Her mum played in Hong Kong’s first women’s touring side and now Kelsie Bouttle is creating her own rugby history at the World Cup
The 18-year-old says her mother ‘has definitely got me to where I am today’ but admits there are some fireworks between the pair
When you consider the role her mum played in the early days of the sport in Hong Kong, it was never going to be anything but rugby for Kelsie Bouttle.
At just 18, Bouttle is one of the stars of the Hong Kong team currently slugging it out in Dublin in their first ever Women’s Rugby World Cup, continuing her family’s proud involvement in the sport.
Her mum Shelley was involved in the first full-contact women’s rugby played in Hong Kong, and also a member of the first women’s touring side from the territory.
It was 1994 and up until that point, only non-tackle women’s rugby had been played in Hong Kong.
“George Simpkin was the Hong Kong coach and he came up to me and said ‘you need to play tackle rugby, that’s where it will all start’,” Shelley says.
“I was working for the police and I approached them and said ‘can we put a contact team in, we want to play sevens’. So we had police, Valley, Kowloon and Gai Wu and we used to play sevens against each other.
“In 1994 we went to the Dubai Sevens with a police team and got beaten by Kuwait in the final, then in 1995 we mixed it up with some stronger players and we won the final.”
Shelley admits she encouraged Kelsie to try ballet and tap dancing in her younger years, but it didn’t take long for her to work out that her daughter would be suited to something more physical.
“I always thought ‘if I have a daughter, she’s going to do ballet’ because I never got the chance,” Shelley says. “I was brought up with two brothers and both my parents were judo instructors.
“I tried ballet with Kelsie and it didn’t work, I tried tap dancing for a year and then we went to judo and she was actually a Hong Kong judo champion at eight years old. Then I thought ‘right, let’s give her a go at rugby’ and that’s how it all started.”
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Shelley is the head women’s coach at Flying Kukris and has coached Kelsie from under-12s right though to under-19s.
Kelsie still plays for the Kukris when her Hong Kong and Valley commitments allow and jokes about the occasional fireworks between her and her mum.
“I get the coaching from the sideline, in the car, at home, she’s very determined,” Kelsie says. “Sometimes we have a bit of a clash, when I’m on the pitch and she’s telling me to do something I don’t want to do, I’m like ‘mum, just stop it, I’m trying to play’, but she’s probably right most of the time.
“She has definitely got me to where I am today, she drives me everywhere, coaches me and has been with me since I started.”
Kelsie has impressed with her endeavour in Hong Kong’s big losses against Canada and New Zealand and is loving every minute of the World Cup, attacking every contest with a youthful zest despite admitting the sheer size of her opponents took her by surprise.
“I thought I was quite big but then I saw them, but it’s good to have that physicality,” she says. “I love the aggression and the tackling and it’s good to be exposed to that.”
Not surprisingly, Shelley was a touch nervous ahead of Hong Kong’s encounter with the ruthless Black Ferns: “But I know she’s got the mental strength to go out there and give it her best shot,” she says. “She just lives for rugby and she’s got no fear.”