Formed 2004 ... Herts 7s U14 Runners-up 2005 ... North Herts U14 team, Herts Youth Games 2005 runners-up (coached by Letchworth)... Herts Superteams U14 Runners-up 2005 ... Herts SuperTeams "Fairplay" winners 2006 ... Rochford 10s U17 Champions 2006 ... East Midlands 10s U17 Runners-up 2007 ... East Midlands 10s U17 "Fairplay" winners 2007 ... National 10s U17 5th place and "Fairplay" winners 2007 ... Herts 7s U17 Plate runners-up 2007 ... National 7s U17 Plate winners 2007 ... RFU "President's XV" Award winners 2007 ... Herts Superteams winners 2007 ... Midlands 10s U18 Runners-up 2008 ... National 10s U18 4th place 2008 ... North Herts U11 team, Herts Youth Games 2008 runners-up (coached by Letchworth girls) ... London and SE 7s U18 Plate runners-up 2008 ... Herts 7s U18s runners-up 2008 ... National 7s U18s quarter-finalists 2008 ... Gloucester City 10s U18 Bowl runner-up (6th) 2009 ... Worthing 10s U18 Plate runner-up 2009 ... National 7s U18 Plate winners 2009... Worthing 10s U15 Plate winners 2010... Worthing 10s U18 Shield winners 2010... Herts 7s U15 and U18 Bowl runners-up 2010... National 7s U18 Plate runners-up 2010...

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

World Cup: Into the final furlong

Its semi-final day tomorrow - years of preparation, and now one match from the final. In fact there are three sets of "semi-finals" - the other eight teams have not gone home - and some of the most interesting match-ups are in the four games you will probably not hear about, and certainly won't see on television.

Though the action at The Stoop doesn't start until 6pm, the first of these "other" semi-finals start at 2pm with games where the main incentive is to avoid the tournament's last place. South Africa begin against Kazakhstan, a draw that should see the wooden spoonists from 2002 safely avoid that indignity. Sweden v Wales, on the other hand, is much more interesting - a team that is performing better than expected against the one that is seriously underperforming. Wales beat Sweden comfortably warming up for the tournament - tomorrow it should be a bit closer.

These games will be followed by Canada v Scotland and USA v Ireland, playing for 5th place. While Scotland will be relieved to be in this section, the other three teams will be disappointed as all three hoped to be in the final four - indeed Canada and Ireland both began their last round of games with a real expectation that they would be competing for a place in the final tomorrow. Both of these games are repeats of earlier pool games, and while the result of Canada's game should be the same, USA v Ireland is a different thing entirely. Though Ireland won last time, and probably start as narrow favourities, USA have a lot to prove.

So we come to the main semi-finals. New Zealand and France play first at 6pm. Close game? Well, the bookmakers have New Zealand at an amazing 500-1 favourites to win - astonishing odds for a one-off game between the world's 1st and 3rd ranked teams! They also see New Zealand winning by at least 39 points - they are probably right. As for England v Australia (8pm), its far closer than that - but a comfortable England win is odds-on (6-1 on, apparently).

Some great pictures (like the one above) from the pool games have appeared on the BBC's website... BBC Surrey that is (see here). Pity the main BBC Sports website isn't as good.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Australia already preparing the next generation

Checking on some background to the item on the Dee Why Pinks earlier today, it seems that they are already well known to the Wallaroos who have been giving them coaching sessions!

The article is from earlier in the season (May in fact) - I'm slightly annoyed I didn't pick it up at the time - but its too good a story (and picture) to miss.

Pinks celebrate first season

Remember this lot? The Dee Why Pinks - the world's youngest all-girl rugby team from Manly, near to Sydney, and probably a very good explanation for Australian sporting success (because it couldn't happen here - RFU wouldn't allow it as they are "too young").

Anyway the Pinks have just finished their first season with a reliable core of players that has now grown to 13, plus a number of occasionals. They now go into their summer break ready and raring to go as Under 7s, though the squad size and age range is such that they may well be able to keep an Under 6 team going as well.

How many of the girls will be swapping pink-and white for green-and-gold in time for the 2030 World Cup?

World Cup: Mid-term report

As we are now at the half-way point in the 2010 Women's Rugby World Cup, perhaps its a good moment to look at how its going.

Press and TV coverage is better than in 2006 - marginally, and maybe just because its in England this time? The game has also yet to get beyond the feature article and into the routine match reporting where it should be. As a result, after good pre-tournament coverage, you'd struggle to find much in today's papers. Makes you wonder what all the media people at Guildford are doing (over 100 of them, before you ask!). Sky's coverage has been excellent, but it was a "Contractual Obligation" - ie. they had to do it to win the rights to show England men's games. And they also had to show the games that the IRB could sell to southern hemisphere rugby channels, not the ones they would have wanted to.

What is clear is that the scribes at the front end, who watch the games and do the actual reporting, are perfectly reasonable people who are impressed with what they have seen and are taking it very seriously. The block seems to be the editorial team back in the office. From what you hear they sound like the ultimate dinosaurs, with attitudes to women that would not be out of place in Iran or Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately there seems to be no sign of a convenient meteor to bring about their extinction.

Organisation. In terms of the shear mechanics the tournament has run well and all the players, coaches, managers etc, are very happy with what is a magnificent venue, with jaw dropping training facilities. The pitches themselves have been like carpets. You have not seen the like. Really. Its a player's heaven.

Unfortunately it is clear that one group came last in all these considerations - spectators. I have this vague feeling that the organisers either forgot about them completely, or didn't expect anyone to turn up. Whatever the thinking (if there was any) the result is that not only have we had the farce of seeing people turned away because of a ludicrously (and unnecessarily) low ground capacity, but in the next stage we have match scheduling that will make it impossible for anyone to watch both some potentially fascinating 5th-8th place games (including a repeat of USA v Ireland, one of the best games of the pool stages) in Guildford, and then get to the semi-finals or final at The Stoop. You will, however, be able to catch the 9th-12th place games as these are earlier in the day. What on earth what was going through the minds of the organisers (if anything)?

The teams and games. The quality of play has been superb pretty much across the board - even lower ranked sides like the Swedes have been exciting to watch. However, the top three after the pool stages are the same as they have been for the past three tournaments - though on the positive side Australia are a new face in the semi-finals, the first since 1998, replacing Canada. The rest of the standings look likely to remain more or less as they were four years ago. However the stand-out performance has been Wales - and for all the wrong reasons. They are a far better team than one point, but have been tactically inflexible. There is something going seriously wrong (pressure?), and another Six Nations wooden spoon looks possible next season. They should have been challenging for the top four, now the best they can do is finish 9th, but it is also possible that they could end up 11th or 12th.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

World Cup: Get your cup final tickets NOW!

There is a very strong expectation that the final at The Stoop next Sunday will be sold out - so do not delay buying your tickets, and certainly do not expect that you will be able to turn up on the day. All seats in the main stands have already gone, with just the stands behind the posts remain to be filled - and they seem to be about half sold already. Annoyingly you do have to go through Ticketmaster (see link above, or ring 0844 2774321) who add also sorts of extra booking fees and service charges on top, but the cost is still pretty good considering that you will see two matches, and the atmosphere should be amazing. Play for the first game - the third place match - will start at 3pm.

Tickets for the semi-finals on Wednesday are still in good supply it seems, so you may be able to leave that until the last minute - though if you really want to go, and want some good seats, it would still be a good idea to book now. The semi-finals are also a bit cheaper than the final. The first semi-final kicks off at 6pm.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

World Cup Live(ish): England v USA

Sorry no "live" update this time - but here's the report on a brilliant game, written as the game was in play!

Confident start from USA, but soon penned back. Maggi Alphonsi seizing on a loose ball she should never have been able to get to, turned USA over. USA won a lineout in the corner, but the attempted US clearence found taken by only Charlotte Barras, who passed to Nolli Waterman . Nolli then who sidestepped the entire US backline to scorein the corner. 4 minutes gone and 5-0.

England dominant from the restart and a series of infringements by USA ended with a penalty in front of the posts – easily converted by McLean. 8-0. 9 minutes gone.

From the restart, a USA attack ends with another penalty for using the feet. England back in the US half. The speed of pass through the hands is remarkable – and the US infringe again. Another penalty, the fourth in three minutes, but the resulting penalty was missed by McLean – a great rarity in this tournament.

England’s forwards were dominating up front, and solid tackling is knocking back a team that has a reputation for toughness. But the USA are (at 17 minutes) beginning to put some good back moves together. Both wings – Marchino and McGee – have great runs down the flanks, reaching into the England 22, and with 20 minutes gone after a series of rucks on the England line, Marchino breaks through and scores in the corner. 8-5.

US confidence grows as a result. Another break from McGee from deep in her own half is frustrated on the England 22. As the half moved on it is getting much more even, but on 32 minutes after a long period of England pressure had been kept out a perfect kick through from McLean saw Merchant beat the US defence to the ball. 13-5, but the conversion was missed.

England were beginning to take command again – and as the half drew to a close Marchino found her way to the bin. Within a minute another try- Waterman again breaking through the US defence in a copy of her first try. McLean converted in front of the posts and it was 20-5, the whistle going for half-time a few moments later.

England continued as they left off when the second half began, though there was a worrying tendency for the final pass to go astray – Barras overrunning and excellent try scoring opportunity, and Merchant spilling another – can England afford to be so generous against New Zealand? McLean’s superbly accurate kicking repeatedly put England into some great positions, but the US desperately held on.

After nearly 15 minutes the pressure finally told. Emily Scarrat, a few moment before lying in a heap after a particularly tough defensive tackle, picked up the ball on the far side and blasted though the defence. 25-5, and the bonus that would see England into the top ranking, and a semi-final with Australia.

But the game was far from over – and the USA were not finished. For six minutes they camped on the English line – but could find no way over. Eventually McLean cleared and the game was back in the US half. Phi Knight was then caught tackling after the ball was kicked – the third time the referee had seen this, and her patience was at an end. Knight – who had been having an excellent game – was off.

15 minutes to go, and an American break. McGhee on the wing – who had had a great game – getting the ball down to the England 22. The ball then quickly moved across the field, and with the help of her forwards scrum half Magrini touched down. 25-10 – and the USA were into double figures..
England were enjoying this now, though. Smiles all round. These grew still more on 35 minutes when Amber Penrith rounded off some brilliant English back moves with a try in the left corner – Kty McLean hitting the post with her conversion attempt. 30-5.

Then, to round things off, the crowd’s hero Maggi Alphonsi danced through the US defence to score, McLean this time converting. 37-10 – and well into injury time.

So a good win against strong opposition – but a few worries. Far too many final passes went to ground – wings overrunning, or centres not communicating. And McLean had left her kicking boots somewhere. This is one area where England lead almost everyone (the only better kicker being Australia’s Nichole Beck) – it could be the difference in the end. If Katy has a good day…

So - its England v Australia, and New Zealand v France in the semi finals (the latter for the third tournament running! on Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, playing for 5th-8th place we'll have Canada v Scotland and USA v Ireland - repeats of earlier pool games.

And for 9th-12th South Africa v Kazakhstan, and Wales v Sweden. Would be fun, if it wasn't impossible to see all the games - the schedulers not thinking about how long it takes to get from Guildford to Twickenham Stoop. Shame.

World Cup live: Australia v South Africa

Changing pitches has not been good to my systems! 17-0 to Australia. 25 minutes gone.

Australia dominating the attack - and over for a fourth try - bonus point. Debby Hodgkinson. 22-0. Australia need to win by around 56 points to qualify head of Canada... as long as Ireland don't get more against Kazakhstan. Try converted by Nicole Beck.

Good restart by South Africa - great break by Phumeza Gadu, but once attack breaks down no-one back for the Australian kick. Poor positioning.... and from the lineout a fifth Australian try. 31-0 as the try is converted.

Inexperience is telling against the South Africans. When they have ball in hand they can be fast and exciting, but once it breaks down they have problems. A major problem seems to be that they play essentially the same game as Australia, but are not as good at it. A much better few minutes for the Africans, but now back in their own half with little to show from it. Even so, Australia's weakness in forwards still evident - if only South Africa could use it. Once it gets into Australian hands, however, South Africa are in trouble.

Australia in trouble with referee again near end of first half. Warning for dangerous play - but no cards, and its  31-0 at the beark.

The second half continues - but South Africa are tiring. Tries from Hargreaves, Williams and Morgan in the first 15 minutes takes the score to 50-0. Canada's semi-final position is now under real threat. To their credit, the SouthvAfricans are not giving up, but their style of play is ideal for the Wallaroos. Another try, and with about 15 minutes left Australia are on the verge of overtaking Canada.

Gadu - another great run down the touchline, only a last minute tap saving Australia. Then, with the clock on 40minutes, Kanuk for Australia was away and clear... and dropped the ball over the line. Then, from the final play of the game, Sharni Williams has gone over. Australia are in the semi-finals, Canada are out

World Cup Live: Canada v France... the big one.

Its the Big One. Game of the day. The match that looked like a pure quarter-final from the start, and still is - though Canada could in theory qualify even if they lose. The Swedes have gone (shame!). and the Scots, and the pitch is now quite quiet (well, relatively). The big speakers on Pitch One are building up for the (largely irrelevant) New Zealand v Wales clash where the only question is whether the Black Ferns will pass 50... or 70?  They have a 30 point gap to catch up on England so they will not be showing any mercy.

But here.... A Canadian win means a semi-final place, and opens the door for Ireland or Australia. A French win means they go through, and that Canada have to hope that Ireland do not score too many against Kazakhstan.  A draw... well, let's just not think about that!

Meanwhile, in the distance on Pitch 1, Wales are already behind...

Canadian fans vastly outnumber the French...

Early penalty to Canada, missed. French looking more positive than in previous games. Tense opening stages, no clear advantage. France a different team - and they are ahead. Try in the corner. 5-0 Four minutes.

Canada now in French 22. Dana Teagarden, the US ref, is being very strict on lineouts - and most things. Meanwhile its 17-3 to New Zealand on Pitch one. And its another penalty to Canada, on the line. Schnell goes for the kick - and converts this one. France 5, Canada 3.

France looking so much more dangerous with ball in hand, though Canada seem to have the edge with the forwards. Imporant scrum now on Canada's 22, France taking advantage of an error on the restart. Lost with horrible put in! Penalty to France now, which Bailon easily scores. 8-3.

Another awful Canadian scrum... what is going on here? Two against the head! 24 minutes.They need to calm down a bit... Better scrum now on the French 22 - by the ref ignores a gross offside, giving the ball to the French! Astonishing.

[Wales have a try!]

All the calls going against Canada, and its having an effect. Penalty after penalty take Canada from the French 22 to their own. Resulting line out leads to a maul, and pushover for France. 13-3 now. Canada rattled, mainly by the referee's decisions one feels.

Now Canada steal a line out on the French line - but are held up. Desperate passage of play... Canada so close... Penalty to Canada - Agricole to the sin bin. Close to half-time now. Canada take the scrum... drive and dive over by Russell, right by the posts. 13-8. Schnell misses the conversion, but Canada are now a player ahead for 10 minutes.

Canada now pushing for another try before the break, helped by Bailon being penalised at the restarr for not doing a drop kick (I think)! Win a penalty about 40m out, to the left - and with time running out go for the kick - which is missed. Half-time.

[Bonus point try to New Zealand, plus a couple more. 34-8 in the second half.

This is the worst possible score for everyone as if it stays like this then its all over for everyone else, as regrds the semis. Weird delay to the second half... but at last the ref joins us! France to restart - and it doesn't go 10!

Scrum goes against the head again! Something very odd happening with the Canadian scrum. And another scrum, again lost - and a French penalty.Missed, but Canada fail to clear their lines, ball turned over and driven over for a third French try. 18-8. A big blow as this try has resulted from a series of silly Canadaian errors when they have a sin-bin advantage. Conversion missed. Canada also now down to 14.

Tight period of play - but again strange decision as a French player launches herself over the ruck... and forces a knock-on, and French scrum! Canada now running penalties, not kicking for position. Worried about the referee's interpretation of lineout laws? Replacements now on for both sides as the tension mounts. And with justfication as another Canadian line out is penalised.

But Canada win the resulting scrum, and fight the ball to the line. Dropped in a try scoring position, but a 5m scrum now. Half way through the second half. [Meanwhile, New Zealand pass 40...].

Canada unable to convert the advantage into points - and now they are back in their own half. The referee is fast losing her crowd (well, the non-French bits) as we get a series of difficult ot understand decisions (shall we say). About 15 minutes to go.

[Its all over on Pitch One - 41-8 to New Zealand - so New Zealand will play the winner of this group, and therefore this match - unless USA beat England!]

Another good attacking position for Canada - but thrown away... and its another French try, and bonus point. Its now 23-8... and Irish fans need to change sides now and cheer on the French, as it'll all be down the the points differences of Canada and Ireland for that fourth place.

The game is finishing in the Canadian half, and the Canadian fans are very quiet. The few French fans making all the noise. The Irish fans look confused... Scrum 5m out, won by Canada, Canadian break by Ulmer... but tackled . That is time. 23-8.

World Cup: Choice of broadcast matches - don't blame Sky!

Interesting snippet this - for anyone wondering at the odd choice of televised games, especially today when really only one of them truly matters, need to address their ire towards the IRB - not Sky.

Seems that the choice was rather dictated by the IRB on the basis of what games they could "sell", especially down-under. This is why every Australian and Black Fern game was shown, plus all the England games - as a result no coverage for Canada (and boy have you all missed out as a result), or Sweden (who are a exciting team if lacking power up front), and only one game for the USA.

So - even here the demands of Pay TV makes all the difference, and in rugby it seems the power of the southern hemisphere trumps anything that North America can come up with.

World Cup: Guildford live (probably); Scotland v Sweden

Something of an experiment, but equipped with a laptop hopefully I'll be able to give some live scores, etc. Maybe even some pictures....

Anyway, its a sunny-ish start here, some cloud, slight chance of rain (apparently), and Scotland/Sweden kicking off shortly. Just realised that I don't have a pen and noteboook (aggh!) and not quite sure how long this battery will last... and the guy from Sky Sports who owes me a bottle of wine isn't here. 

So... now connected and its time to go off to Pitch 2!

Okay - after some effort, we are now connedcted. 24 minutes gone, 17-0

Sweden looking good in places, Andersson-Hall excellent, and the full-back Melvin is having a good game after looking less effective against France. But they just cannot put the phases together - and Scotland are dominating up front. The third Scottish try a pushover from 5m out, Swedsh pack going backwards at speed.

Now 20-0 with a penalty by Halfpenny.

Nearing half time now - and Sweden on the Scottish line. Excellent passing move. Can they score before the break? NO - exciting phase of play, Andersson-Hall intercepting a pass behind the Scottish line... but just not being able to hold on. Half time - 20-0.

Good start to second half for Sweden - Westin-Vines (having a great game despite a dislocated finger!) coming close, but Scotland clear the lines. Now on the attack, 6 minutes in. And its 25-0...  (Katy Green try), then a lovely chip through from Halfpenny, with Millard collecting an scoring under the posts, and its 32-0.

Scotland have to keep pressing - their aim is to finish in the top 8, and its pretty tight. They need all the points they can get. All the Swedish subs now on, including Jennifer Lindholm - who just got the ball on the far touchline... boy is she fast!

All Sweden pressure now. Nine minutes left. Desperate to get that first try - maybe too much so.

And they have! Five minutes to go, break from Johanna Norberg, passed out to Lindholm who is taken down just short, recyles and its Norberg diving over! 32-5.

And nearly another. Norberg breaks again, but sub Anderson can't quite take the pass. With very little time left, Sweden now camped on the Scottish line - and over it, but held up. Then another chance as its Norberg this time ho cannot take the final pass. Really exciting final few minutes, but it finishes 32-5. Will that be enough to get Scotland into the top 8?

Friday, August 27, 2010

More international rugby: Japan to tour England

Next week the Japanese women's team will be making a short tour to England, and as their games are in north London you might be able to catch them in action.

Japan are one of the oldest international rugby teams. They played in three of the first four World Cups, and have had an international women's team longer than "traditional" rugby nations such as Scotland, Ireland, or Australia, but years of internal mismanagement resulted in the game stagnating and Japan being largely left behind as the rest of the women's rugby world moved forward. Between 1991 and 2008 the Japanese went on only one overseas tour - not a way to develop a team.

In last couple of years, however, the main Japanese RFU have taken over the running of the women's team from the women's union, and have started a long term plan to turn round what should be a powerhouse of Asian rugby - after all there has been a well established club game in the country for nearly a quarter of a century. The potential is there.

As a result they have started a series of fairly low profile overseas tours, playing leading club sides in friendly matches rather than full-blown, high profile international games. Last summer they hopped over the Pacific to play some games in the Canadian province of British Columbia, and this summer they are here.So on Thursday they will be playing Richmond, and on Saturday - the day before the World Cup Final - they will be at Bramley Lane to play Saracens (at the moment I don't have any kick-off times).

Their team will be a mixture of youth and experience. 37 year old former captain and wing Angela Elting returns at No8, while second row Chikako Sasaki will be putting on the national colours again at he age of 39. They are joined by 25 year old centre Akari Fujisaki - who is also semi-professional volleyball player - and 23 year old Nobuko Noge, one of her country's leading shot-putters, who will be by the far the heaviest of the props at 88kg.

Their target is the 2014 World Cup, and with Kazakhstan barely treading water internationally, its a realistic possibility.

World Cup Sells Out!

Ticketmaster- the online agent for Saturday's World Cup pool games - are reporting that all tickets have now sold out, 36 hours before the event. This must be the first time that any women's rugby internationals have sold out - anywhere. No doubt RFUW and the IRB will be saying how positive this is, but that is so much spin.

The fact is that by using a venue equipped to take a mere 2,500 spectators this cannot be entirely unexpected - indeed questions about that appeared on here and elsewhere a few months ago. It is clear that the venue could take more - probably another 500-1,000 easily. The stands that have been put up are pretty tiny, even on Pitch One, while the one of Pitch Two is a bit of a joke. However, at the time RFUW said that - if tickets did sell out - they would attempt to increase the capacity. Presumably it will now be too late, even supposing such plans ever existed.

It demonstrates a shocking lack of ambition and self-belief by those in charge. As days one and two also sold out within a few hours of the start, the net result of this is that the tournament has been and will now continue to turn away money - almost certainly thousands of pounds (an extra 500 spectators at £10 a head over three days...). In a sport that is so short of funding that is astonishing.

One of the arguments that is used by some in the IRB and various Unions to defend a male-dominated rugby world is that women's rugby and tournaments like the Women's World Cup always make a loss, and that they could never take place without the profits that come from the men's tournament. As a result the women's game has to put up with being a second class citizen in the rugby world, as many of the teams at Guildford can show. It is also the reason why three-quarters of the women's rugby world was not even allowed to compete for a place at this years tournament (it is clear that several African unions wanted to have a chance to qualify, but the IRB simply put South Africa forward, mainly - one suspects - to save money).

It will be fascinating to see the final accounts for this tournament, because a profitable WRWC 2010 could change those attitudes - forever. Indeed if does not now make a sizable profit then some serious questions will need to be asked.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

World Cup: Your guide to Day 3

Are you going to the World Cup on Saturday? If so then good - see you there. If not... why? This is the last day you will be able to see the top 12 women's teams all playing in one place for years - you cannot afford to miss out.

So - you're all going now? Good. A few notes for getting the best out of your day.

1. Get there EARLY (unless you have tickets - and even then its probably a good idea). There will be tickets on the door, but thanks to huge, unexpected demand OR a woeful - nay criminal - lack of ambition and self-belief by the organisers (you decide - I know what I go with) they will almost certainly be sold out by lunchtime.

2. Its a 20 minute walk from the car park at the University of Surrey to the Sports Park, though there is a bus. Anyway - this means you should be aiming to be parked by about 10 o'clock.

3. The first game - Scotland v Sweden  - is at 12 o'clock on Pitch 2. This has a tiny covered stand (I mean tiny - seats about 100 people at a push), so grab a seat early if you want one. Alternatively if you have some energy to work off there's a big inflatable bouncy rugby skills... thing behind pitch 2 which looks fun (its also free), or if you want to burn some cash try out the souvenir stall. Also maybe stock up now on snacks and refreshments. Do all this now because once things get going you won't have much time!

4. Cheer on the Swedes. Or the Scots. I'll be shouting for the Swedes. Although it will have no bearing on the semi-finals it should be a close and exciting game with plenty of attacking rugby.

5. Stay put for the next game - France v Canada. Do not even think about going off to watch New Zealand v Wales on pitch one - that game is pretty irrelevant in the scheme of things, and anyway its all being recorded by Sky so you won't miss anything. No, stay on Pitch 2 and watch what is in effect the tournament's first knock-out match - a true quarter-final - and a game between two significant rivals. The Canadians are great to watch anyway, and France can be... if they turn-up which, after two poor performances, they are due to. This will be a classic that you cannot afford to miss.

6. After that you will now have only a few minutes to get over to Pitch One and see Australia v South Africa. This will mean that you will miss out seeing Ireland v Kazakhstan, but the southern hemisphere clash is far more interesting and unpredictable than Ireland's match - though if you want to hang around and watch Joy Neville, Nimah Briggs et al in action I'd understand. You may even think that Australia will win easily so its not worth giving up your seat - I'd not be so sure. I think that the South Africans could even steal this one.

7. Another advantage of going over to Pitch One is to get a good seat for the climax of the day - England v USA. Make sure you have saved your voice for this because the USA supporters are LOUD! England's followers have been way too polite so far - easily outshouted by Ireland in round one - so get behind the team! Should be a good game as well - USA's tackling has a fearsome reputation.

8. Make your way back to the car park, and get ready for the semi-final and final!

World Cup: Black Ferns behind the scenes

One of New Zealand's TV news channels has broadcast this ten minute feature of the Black Ferns. The main theme of the broadcast was to introduce the team to the New Zealand public because - amazing though it may seem - three back-to-back World Cups in the country's national sport has done nothing to improve the teams almost complete anonymity.

The feature includes interviews with several major players (and their families), and the coach. We also see them in training - where they make full use of the natural environment, including one of the biggest sand dunes you have ever seen!

Well worth a look.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

World Cup: D-Day

Its D-Day on Saturday in the World Cup - four years of work could come down to a few points here and there, for some teams in matches that they are not even playing in!

For some teams, hope of World Cup glory is already at an end. The ageing Kazakhstan team probably did expect to be competing for a semi-final place - they may well dominate in Asia, but the gulf between that region and the rest of the world is growing, at least at 15s. Sevens may be a different matter, but that is for another year. Now they will be aiming to avoid the wooden spoon.

Similarly Sweden are now out of contention for the final four, but will be less disappointed as their performance to date has exceeded expectations - all of their players rising to the challenge, none more so than Ulrika Andersson-Hall, for whom this may well be her last international tournament. If you get a chance to see her in action over the next week don't miss it - she would find a place in any international XV! In many ways Sweden's World Cup starts now - a win against Scotland could see the Scandinavians with a top eight finish, which would be a real triumph.

The fact that most observers give Sweden a real chance of beating Scotland is an indication of how disappointing the Scots World Cup has been. Outclassed by Canada, they only began to hit their stride in the second half against France - but which it was too late. Lucy Millard has shone, but simple things like the speed of pass and positioning has let them down.

However no side will be more disappointed than Wales as they have no-one but themselves to blame. They could have won both of their opening games - perhaps should have done. However the performance against Australia that was basically inept - having seen how good their backs were Wales persisted in kicking the ball to them, only stopping after they were 21-0 down after 20 minutes - by which time it was too late. They also dominated possession against South Africa, but still contrived to lose by three tries to one.

All other teams retain at least a theoretical chance of making the semis. Admittedly for South Africa this would take a fairly unlikely set of results, but having picked up their first ever World Cup win they are unlikely to be too unhappy. Given the age of most of the team their time may well come in 2014 by which time - if the SARFU continue their support - they could be very dangerous indeed.

They may yet have a second win over Australia, especially if they learn from New Zealand about how to play the Wallaroos - ie. keep the ball in hand, frustrate the forwards, starve the backs, and wait for the mistakes. Australia have been as expected - a very talented side when they have the ball in their hands, but seriously lacking experience when put under pressure. Five yellow cards in two games cannot be just down to different "interpretations" of the laws - especially as their opening game had a southern hemisphere referee!

They can, however, still sneak into the semi-finals - but to do so will need to score more points against South Africa than Ireland can manage against Kazakhstan. This seems unlikely, not least because the Irish look very good indeed. Very nearly preventing England from scoring a fourth try in their game, they recovered well to not only beat by dominate their game against the USA. Its a little unfortunate that, if they do get to the semi-finals, chances are that it will be England that they face. Again.

The USA are currently in fifth place, but will need to beat England to progress. They too will be disappointed - the game against Ireland was really a winner-takes-all challenge and the Americans came away with nothing, despite all their feared defensive abilities even letting in four tries.

However, all of these teams will be watching one game - Canada vs France.  If France win then it will end the hopes of everyone else, but so uninspiring have the French been a win seems unlikely - and as a result this could be their worst World Cup since 1998. Canada, on the other hand, have been superb and should wrap up a semi-final place comfortably.

Chances are that this will be against New Zealand, who have hardly put a foot wrong, overwhelming South Africa and Australia - and probably Wales too on Saturday. However, their only weakness seems to be goal kicking - which is why England seem certain to pick up the top ranking position, assuming they score four tries against the USA. Katy McLean and La Toya Mason have converted a remarkable 13 out of the 16 tries England have scored so far - including 11 out of 12 against Kazakhstan, La Toya only missing the final kick. Their opposite numbers Rebecca Mahoney and Kelly Brazier have only managed six out of 15. Is this the chink in the Black Fern armour? It won't be long before we know!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Not the World Cup! Girls Country Trials

County trials will be more important than ever this year. With the new structure there almost certainly cannot be development squad, and also there will be none of the tournaments the county teams have played (so successfully) in for the past few years. Such is "progress", it seems!

In short to stand any chance of getting into the new Divisional teams, and then onto the TDGs, you have to hit the ground running and get into the county squad next month, if you have any ambitions to play beyond club level.

So make sure that Sunday 26th September is in your diary, in red, with double underlinings. The "Herts Girls County Trial and Development Afternoon" will be at Welwyn RFC from 1.00 onward.

(On a side line it strikes me as balmy that this new structure chokes of any chance for so many players to make a mark at a representative level so early in the season. In the past up-and-coming players, maybe new to the game, had until around December or even January before the axe came down. Now, with closed trials and so few county games, either you hit the mark at the first attempt, or you are out. Crazy.)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

World Cup: Day 2 preview

12.00. Wales v South Africa (Pool A)
Last chance saloon for both teams after disappointing starts. Wales should have done much better against Australia, but persisted with the wrong game plan until it was almost too late, then blew a chance to come back in the second half. South Africa, on the other hand, while they were never going to beat New Zealand, showed their opponents too much respect and lost the game in their heads before it had even started.

Now both must win, or risk scrambling to avoid a finish outside the top 10 - and both sides are much better than that. They have met before, both home and away, with wins on both sides. Hard to predict, but unless the Welsh can develop some tactical flexibility, I suspect that South Africa could take this one - may just depend on how well they can put that Black Fern thrashing behind them.

2.00. France v Scotland (Pool C) (LIVE on Sky Sports 2)
Though France won their opening game, they were pretty woeful - especially the backs whose performance would have been embarrassing for a junior club team never mind an international side with ambitions to win a World Cup. Do that again and Scotland - slow and ponderous though their passing may have been against Canada - will clean up as at least the Scottish backs can catch!

In actual fact you suspect, from past evidence, that France will not play like a team that barely knew each other two games running and in front of the TV cameras should put in a far better performance. They forwards certainly are well organised and may well overpower the lighter Scots pack. The first ten minutes or so will tell - if the Scots can hold them, then they should go on to glory. If not then  big French win ca be expected.

2.15. Canada v Sweden (Pool C)
Can Sweden do it again? In your heart you have to support this talented, plucky and very happy team with a bunch of supporters that it is great to mix with. In your head you have to think that Canada will eat them alive. The Canadian pack will be too much for their very light Swedish opponents, and once in position the last thing the Canadians will do is drop the ball at centre all day. On the contrary, speed of handling was a key factor in their win over Scotland - possibly only Australia's back line looked faster. The only possible worry might be Canada's strength in depth - they were very ordinary in the final 20 minutes against Scotland after all the subs came on. If Canada go into for a bit of squad rotation this might be a bit closer, otherwise it'll be maximum points again.

4.15. New Zealand v Australia (Pool A) (LIVE on Sky Sports 2)
Two teams that know each other well, and have maximum points after Round 1. Should be a close game? No, probably not. The Black Ferns will know what to expect and be more than capable of neutralising the Australian back-line who you expect to be starved of any ball at all. New Zealand will dominate all set pieces - its difficult to see Australia winning any line-out ball, for instance - and should come up with an handsome win. Probably not a classic game to watch, unless you love good forward play.

4.30. USA v Ireland (Pool B)
Now this could be a good game - and, if you are at Guildford, definitely more attractive and interesting a prospect than the southern hemisphere clash on Pitch 1. USA will be happy with their win over Kazakhstan, though it took them a while to get going. Ireland, on the other had, were by no means disgraced by England and I suspect could well sneak this one. Little to choose between the teams, and no recent form guide, so it should be an exciting game!

6.30. England v Kazakhstan (Pool B)  (LIVE on Sky Sports 2)
Oh dear. You really fear for the Kazakhs in this game. If they let in over 50 points against the USA, heaven knows what England could run in. Gary Street may well rotate the squad a bit, so the damage may be limited, but expect England to get maximum points especially when their older opponents tire in the second half.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

World Cup: Day one summary

Maximum points for Canada, USA, New Zealand, Australia and England, four points for France, and a bonus for Sweden. That was the simple outcome of Day one in Guildford. But what else did we learn?

We learnt that belief counts for a lot. The young and highly talented South Africans were over awed by their Black Fern opponents, but tournament outsiders Sweden showed what can be done if a team believes in itself. The only question is whether or not they can do it again.If they can then Scotland could be in all sorts of trouble - Canada were so dominant  against them that a semi-final spot seems a certainty for them.

Despite winning France are in for an awful tournament unless they can develop a Plan B, as will Australia whose fantastic backs will be of little use unless their forwards learn to keep hold of the ball. Wales worked that one out - but unfortunately they were 21-0 down by the time they did. New Zealand will not make the same mistake.

England were similarly lucky to get a bonus point win over Ireland - they will also have to improve a good deal if they really fancy chances of winning the tournament. And finally age told for Kazakhstan against USA - heaven knows what England will score against them, while for USA it was a nice way to warm up.

As for the tournament itself, if you can get down to Guildford the GO!!! You'll have a brilliant day!

Friday, August 20, 2010

World Cup: Greetings from Guildford! Canada v Scotland.

Sneaked onto a laptop here in the Media Centre. Great atmosphere in opening game, where the Canadians are eating the Scots alive. 25-0 at half-time, three tries from Canada's Marchak, Mervin and Gallo, Scots forwards being hammered. Stunning handling, fast breaks - its a great game to watch (unless you are a Scot ) - shame that Sky won't be showing any Canadian games!

Crowd growing gradually around Pitch 2, where the game is being played. About doubled in size so far - maybe 500 or so (though I am no judge on this).

Overall the venue is good, pitches in excellent condition, but it lacks seating in a major way, especially on Pitch 2! And if you are thinking of coming the car park is a 20 minute walk away, so be warned about that!

But must go. Will add a few more posts today as the opportunity arises.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

World Cup: The covers come off at last

Finally we know what the World Cup venue will look like.

Pictures of Surrey Sports Park have been impossible to come by up until now - a fact that, along with some inept promotional announcement from the ticket company, has had a few people worried about what it was all going to be like.

However, the IRB have at last released some pictures as well as some interesting background about how the venue (which is a bit outside most people's definition of "South West London", where the tournament was supposed to be held) was chosen. The facility's Chief Executive Jason Harborow said that "this started like an acorn in many ways because I contacted Rosie Williams to ask where England were going to do their pre-tournament training, and proposed hosting England here.

"Rosie came, she loved it, brought the England team and management down and they changed the venue for the tournament. I don't know where they were going to go before, but they came here and it was a tipping point for us because we were awarded it before we opened."

One major advantage seems to be that the teams will not only play at the venue, but will stay and train there as well (there are 10 grass pitches, three all weather pitches, as well as impressive indoor facilities, giving it an Olympic Village type of atmosphere).

All in all it sounds very impressive, which makes the secrecy about what it would look like and what was on offer all the more puzzling.

World Cup: Formalities over... now for the main event!

The Women's Rugby World Cup is only two days away! The launch took place yesterday evening at City Hall in London (see ScrumQueens for report) and the first round of games is on Friday.

Though the likely finalists will be England and New Zealand (though by no means a foregone conclusion as it is quite possible that they might meet in a semi final, if France or Canada's results go well - see below), the rest of the tournament is remarkably open, though we may get a clearer picture of how things will go after the first round of games.

The tournament opens with Canada v Scotland in Pool C (12.00). Not only is this whole pool interesting as it contains neither of the favourites, and so the outcome is not as obvious, but Canada and France (who will finish in the top two places) should also be attempting to score as many tries as they can on the way. This is not only in order to ensure that the runner-up has a good chance of winning the fourth semi-final place, but also because the group winner will be aiming to avoid England and New Zealand - which they could well do.

The semi-final draw will be decided based on performances in the pools - the group winner with the most points and tries will get the top seeding, and will play the best runner-up. What this means is that if Canada and France can really rack up the points in their opening games then a place in the final is a real possibility.

And they have a real chance of doing that. Canada open against Scotland, who they have not lost to since 1994 (ancient history in women's rugby). Since then every game has been won by Canada by a larger and larger margin, the last result being a 45-3 drubbing in Glasgow. As a result Canada will be aiming for a bonus-point win as a minimum, and will probably be hoping for perhaps five or six tries.

There is every chance that they could succeed with both aims. Apart from their win over France at the start of the year, Scotland have been poor for several years. It is unlikely that they will have achieved the rapid turn-round needed over the summer.

Game two - Australia v Wales (Poo1 1) (Live on Sky Sports 2- kicks off at 2.00. After the predictable opening game, this should be a real humdinger of a game. So unpredictable that it is not only the game on the day, it is arguably the most exciting game of the pool stages. Unfortunately neither side stands much chance of progressing from this "Group of Death" - and the loser may well finish bottom - but that is all in the future. All that can be said is that, if you can watch only one game on Friday, make it this one.

Pool 2 opens at 2.15 with USA v Kazakhstan. In the past this might have been a close game, but the Kazakh's isolation since being moved by the IRB from Europe to Asia has resulted in the game stagnating. Comfortably the most powerful side in their new region, but also lacking the money to tour outside it, Kazakhstan have not really developed at all for the past 10 years or more, and even the squad is aging. The USA - on the other hand - have spent the last four years rebuilding a young, exciting squad and will face few problems in this game. Another bonus point win here.

4.15 sees the first appearance of big guns. But New Zealand v South Africa (Pool 1) (Live on Sky Sports 2) will not be the cake-walk that it first appeared when the draw was announced. South Africa are the sensation of world rugby. Comfortable wins over Scotland and Kazakhstan, a draw with France, and only narrow defeats to England, USA and Canada - all on the road - have shown that they have the potential to be a real surprise package. Their only real problem is being drawn in this particular pool. However, they must fancy the runner-up position and if they can get through this game with as little damage as possible they could well achieve it. New Zealand will win - clearly - but it is quite possible that they may miss the bonus point.

France v Sweden completes Pool 3's opening games at 4.30, and France will be going all-out for the big win (for the reasons discussed above). Much as we may all have a soft spot for the plucky Swedes, the French should succeed against the competition's real outsiders (and shock qualifiers), whose main aim will not realistically go beyond avoiding 12th place in the tournament. A big bonus win for France, then.

Finally at 6.30 its England v Ireland (Pool 2) (Live on Sky Sports 2). The Irish really believe they could pull off a shock, and - of all teams in this pool - they might have done. However, the effect of a last minute change of coach cannot be underestimated. They needed a perfect build-up and this was not it. Changing a coach is a massive disadvantage to a team that often takes a year or more to work through - as both Canada and Wales have shown in recent years - not a few weeks. As a result England should win, but not by much. Ireland are a proud and hugely talented side and could well sneak a losing bonus point in a game that will not be high scoring. Expect the boot to be a major factor in this match.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The horror... the horror...

There have been some pretty good attempts at promotional video from the RFU to accompany the World Cup, but something gone seriously wrong with the latest - a "Meet the England Women’s RWC Squad" video.

Suffice to say that someone has been given some sort of Photoshop-type application which they have used on  pictures of the England squad. Not only is the result a shade dull (some action shots or a bit of video would have been good), but also the resulting pictures are... well, judge for yourself.

From Your Own Correspondent

Due to a summer break on the south coast (and occasionally off it) its been a bit quiet on here, but not in the world at large. As readers of Scrumqueens will have seen, the World Cup is barely three days away, all the competing nations are here, and the launch is this evening so expect lots of pictures in the papers tomorrow (hmmm... maybe a bit of wild optimism there).

However, at least one journalist will be covering the tournament in detail... because (thanks to ScrumQueens) I have a press pass! So, if anyone else is going down to Guildford and wants to share the transport, please let me know.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

World Cup: Pre-tournament injuries now hit the Canadians

The rash of pre-tournament injuries continues, with Canada now being forced to make last minute changes to their squad. The latest victim is second-row Marie-Eve Brind'Amour-Carignan, who has failed to recover from a back injury picked up in the warm-up game with the USA a few weeks ago. Her replacement - Ashley MacDonald - is primarily a hooker, but in practice she has experience in most forward positions and should therefore offer the Canadians some extra flexibility. Marie-Eve was also one of very few French-Canadians in the squad, and Ashley's selection increases still more the representation from the west coast.

Coming less than 48 hours before the Monday's farewell dinner, its a big blow for the well-travelled 28 year-old, even though it was not a total surprise. This would have been her first World Cup and the emotion comes across in her interview with Meghan Mutrie, published yesterday (or this morning, our time!) - "I know there’s more to life than rugby ... but it’s still really hard".

Friday, August 06, 2010

World Cup: Living on nerves

Its a difficult time now for all of the players in the 12 World Cup squads. The opening games are only a fortnight away, so getting into that starting XV will be uppermost in their minds. Training will be getting more intense, and the temptation will be to push just that bit more, to impress the coach and win that place.

On the other hand the tournament is indeed only two weeks away, and even only a minor injury could be enough to mean that you miss a tournament that you have been working up to for four years. So maybe you should hold back a bit, take a little more care when hitting that bag, not go into contact at quite 100%?

Its a hard one - not least when every day seems to bring news of another player missing out. Within the last few days the news has been full of stories of training injuries ending individual players' hopes. At the end of July Ireland have lost Ulster prop Lauren Day, on Tuesday New Zealand revealed that the versatile back Amiria Rule - a star in the 2006 cup winning team - will be staying at home a knee injury, yesterday South African flanker Temi Faleni was forced out of the squad with a shoulder injury, and today it was England's turn with news that experienced centre Claire Allan - almost a fixture in the team since her debut in 2007 - will miss her first World Cup, thanks also to a knee injury.

It must be a desperate feeling to know that you have to drop out so close to the tournament, but every individual misfortune is someone else's opportunity. For New Zealand it means that rugby legend Anna Richards comes out of retirement for one more World Cup, while for England ex-Fullerians and Hertfordshire girl Michaela Staniford (right) gets the chance to revive her England career.

Michaela was England's youngest ever international when she made her debut in 2005 when still only 18, but has tended to slip out of contention as a first choice place in the past couple of years (though she has been pretty much an ever-present in the Sevens squads). Now she has been presented with a great chance to make her mark and get back into the first XV - and I'm sure everyone in Hertfordshire rugby hopes she grab it with both hands!

BBC Rugby recognise existence of women's game!

The BBC Rugby News website is well known for its ability to ignore the existence of the women's game - uniquely women's rugby is the only women's team sport that the BBC does not provide a permanent, dedicated news page for, and the site's fixtures and results page manages to include every conceivable men's league down to games between the more unpronounceable Welsh villages while ignoring even women's international games.

But things may be changing (or it could be just that all the male reporters were having a particularly long liquid lunch yesterday and were unable to stop a female reporter getting her hands on the keyboard for once). Either way Sarah Orchard deserves some recognition and praise for her feature article on women's rugby which says pretty much everything that needs to be said, including (shock! horror!) admission that the BBC's coverage of women's rugby, and sport in general, is not what it should be.

So well done Sarah! We're still awaiting a dedicated page for the tournament, of course - its very telling that you have to link to the IRB site rather than anywhere on the BBC - but its a start, and if your colleagues can be persuaded to spend even more time in the pub who knows how much more you could improve the site!

Women's leagues get a bonus

Bonus points will be introduced into all women's leagues next season.

The bonus point system has been part of the top level leagues in men's and women's rugby for some years now, but for more "recreational" rugby the "two points for a win" system has remained. From next season this will be replaced with four points for a win, plus bonuses for four tries and losing by seven points or less. The idea is to encourage attacking rugby, and also give teams something to play for right up to the end of the game. The system will also be used in the World Cup.

At present the change only applies to senior rugby - but obviously there is nothing to stop it being used in the junior game, either in the main leagues or in tournaments (Herts Sevens has already used the system for most years since we hosted it at Letchworth.)

Monday, August 02, 2010

Ireland's World Cup... from the sharp end

While great fun to read, blogs written by North American players are not that new. Encouraged - even sometimes hosted - by their Unions they've been appeared pretty regularly for the past year or so, and are a great way of promoting an interest in the sport, and developing a link between the players and supporters.

Players from one of two of the European unions have also dipped the occasional toe into the blog waters - especially the Swedes - but the rather more conservative Home Nation unions have shown little interest in joining the 21st century. Until this week.

Based on a suggestion from Alison Donnelly, the founder of the ScrumQueens website, Ulster and Ireland's Lauren Day and Eliza Downey (left) have started their own blog covering their preparations for their first World Cup.

The first post on the imaginatively titled Eliza and Lauren Blog The World Cup appeared last week, with 24-year-old wing/full back Eliza describing how she was introduced to rugby... only two years ago (though as she had been playing Gaelic football for some years - a similar game to rugby, all be it with fewer obvious rules - so she was hardly a total beginner). Lauren, the 25-year-old prop, posted her first contribution on Saturday, though her was a less happy tale about a broken wrist which means she will not now be able to play in the tournament.

Last weekend also saw Ireland travel to Wales for a training match. Reports are that the home side came out 15-13 winners, though in practice in these sort of games the result is largely irrelevant as there will normally be multiple substitutions and formation changes. Eliza was in the squad for the game so we await her report with interest.

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