play rugby in schools. As a result, children play rugby every afternoon. There is a fabulous level of play and the terrain is fine since it is coral sand. The project really took off over there. The fishermen used to fish in the morning and then have nothing much to do in the afternoon. They now play rugby every afternoon.”

After a while, a girls’ team was formed on the Sapphire coast, consisting of the best players from the 20 villages where rugby had been introduced. “The Sapphire coast is the location of the film. We filmed the impact of rugby on their daily lives and how rugby was the catalyst for freedom,” explained Gony.
“Supported by World Rugby, they went to the National Championship qualifiers in Tulear and won, ensuring them of a place in the main event in Antananarivo.”

1000 km journey

Gony continued: “The film begins in their bush village, at the start of their 1000 km journey across the country to compete with the best teams in Madagascar. Arriving in Antananarivo they were very apprehensive and full of self-doubt because there is some discrimination from people of the capital towards those from the coast, and the team was composed solely of girls from the coast. But after practicing with the local girls, friendships were quickly formed and mutual respect gained and the discrimination and clichés evident before quickly became a thing of the past.

“Then, they played the final, in front of 10000 spectators, and totally dominated the opposition to become champions. It really was the stuff of fiction and an exceptional experience.”

Photos Christophe Vindis