Annual Armed Forces Women’s Rugby Championship 2021

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kimberly Barrera

Speed, strength, endurance, situational awareness, creativity and the ability to play alongside anyone are the indispensable qualities that make up the U.S. Air Force Women’s Rugby Team.

“Everything that makes a good rugby team makes a good Air Force unit,” said Lt. Col. Nicole Jansen, USAF women’s rugby program officer in charge and joint planner “Rugby values are Air Force values!”

Stationed across the world, teammates came together to compete in the 2021 Armed Forces Women’s Rugby Championship in Wilmington, North Carolina, June 25 - 26.

“We played the United States Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines,” said Jansen. “The tournament was a single round-robin. The team with the best win-loss ratio record is named the Armed Forces Champion. This year we took second place with a final standing of 3 -1.”

Tech. Sgt. Jessica Tharp, USAF women’s rugby player explained the team was undeterred by their opening loss to the Army and went on to beat the Navy 26 – 0, the Marines 14 – 5 and the Coast Guard 26 -7.

The championship games were a variant of rugby union known as sevens.

“Sevens is the rugby variation seen at the Olympics and is comprised of seven players on a field per team at a time, played via two seven-minutes halves,” said Jansen. “The ball is passed from player to player backwards or sideways until a player reaches the goal line and scores a try by touching the ball down in the in-goal area. A try is worth five points and is followed by a two-point conversion kick attempt.”

Kicking the ball or running with the ball are the only ways in which players are able to move the ball forward.

“As far as sevens goes, it’s a game of space and how well you can find it, create it and exploit it,” added 2nd Lt. Adrienne Yoder, USAF women’s rugby team player.

The games were quick and dynamic with little time for the team to regroup. The team of seven, plus five substitute players, played as one as they sprinted, tackled, side stepped and chased down kicks with every ounce of energy they had.

“Once the whistle blows, everyone has to be on the same page or it’s pretty chaotic,” said Yoder. “Teamwork is extremely important because play is pretty continuous and there aren’t a lot of moments for hard resets. What’s great about rugby is there aren’t really plays, a lot of the game is played in the loose which allows for a lot of creativity and working off players’ strengths.”

Jansen added, each rugby position requires a different set of skills and strengths. These diverse players sync together to create a winning team.

The team is comprised of active duty, reserve and guard Airmen representing the Air Force’s diverse specialty codes. The Space Force does not yet have a rugby team, but Guardians are included on the USAF team as well.

“Players need to be able to lead, follow and switch on the fly based on who has the ball,” said Jansen. “They need the confidence to make game-saving one-on-one tackles while under a lot of pressure which translates to each members’ individual responsibilities to the Air Force mission. Also, a rugby team is comprised of players with different but complimentary skill levels who form a team in order to win. This is much like how different major weapon systems and AFSCs bring different tools to the fight.”

The first step to getting on the team is to apply online when the Air Force Sports application is open at Those selected are invited to tryouts prior to the Annual Armed Forces Women’s Rugby Championship. Finally, 14 players are selected to represent the USAF at the tournament.

Following the games, seven players were selected to represent the All-Armed Forces Team added Capt. Gianna Khoudary, USAF women’s rugby player.

“Rugby experience is not necessary, but athleticism is,” said Jansen. “Other qualities we value are wingmanship, leadership, creativity and a positive attitude.”

Those qualities along with the connections made on the field and with each other are what entice players to stick with the sport.

“Hands down the best thing about rugby is the community,” said Jansen. “Rugby players come in all shapes and sizes, but we all love this wonderful, wacky sport.”

Tharp added to her the best thing about rugby is the comradery, and the make friends she makes for life.