More than 30 years after women first played rugby in Czechia the country’s national 15s team is starting to make some real headway on the international stage.

Czechia ended a run of eight consecutive defeats in November 2018 to claim their first ever test victory with a 10-5 defeat of Switzerland in Yverdon-les-Bains.

That momentous result kickstarted an upturn in fortunes that yielded three wins and one draw in four matches in 2019, as the team won back-to-back Rugby Europe Women’s Trophy titles.

“Winning a second successive Rugby Europe Women’s Trophy was a very, very special moment,” coach Hana Schlangerova told World Rugby. 

“I am so proud of the whole team and incredibly thankful to everyone who supported us on the way.”

Listening to Schlangerova

Czechia’s unbeaten streak, which also catapulted the team to a World Rugby Women’s Rankings high of 45, coincided with the installation of former international player Schlangerova as coach.

Schlangerova is also head of the Czech Women’s Rugby Committee and oversees the country’s female U16 and U18 sevens teams. According to captain Petra Kriklanova she was convinced, along with Petr Porizek, to come on board with the seniors after the players demanded a more professional coaching set-up.

“She’s one of the best [coaches] I’ve come under I would say,” Kriklanova said.

“It was the best decision we could make because we actually told our manager of the national team that we would need better coaching staff and that’s how we started. 

“We actually put together the best coaching staff we could, so we asked Hana if she could take over, we asked Petr Porizek if he could help her out. 

“They just did [an] amazing job, they stuck with us for two years and we just tried to listen to what they wanted from us, and we tried to do what they needed us to do.

“We stuck with that, did that and it was a success!”

International exposure

Female players first picked up an oval ball in what was then Czechoslovakia in the 1980s but with only two teams interest waned at a time when the game was blossoming in other parts of Europe.

There remained little outlet for women, such as Schlangerova and Kriklanova, who wanted to play rugby until three female sevens teams were formed in Prague and Brno in 2002.

Schlangerova, who was at university at the time, and Kriklanova, who was then just 14, both jumped at the opportunity to play the game they loved. 

The former would become a sevens international within a year and would represent Czechia in the shortened format until 2012, before making her one and only test appearance in a tournament in Switzerland in 2015.

Kriklanova played alongside Schlangerova during her formative years and has no doubt about the impact that her coach and former team-mate has had on the women’s game in her country.

“What she did for women’s rugby in Czechia is just amazing, and I really appreciated that,” the 32-year-old said. “I tell her many times but she won’t listen!”

Kriklanova stopped playing rugby while still a teenager in order to concentrate on softball. Having represented Czechia at two Women’s World Softball Championships she travelled to New Zealand in 2014 on a working visa and to play for the Saints club.

During the off-season in Hutt Valley Kriklanova decided to return to the rugby field and represented Hutt Old Boys Marist and Farah Palmer Cup side Wellington Pride before returning home in 2017.

Hopes for the future

Both Kriklanova, who now plays for RC Tatra Smichov, and Schlangerova recognise that although the numbers of female youth players is growing it is the opposite story at the senior 15s level.

According to the Czech Rugby Union there are currently 16 clubs that field women’s teams, but the majority of those concentrate on sevens.

Last season 14 clubs, split across two divisions, competed in national sevens leagues. By contrast, the Women’s XV Championship was contested by only four teams. 

“The number of adult players as well as number of teams involved in senior competitions is unfortunately decreasing,” Schlangerova said.

“Despite the recent international success, we are struggling with the development on the national level. That is the big challenge the women’s game in Czechia is facing now. 

“I wish we can get over that with the process making us even stronger.”

That said, Schlangerova and Kriklanova also agree that the gap between Czechia and more established nations such as Belgium and Germany is closing. And there is talent emerging in the country’s youth teams.

“The U18 girls sevens national team ended up seventh in last year’s European Championship even [though] it was the first time we were competing in this competition,” Schlangerova added. 

“No doubt the potential is incredible considering the number of players we have in Czechia. Let’s see if we can work with the potential and transform it into future success.”