Georgia Mason aims for sevens in Rio in 2016

AIMING HIGH: Southland Girls' High School rugby player Georgia Mason.
AIMING HIGH: Southland Girls' High School rugby player Georgia Mason.

Georgia Mason might only be 14 but she has already established herself as a trailblazer for young southern rugby women.

The year 10 Southland Girls' High School student is the first female inducted into co-ordinator Peter Skelt's Rugby Southland Academy that embraces the New Zealand High Performance Sport concept.

The daughter of Owaka (South Otago) farmers Lionel and Michelle Mason boards at the Enwood Hostel attached to SGHS. She has been identified by Skelt and Academy associates Matt Saunders, Mark Beer (trainer) and David Henderson as "an exciting prospect" and a worthy role model for girls in the national game.

"I started playing for the Owaka club when I was only four and my sister Millie is doing the same now," Georgia recalled.

Skelt said there had been no females in the Academy since the inception of the High Performance Group 10 years ago.

"The New Zealand Rugby Union is pushing women's rugby since it was announced that women's sevens would be an official event at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games," Skelt said.

"The overall strength of rugby in New Zealand is internationally acclaimed. Women's sevens has been clearly identified as a distinct 2016 medal winning prospect."

The main focus of the concept was to promote women's rugby and Rugby Southland was aspiring to developing a young woman (or women) for the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Sevens, he added.

"Our goal is to develop a group of between four to six young ladies to join Georgia in our High Performance Group. Women's rugby in Southland is mainly confined to schools and we will select and start working with them, concentrating on straight out skills levels."

An openside flanker, Georgia was rated by Skelt as a worthy trailblazer for girls in the High Performance scheme.

"She is skilled and determined with a high work rate, is uncompromising on the paddock and likes hard work. We are viewing her as a Rio De Janeiro prospect as she is nearly 15 and will be 19 by then, four years down the track."

Skelt, co-ordinator for seven of the 10 years of the Academy's existence and his associates were encouraged by the "distinct potential" of young women players at a coaching clinic last month.

"It seems certain that other girls will also develop into exciting prospects."

The rising stars would be encouraged to play other sports, including touch, netball and hockey to complement their rugby backgrounds. Their involvement in other sports could only add to Rugby Southland's specialised focus.

A coaching institution with the Southland Boys' High School First XV, Skelt assisted David Henderson with the Southland Stags last season and said Georgia was equally suited to both 15s and sevens rugby.

"She has the ability to read a game with her perception and rugby intellect and is also a good hockey player," he said.

"This year our focus on developing skill levels will be linked with the women's understanding of their specific roles which is what the New Zealand High Performance Sport vision is all about. We are not vitally concerned with strength and the like just yet."

For her part, Georgia is ultimately contemplating a career involving physical education and sport.

She has represented Southland at touch and South Island Secondary Schools at rugby.

And she has revealed leadership qualities for Otago Under-48kg rugby while at primary school and her Owaka club.

Georgia served a demanding rugby apprenticeship when having to play rugby solely against the boys before she started at Southland Girls' High School where she has been coached by Nathan Muir.

"It is good to benefit from another level and point of view with the Academy. The young men accept me and are always helpful," she said.

Many had assisted her along the path to success but she saved a special word for Rugby Girl, a nationwide company that had helped her immensely and had done much to sponsor and promote young women's sport.

The Southland Times