Rugby better, long and short of it


North Otago women’s rugby captain Hannah Stolba may have ended up playing a different sport entirely if she had been a little taller.
The 33-year-old American is one of the team’s five imports.
Stolba, from Missoula, Montana, was introduced to the sport in 2000, her first year at the University of Northern Iowa.
“I played basketball at college and I picked rugby up in the springtime. I got hooked on it.”At high school, she played basketball, football and volleyball, and also competed in track events.
Her decision to go with rugby over basketball was made when she discovered she was too short, at 5ft 9in (1.75m) tall.
“You would realise you were going up against girls three or four inches taller than you.”She played rugby at Northern Iowa and then Minnesota State University, before being selected to play for the US Eagles at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2010.
She had no game time in that tournament and had to wait for another chance. That came in 2014 in France, after again being named in the United States squad as a fullback instead of her preferred position of first five-eighth.
“That was the first world cup I’d played at … It was a fulfilling experience. There’s nothing quite like singing your national anthem on opposition soil.”After that she set her sights on another goal _ to play overseas.
Enter the North Otago Rugby Football Union and chief executive Colin Jackson.
“I’d always wanted to play overseas. I got connected to Colin here through a coach friend at home. I thought it would be a wonderful experience to come to Oamaru and experience a different style of rugby.”Stolba is enjoying her new rugby environment and gets on well with her team-mates.
There were some differences between the sport here and back home in the US, she said.
“It’s interesting. The game is different _ in small ways, though.
“In the US, our forwards are incredibly fit, but don’t grow up with the same rugby culture or game smarts, and it’s the same with the backs. We just don’t have that rugby sense that you’ve got here, which is really incredible to see. You can tell people know the game really well.”Stolba plans to holiday in Australia for a few weeks at the end of the season, before heading back to the United States.
When her playing days are over, she plans to get into coaching.
Stolba, who said she would love to play another season for North Otago, has coached the University of Colorado women’s team, and plans to coach different teams in different countries so she can “have a few more tools in the bag”. For now, her focus is on the North Otago side, which was beaten 52-10 by Pirates in Dunedin on Saturday. She said the result was a good measure of where the team was at, and looked forward to this week’s clash with Alhambra-Union.
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