The Lindroth's – Pioneers of Women’s Rugby in Victoria

The Lindroth's – Pioneers of Women’s Rugby in Victoria

It was in 1995 that interest was first expressed in commencing a Women’s Rugby competition in Victoria.

However, as there were not enough potential players to make a competition, it was decided to try and form a team that would compete at the 1996 Australian Women’s Championships to be held at Narrabeen, Sydney. A small group of people then came together and formulated a plan to make it happen.

One of the prime movers behind the formulation of a team was Jenni Lindroth whose husband, Graham Lindroth, was a 20 year veteran player for Moorabbin.

Graham began his Rugby career at age 6 and went on to play over 500 games with his club, including over 30 in First Grade. In addition he represented Victoria at under 12 and under 21 level. His talent was limited, but no one could question his enthusiasm, determination or reliability. In all those games he only ever left the field once and that was just to get his ear stitched up so that he could continue. On another occasion, he played almost the entire game with a broken collarbone – and went to hospital afterwards. He famously said “I hate summer, it interrupts the Rugby season”! In 1995 Graham together with his wife and his father, became the backbone of the first Victorian Women’s Rugby team.

Once the plan was approved by the VRU, a Team Manager was appointed (Rod Lindroth), and Graham Lindroth was chosen as the first Victorian Women’s team coach. The first Captain was Anne Nicholson.

The next 12 months involved a great deal of hard work and a huge amount of time as Graham dedicated all of his personal life to the development of each individual player and the team. His prime concern was to develop the players to a point at which they were competitive as a group and had the skills to enjoy their individual roles. This was a most difficult task. Some players had previous experience, but, most were complete beginners having been recruited by a friend.

In the end, most of the players had never played a 15 a side game before they competed against Australia’s best. Three games were played, two lost and one was won. The win against WA was a dream come true and a fitting reward for a huge amount of time and effort by all concerned. Two members of the team went on to represent Australia, Holly Gifford and Melissa Latu.

The staff and players were then in full preparation for the 1997 Nationals when, on 21 January 1997, someone lit a fire which developed into a raging inferno.

Graham and Jenni Lindroth, ages 26 and 24, were trapped in their home and perished. Rugby lost two great servants of the game.

In memory of their service to rugby and for pioneering Women’s Rugby in Victoria, the Premier Women’s Rugby competition in Victoria was named the Lindroth Cup. 

 

Leading up to the 2018 Grand Final of the Lindroth Cup, Rugby Victoria spoke to Rod Lindroth, Father of Graham, who explained the impact that Graham and Jenni had on the Victorian Rugby Community.

What did the Sport of Rugby mean to Graham and Jenni?

Graham would have played Rugby every day of the year if that was possible. He loved the Sport. In the Season (Winter) his life was consumed by training and playing. When he was playing in the under 16/18/20 teams he would always hope to also get a run in the seniors. There were numerous times that he would play a match in the under 18's or 20's, followed by a full game in the seconds and then he would be a reserve for the firsts....  His game tally escalated very quickly when he was in his late teens and early 20's. For Graham, Rugby was an all consuming passion.

When Graham and Jenni were married, Jenni accepted that Rugby was going to consume all of her husband's  non work time. She quickly developed a love for the Sport and desperately wanted to play.  That opportunity came in 1996 when she could display her desire, dedication and determination to be fully involved with Rugby.  She grasped the opportunity and despite never having played a 15 -a - side game was an excellent contributor to the Victorian team at the Australian Championships.  Jenni played just 3 games before her sad death in January 1997.

How did you react when hearing the news that the Premier Women's competition would be named in honour of Graham and Jenni?

In 1995 and 1996 Graham and Jenni and I were almost inseparable. We spent 6-7 days a week  with each other planning and preparing for the 1996 National Championships. The task before us was huge, almost insurmountable. As the Coach Graham had an enormous range of issues to deal with and had many upsetting times trying to deal with the emotions and difficulties of First time players starting at an adult age. He was a male in a predominately Female environment and this meant taking great care with things such as propriety. Jenni was a rock of support in this regard and was particularly helpful with the new players.  I mention this as I was absolutely thrilled with the naming of the Women's competition as The LINDROTH Cup. It is highly appropriate. Women's rugby in Victoria is here today largely because of the incredible effort put in by Graham and Jenni LINDROTH.  

The CFA just recently became the major partner of the LINDROTH Cup. This would be a significant partnership in more ways than one for yourself?

It is wonderful that the CFA have become involved and I would like to express our sincere appreciation for what they are doing (and are going to do) with Women's Rugby.

There will be folk reading this who do not know why this partnership is significant (to me). On 21 January 1997, someone lit a series of fires in the Dandenong Ranges just to the East of Melbourne. The person picked the worst possible day with strong Northerly winds and temperature of 42c.  There was huge potential for a serious disaster with hundreds of folk at risk. It was only the luck of a wind change that kept the toll to 3. Sadly 2 of these were Graham and Jenni LINDROTH. During the course of an incredibly difficult  day, over 1,000 CFA members risked their lives to fight these fires. Hundreds of trucks were used in the fire fighting efforts and they came from all over Victoria. The physical and emotional toll on these folk was enormous. They did not know Graham and Jenni, but they fought with all their effort to save lives.  They were (and always are) deeply upset when lives are lost in fires. In 2017 a one million dollar reward was announced for information leading to the identification of the Arsonist.

Now, you can see why this partnership involving the CFA and Women's Rugby is significant particularly to me and my wife and to Jenni's parents. 

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