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...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Familiar face in short-list for IRB "Rugby Photo of the Year"

If you have played in any girls' rugby tournament - from Herts 7s and National 7s to county and regional tournaments - chances are she has taken your photograph. You'd probably recognise her face too, though chances are the name Lissy Tomlinson (from RugbyMatters) may be unfamiliar.

However, it may become slightly better known shortly as Lissy - who specialises in women's and girls' rugby - has been shortlisted for the IRB's annual "Rugby Photo of the Year" competiton with this photo (right) of Maggie Alphonsi ("England's Magnificent Flying Machine") brushing aside Ireland's Niamh Briggs at the World Cup last month.

If it wins the picture will appear on the cover of next year's IRB Yearbook, which will be a big thing for women's rugby in general, not just Lissy. However she's up against some stiff competition.

In fact three of the the six pictures in the running for the title feature women's rugby.

Australian photographer Michael Paler 'Semi's Delight' (left) records the joy felt by Australia's Lindsay Morgan and Danielle Meskell as they celebrate reaching the semi final of the World Cup following their 62-0 victory over South Africa.

However, the third picture is from completely the other end of the world of women's rugby. Richard Lane's picture "Bengal Khuki" shows a group of girls playing Rugby at an orphanage outside Kolkata, which he took last April during a charity trip to India to coach rugby to children.

The other three photos include a remarkable picture of Sale Sharks and Harlequins playing rugby in what appears to be a blizzard, South Africa men's sevens team preparing a match at the Emirates Sevens, and a close up of a player's hand as he makes a desperate attempt to touch the ball down in a match in South Africa.

The winner will be announced in early November.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Behind the scenes at the World Cup

Ripples from the World Cup continue to drift out, and the latest is pretty good. It captures the work behind the scenes that most people never saw, as well as being a great reminder of the wonderful atmosphere - especially in the first three rounds at Guildford. Watch it to remember those days if you went, or to see what you missed if you didn't!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What is the referee playing at?

An oft heard cry, especially at the World Cup when referees came in for a lot of criticism, especially in the final.

Truth is that the referees were doing what they were told - applying the laws and (more importantly) the latest "interpretations" from the IRB about how to apply these laws. These interpretations are much discussed, and have a big impact on the game - definitely at the professional level at least, but also at the lower levels too, especially if you get to play representative rugby - but we mere mortals rarely get to see them. The referees seem to keep them to themselves.

So it is really interesting to see this article where Paddy O'Brien, the head of the IRB's referees board, discusses some of the main interpretations for 2010. Its well worth a read because not only will you have a better understanding about what is going on when you watch professional games, but also much of the advice about what referees are looking for will make you a better player at every level - and much less likely to get "pinged" at some crucial moment in an important game. Well worth a look.

And if you are interested in this sort of thing - as a coach, referee or player - then The Huddle is a forum well worth looking at. And if you don't understand something about the game, or want to know how to improve why not drop them a question?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Four for the county

News reaches me that the county trials were well attended this year, and that competition for places in the squads was fierce (perhaps more than it has ever been, due to the new arrangements). Some very talented girls, including some with years of experience in mini/midi rugby, failed to get in - but four of our girls did!

So congratulations to Sydney, Ellah, Lily and Florrie who will all be pulling on the green of Hertfordshire this autumn. Good luck for the matches on 7th November (away to Leicestershire) and 12th December (three-way against Eastern Counties and Kent, in Eastern Counties) - and let's see if we can't get some of you into the Divisional squad in the New Year!

This also goes to show what a great core of strong players we have at Letchworth. With stars like these we'll have Letchworth Girls back in the national top 10 in no time!

  • And well done to Jade too, who made the U18s (sorry about missing you out earlier - my "contact" failed to mention it)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The great experiment begins

After a few weeks training the first part of the New Model Season for girls' rugby starts this weekend with county trials taking place across the country on Sunday. For clubs in Hertfordshire these trials will be at Welwyn, starting at 1pm.

This will be the first time that every county has had its trial on the same day - indeed in some parts of the country this may be the first time that a county has had trials, partly because we have now moved to RFU counties which results in some name changes. There were also no "early" trials anywhere this season, not least because all of the "traditional" tournaments - like the early season Sussex event - have also disappeared.

This year the county season is much shorter - and the trials are much more important. There will almost certainly be no 'A' or "Development" squad, and so no opportunities to make a name for yourself on the field over the next two or three months. If you do not get into the squad this weekend it is unlikely that you will get a second chance - and that matters because county rugby will be the route to the four new Divisional squads, and then next summer's TDGs.

Its a tough call for anyone with any ambitions beyond club rugby - and almost impossible for girls new to the game or even a new age group - but that is the what the RFUW have decided and we have to make the best of it.

However, this pales into insignificance beside what comes next. The following weekend the new club leagues are supposed to begin - "supposed" because we (and the RFUW) simply do not know how many of the clubs entered in the leagues will actually make their games, a problem made worse because RFUW will (quite reasonably) only allow affiliated clubs to take part, and the latest published list had a significant number of missing names!

There is one big surprise in the rules - and it has the potential to invite all kinds of dispute and gamesmanship (or, if you prefer, blatant cheating). To try to "ensure that girls get as much rugby as possible" RFUW will allow clubs to borrow players from other clubs - to quote the rules...
"A player can only be borrowed to help fulfil a fixture, for example to make up playing numbers or to cover a position specific. Players cannot be borrowed to enhance a teams playing ability at the expense of players within your own team or to gain a bonus point."
It was a necessary thing to do - but it is also a huge hostage to fortune. Quite how on earth RFUW intend to police that final, rather important, sentence is anyone's guess as the rules are silent on the point. What is more, given RFUW's lamentable record on dealing with the blatant cherry-picking of players by teams that made a complete mockery of the old National Cup, it must be a bit of a concern. Hopefully they have learnt from that and will not allow the more silverware obsessed clubs to ruin this competition as well.

Because this has to work. Deeply unpopular initiative though it is - I have yet to speak to any club coach who thought it was a good idea - this is only game in town now so it has to work. And no doubt it will, on paper. League games played, there will be league champions, and they will all play off for the new National Cup. There will be a National Champion, and pats on the back, photographs, and congratulations all round. What might have happened if RFUW had just left things alone we will never, unfortunately, know.

Girls' online sports magazine launched

Sportsister - the women's sports magazine - has launched a dedicated "mini-site" for girls.

Sportsister has been going for some years now, and provides regular coverage of women's rugby along with a huge range of other sports, as well as general fitness advice and competitions. It is mainly an online magazine, but also publishes an occasional printed magazine.

The new girls' page is "aimed at young women and girls with an interest in sport" and initially brings together articles and features aimed at or about junior sport. However, they are looking for feedback and views on how to develop the site - if you have any ideas contact

Sunday, September 19, 2010

When satire is just too close to the truth

The fallout from the IRB's decision to fine the Australian women's team who dared to come with 20m of the Black Ferns while they were performing their haka during the World Cup last month continues. Various writers have been complaining about the advantage that all this gives to New Zealand teams - maybe the time has come to end the haka?

The IRB's chief executive Mike Miller has responded by saying that it should continue as it is "a traditional part of the game. It would be a shame if people said: 'Let's do away with it' or felt the need to do some response that took away from the dignity and power of it."

However, so confused have the IRB's "rules" become about how opposition teams should behave that a "joke" news item from the satirical East Terrace website, published on Friday, was yesterday taken as real IRB advice by New Zealand television.

In their defence its not hard to see why - see if you can spot the difference between the real IRB advice on what teams can do when faced by the haka, and the "fake".
Quote 1: "Firstly, don't march within ten metres. Secondly, please don't turn your back on the Haka, this is must unsporting. We recommend not staring too aggressively either, we don't want any un-called for confrontation. Please don't do any kind of warm up or physical activity either, this is not called for at all and will cause offence."
Quote 2: "If [opposition teams] want to develop something - not a response, not a war dance, a traditional sporting or cultural way of engendering that team spirit for a match - great. They should be able to and we should create the space to do it."
Tricky isn't it? The first seems a bit unhelpful - what one earth can teams do? On other hand, the second is pretty bizarre too - could the IRB really be suggesting that teams develop their own piece of street theatre? A Morris Dance by England maybe, a bit of Riverdance by the Irish? Maybe France could wheel on a model guillotine? 

Follow the links above to work out the answer...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Does women's rugby need rule changes?

Interesting article today on Scrumqueens by Sunday Times journalist Stephen Jones, who has (uniquely?) been to every Women's world cup since the first in 1991. The article mainly looks at how much better the women's game has become - even since 2006 - but highlights one continuing problem. Kicking.

Even the best kickers, Jones says, do not kick the ball (either from hand, or as a place kick) nearly as far as the average man. As a result infringements that would be punished with three points in the men's game go unpunished as the women kickers cannot take full advantage of the penalties. This encourages teams to kill the ball far more in women's rugby (I think he may have been thinking about New Zealand here!).

Jones then comes up with some suggestions for rule changes that would apply just to women's (and therefore also girls') rugby, including allowing a penalty to be taken from anywhere that is the same distance from the posts as the offence - ie. the penalty could be moved from the touchline to in front of the posts if it was in kickable range, or from the centre of the field to near the touchline if the aim was to hit touch and gain ground.

Interesting ideas - but would they be workable? How would referees and coaches adjust? And if this is a problem in women's rugby, then the same problem must also occur in junior boy's rugby - should they have the same rule changes? What do you think? I can't say that I agree - to have women's rugby played to different rules (even relatively minor difference) would, I think, cause more problems than it would solve.

Kicking is a problem nonetheless. This is partly because girls very rarely kick - and are not really encouraged to try - partly because coaches are taught to coach boys who would kick all day if you let them! This is probably because girls at school tend to play games like netball and hockey (games with no kicking) whereas boys tend to play football. However, the main problem is that women are simply smaller (on average) than men, and simply cannot kick as hard (its all about the speed of your foot when it hits the ball, which is partly related to the length of your leg - think circles and radiuses and 2πr and stuff - see, maths can apply to the real world!). In other words if a man and a woman had the same amount of muscle, the man would kick harder.

Some sports change the equipment for women, and the RFUW have occasionally tried a smaller ball (size 4.5), but while this may improve handling it could actually make kicking even harder - surprisingly a lighter ball will probably not go as far (its all to do with impetus and aerodynamics - we're into physics now!).

So is there a solution - assuming that there is a real problem? Well, the fact is that New Zealand did get three yellow cards in the final, which would have made a difference to the result if England could have been able to take advantage of them. Would the answer be to simply be that women's (and girls'?) rugby is more strictly refereed? How would that go down with players...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Back to the real world: the season ahead

So - the World Cup is over and its back to reality.

The new season is a new beginning at Letchworth as all of the girls who set up the club have gone, as have most of the adults. Its going to be a season of rebuilding but, on the plus side, we have more or less the same number of girls that the section stared with in 2003 - so we know what can be done.

The good news is that, thanks to Amanda Bate - who helped get girls rugby going in the county - we look like we will be playing with Old Albanians his season, which means that we will now have a full season of fixtures to look forward to.

This is also a great time to bring new players into the team. Not only has women's rugby never been so popular and so talked about, but at Letchworth new players will not be held back, having to force their way into an existing team. So bring along your friends - there has never been a better time to play rugby!

In the meanwhile, the first big date is the county trials - and they are only two weeks away. Everyone who played last season should be able to get into one of the squads, which (with the new structure) have never been more important.

The most important breakthrough yet?

England flanker and (arguably) the player of the world cup, Maggi Alphonsi, will be joining the Sky Sports commentary team for their coverage of the English Premiership this season. This is a huge breakthrough for both Maggi, and women's rugby in general.

While TV coverage of women's sport will often include a female summariser, it is almost unheard of for a woman to be given such a role in men's sport. For a major sports broadcaster to recognise that a leading female rugby player can be as knowledgeable as a male is a huge vote of confidence in both the player and the game she plays (though it seems amazing to have to say that in the second decade 21st century!).

The appointment is apparently in recognition not only Maggi's knowledge and on-field experience, but also the easy and natural style she showed in front of the cameras during the tournament. However, as well as being good for Maggi, the result will be that the women's game as whole will benefit. Maggi will become a face recognised well beyond followers of women's rugby, which in turn means that when she plays she will generate an interest beyond existing supporters. And at last girls will have a female hero that they can look up to.

In addition every time she appears on screen it will send the message that rugby is no longer just a men's game, and that the country's leading rugby broadcaster takes the women's game seriously.

  • One of the other great personalities of the tournament - Catherine Spencer - was also interviewed by Sky about getting back to "normal" after the World Cup. Its well worth watching.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A team to beat the Black Ferns?

In the follow-up to the World Cup various World XVs have been published and discussed - teams made up from the best players in the World Cup.

This is all very interesting - and great fun - but the problem is that the teams picked have no-one to play, at least not until Mars takes up the game. Perhaps more realistic might be whether it is possible to come up with a team that will beat New Zealand - a Rest of the World XV to play the best in the world?

It has been done before. Back in 1990 there was a World Rugby Festival in Canterbury - a few months before the first proper World Cup. It featured USA, Netherlands, USSR and New Zealand and, after the main tournament, a XV chosen from the other three sides played the winner (New Zealand). New Zealand won (12-4), needless to say - apart from anything else they were used to playing together, which the World XV were not.

Maybe the time has come for a repeat. If so, and based on World Cup performances, who could the world outside the Land of the Long White Cloud put together to take on their four-time champions?

1.  Rochelle Clark (England)
Impressive performances throughout the tournament - at the heart of England's impressive pack

2. Laetitia Salles (France)
Ever-present as French hooker in two World Cups, a lynchpin of the most successful element of the French team (the maul) - and moreover scorer of two tries in the 2010 tournament.
3. Jamie Burke (USA)
US captain, hugely experienced, put in several impressive performances - especially in the final game against Ireland.
4. Tamara Taylor (England)
5. Jo McGilchrist (England)
The England second row partnership - peerless, even in comparison with the Black Ferns - especially McGilchrist who had an amazing tournament.
6. Heather Fisher (England)
Missed the final owing to injury - probably the most significant absence as prior to the final Heather had had an excellent World Cup.
7. Maggi Alphonsi (England)
Is any explanation needed?
8. Debby Hodgkinson (Australia)
We knew she was a good Sevens player, we didn't know she was a brilliant 15s star as well - and moreover one that got better and better as the tournament went on. Was fantastic against England.
9. Frida Ryberg (Sweden)
Tricky choice this one, but - with her pack under unbelievable pressure in every game - Frida never failed to get the ball away (a heck of an achievement), and speed of pass would be important against the Ferns. 
10. Katy McLean (England)
At no position is there greater competition, and - although Katy did not have an outstanding final - her kicking from hand was still far better than any competitor. And if there were any doubts about her goal kicking then there alternatives below...
11. Nicole Beck (Australia)
Is there even the slightest doubt about this? An 80% plus goal kicker, she flies like the wind with ball in hand, can side-step like a dream, and as for the tackling...
12. Sharni Williams (Australia)
A crowd favourite - and with justification. Give her half a yard and you are dead. A scarily good centre.
13. Lucy Millard (Scotland)
A nugget of pure gold in a very average team. Amazing feet - always a threat with the ball - coupled with super defence.
14. Heather Moyse (Canada)
A sporting superstar. Strong, fast, clinical. You do not get to be the leading try scorer in two consecutive World Cups without being very good indeed.
15. Danielle Waterman (England)
Produced more gasps from the crowd in the final than any other player. Seems so small, but has a hand-off that would stop a charging rhino. She can also tackle like a runaway train, and run like the wind. What more do you want?
16. Catrin Edwards (Wales)
17. Amy Garnett (England)
18. Joy Neville (Ireland)
19. Marie Alice Yahe (France)
20. Christy Riggenberg (USA)
21. Cobi-Jane Morgan (Australia)
22. Kat Merchant (England)

Other players who would join a touring party to New Zealand would include:
Stéphanie Loyer (France), Kelly Russell (Canada), Catherine Spencer (England), Mel Berry (Wales), Zandle Nojoko (South Africa), Fiona Pocock (England), Charlotte Barras (England), Nimah Briggs (Ireland).

Sunday, September 05, 2010

World Cup: where next?

Where next indeed. An announcement for the venue of the next World Cup was due in May... then delayed until this week... and now there will be no announcement until next year.

Its not just that this year's tournament has taken the bar to a whole new level - it seems that the IRB just were not completely happy with any of the bids from USA, Kazakhstan and Samoa (New Zealand withdrew). In fact they have reopened bidding, so any Union can now bid to host the event.

At this stage it looks like the bid will be for a 12-team event - but while USA seemed the best bet to host, it seems that where it will be is anyone's guess now - but presumably not Europe

World Cup in review

Phew - of the 30 games in the 2010 World Cup, I have saw 14 - live - and every country at least once, so more than that. So, how was the sixth Women's Rugby World Cup?

For those who were lucky enough to get into see the whole tournament it has been amazing. The weather has bee just about perfect (Day 2 was very windy, but that was the day I missed so I can't really comment). The festival feel of the pool stages at the Surrey Sports Park really had to be experienced to be believed. Players and fans from all eight countries mixing together with great spirit, and all living up to their national stereotypes. The dignified and friendly Swedes, coping stoically with their teams defeats; the LOUD, brash Americans; the happy Irish (invariably to be found dominating the bar); the passionate French with flags and song - they were all there and it was heaven to be in the middle of it all.

Its also pretty clear that the one major criticism of the tournament is that the organisers totally failed to realise what a draw it would have - and that these spectators would be flooding in from all over Europe and beyond. Perhaps they were just looking at previous tournaments, but in England, with so many expat populations in and around London, it was blindingly obvious that 2,500 seats per day would not be enough.

On the field the standards were high, if varied. New Zealand and England were playing on another level throughout, and in many respects it was the games played by the other teams that were far more interesting. So what were the best games? Curiously on all of the pool days they were games that TV did not show!

Day 1 - Sweden v France. This is going to be a bit of a massacre I said as we went over to Pitch 2 for this match. Boy was I wrong! France were dreadful, Sweden inventive and determined, and for a few glorious minutes a sensation seemed possible. In the end France staggered across the line - just - but it was a great start from the tournaments least heralded team.

Day 2 - Ireland v USA. I didn't see it, but it sounds like it was a great game with Ireland playing out of their skins. Really sorry to have missed it. Wales v South Africa ran it a close second.

Day 3 - Canada v France. Some debate about this as England v USA was also good - but in that game it was obvious who would win, but for the former game it was not. Admittedly Canada and France did not give us a feast of high quality rugby, and the referee did her best to stop any flow, but the sheer tension felt by both teams and all spectators was really something.

Semi-finals - England v Australia. Have to go with this one as it was the tightest game - well other than South Africa v Kazakhstan, but that game suffered from being a bit of an ill disciplined scrap, England and Australia was full of skill and pace

Finals - England v New Zealand. An amazing game of rugby, not that pretty, but so exciting - you could not take your eyes off it for a second - but see elsewhere! However it is clear that USA v Canada ran it close for sheer excitement.

Player of the tournament - for me, only one player in it - Nicole Beck. I know the official award went elsewhere, but that was simply wrong. Clearly Maggi Alphonsi ran Nicole close, but we know about Maggi - she has been playing for years. Nicole only started playing contact rugby two years ago! The most reliable kicker, she can also score fantastic tries, and as for her tackling... need anyone say more?

Most watchable player - slightly different this - not just sheer skill, just the player I loved to watch. And again just one clear winner - Uli! Ulrika Andersson-Hall. Graceful, exciting, talented, a leader - nay a talisman. Great hands, great boot, and (from what I was told) a really nice person as well. Also has a great fan club, especially noticeable today. Only downside is that today was also her last ever international. Shame!

World Cup: And the difference was...?

Up front - they were superbly matched. Nothing given or taken

But it really was the backs. Every time New Zealand's back line got the ball they looked dangerous - lethal. They always looked like they might score. England - particularly in the first half - way too flat, too slow, not running onto the ball enough.

That improved noticeably after half-time - but still did not match New Zealand, who were able to snuff out almost every England passing move.

Discipline - and poor kicking - nearly cost New Zealand - they really lost their rag with the referee, who will have done wonders for trans-Tasman relations.

But its a New Zealand win. Signing off from The Stoop before the batteries die...

World Cup Final: Its here at last!

Five minutes to go, and the teams are walking onto the field. Huge noise. Ground a good 90% full.

So - how did the first half go. Awful start for England with Black Fern kick-off being fumbled. That gave them a base from which they dominated play for much of the half.

However, repeated penalties cost New Zealand dear - and caused much frustration, as well as two yellow cards. That England did not - or could not - take advantage of this was significant. That New Zealand scored with only 14 on the field was also ominous.

The good points, for England, is that New Zealand kicking remains poor. Okay, conversion kicked, but two other penalties missed - and more to the point there is considerable reluctance among the New Zealand team to take the penalties. Of course, if you can score tries with 14 players who needs kickers?

For England the main area of concern is the back line. Its so flat, no-one is running onto the ball, the passing is laboured, slow, and obvious. Small wonder that they are not breaking through, the odd run by Nolli Waterman and Kat Merchant notwithstanding.

Anyway - in one minute they are out again. Its 7-0 (bookmaker right again), and all to play for.

Right - 11 minutes left now, and its 13-10 to New Zealand. Try from Barras on the right after massive pressure following yellow for Ferns captain Ruscoe, excellent conversion, by Black Ferns soon ahead againw with a penalty from Brazier.

The noise is incredible, the atmosphere amazing, the England defence remarkable. But now its change round with all the subs - what differnce will this make?

10 minutes to go England on their own 10m line. Now into NZ half. Ruck. NZ win ball. chipped over top by Ruscoe, the excellent return ny Mc Lean... you cannot hope to keep up with this!

8 minutes. Line out England 22. England take line and drive forward. Breaks out to Scarratt, but loses ball. Now on England 5m... but England win a penalty!

7 minutes to go. Line out England 22. Taken, but Beale tackled into touch.

6 minutes NZ lineout, same place. Passed left - but thump! Stopped by Maggi! Still found its way to left wing, but knock on.

5 minutes. Scrum. England 22. Tackled into touch.

4 minutes. As above! In the same place now for two minutes... England put in - down the line. WAterman hands off - amazing power. Like hitting a wall.

3 minutes. 13252 - biggest EVER women's international crowd. Richardson down - stop the clock. No replacements left... could this be crucial? It'll be a scrum about 18m into England half. Richardson off on stretcher. England down to 14...

2 minutes. Ball in NZ hands on far side. Ruck. Penalty to NZ - off feet. Brazier going to the points, will waste time even if she misses.

1 minute. Falls short, England attack out of defence - but knock-on. Scrum 5m. Fi Pocok on bench in tears.

Time. 13-10. New Zealand are World Champions again.

World Cup: Third place

Here we are at The Stoop again. Third place final is at the half-time stage, with Australia on top. Nervy start gfor the Wallaroos - penned back fror the first 10 minutes or so, not looking like themselves at all. However, they only conceded three points from this - and hen at last managed to get ball in hand.

Wow. The back line swept down the field with the French in disarray. Try for Cobie-Jane Morgan, 5-3 - and all this with Nicole Beck in the sin bin. Nicole was back a few minutes later - and the French began to fall apart. A form of tunnel vision developed, with the French concentrating just on what was in front of them, leaving massive overlaps.

And the tries began to come. 28 minutes Rebecca Trethowan. 10-3. 32minutes, Morgan again - converted by Beck this time, 17-3, and then just before half time Tricia Brown is in after a fantastic break from Beck. 22-3.

What can France do in the second half to recover from this?

Well, the answer seemed to be to frustrate and annoy and slow down the game as much as possble - which, it has to be said, they succeeded in doing. It cost them a couple of yellow cards, but it also stopped the Australians scoring. Unfortunately it did little to advance the French cause, a late try on 72 minutes followng the first French maul of the game was too little, and way too late. 22-8 to the Australians (who have improved immeasurably since their opening game) and third place. The French finish fourth, which they about deserved.

Other results:
11th to Kazakhstan 12-8 over Sweden
9th to Wales 29-17 over South Africa
7th 32-8 to Ireland over Scotland
5th 23-20 to USA over Canada

World Cup: Play-offs

Having left the plug for the laptop at home, no updates today (follow it on ScrumQueens). Suffice to say Kazakhstan have beaten Sweden in a close and very frustrating game 12-8, and Ireland just thumped Scotland 32-8 (or more).

The Swedish game was a take of two very different teams (see my ScrumQueens report) - at times I was reminded of watching Letchworth Girls. The best way to sum it up was when a Swedish replacement forward came on... who was about half the size of most of the Kazakh backs!

Now its off to The Stoop ... trying to save as much battery power as possible!

Saturday, September 04, 2010

World Cup: Injuries force changes to England

While New Zealand have been able to announce an unchanged team for the Final on Sunday, injuries to Heather Fisher and Fiona Pocock have forced Gary Street to make make changes to his team for the final. The two teams will be:

New Zealand
Victoria Grant  15 Danielle Waterman
Carla Hohepa 14 Charlotte Barras
Huriana Manuel 13 Emily Scarratt
Kelly Brazier 12 Rachel Burford
Renee Wickcliffe 11 Katherine Merchant
Anna Richards 10 Katy McLean
Emma Jensen 9 Amy Turner
Ruth McKay 1 Rochelle Clark
Fiao’o Faamausili 2 Amy Garnett
Mel Bosman 3 Sophie Hemming
Vita Robinson 4 Tamara Taylor
Victoria Heighway 5 Jo McGilchrist
Melissa Ruscoe (C) 6 Sarah Hunter
Justine Lavea 7 Margaret Alphonsi
Casey Robertson 8 Catherine Spencer (C)
Karina Penetito 16 Emma Croker 
Steph Te Ohaere-Fox 17 Claire Purdy 
Linda Itunu 18 Becky Essex
Joan Sione 19 Sarah Beale
Kendra Cocksedge 20 La Toya Mason
Rebecca Mahoney 21 Alice Richardson
Trish Hina 22 Amber Penrith

World Cup: Putting their money on it

One thing that was impressive about Wednesday's semi-final was the off-field performance of the bookmakers. Not only did they pick the winners of the two semi-finals (not too difficult you might think), but they were spookily accurate about the margin of victory as well.

On Tuesday the "handicap" for New Zealand v France was 39 - ie. they were saying that New Zealand would beat France by 39 points - and the result was that New Zealand won by 38! In the other game the handicap was 19... and England won by 15. Impressive. So how are they calling Sunday's big game?

Well, as far the people who put their money on the line are concerned, New Zealand are clear favourites to win... by 11 points. They also say the New Zealand will be 5 points ahead by half-time. Will they be right? We'll know in about 24 hours time.

In the meanwhile the IRB's "Total Rugby" radio programme is devoted this month to women's rugby and the world cup. Click here to listen or you can download an iPod version.

Friday, September 03, 2010

World Cup: Stoop nearing capacity for Sunday's final

When, last November, it was suggested on here that maybe The Stoop might not be big enough for Sunday's World Cup Final, it was greeted with some amusement. Something along the lines of having 12,500 people  stay behind at Twickenham to watch a free women's game following the Autumn men's international was one thing, but that many coming - and paying - to watch just a women's game? No! Couldn't happen.

Well, if you check the TicketMaster site you will find that - apart from a few individual seats - the East, West and North stands at The Stoop are now sold out for the Final on Sunday, and the South stand is already filling up. With less than 48 hours to go to the clear message is... this really looks like being a sell out.

That means that, at around 15,000 (the official capacity for the ground is 14,816), this will almost certainly be the largest crowd ever to watch women's rugby - and one of the largest for any rugby match this weekend. Ticket sales must have already exceed the crowd at Twickenham last November, so - apart from anything else - everyone at the ground will be able to consider themselves to be record breakers!

If you do not have your tickets yet the lesson from earlier days is - if you want to go make sure you buy now. Don't leave it to the day before - and certainly do not expect to be able to buy tickets on the gate!

World Cup: Why England and New Zealand are in the final again

Got a few minutes? Take a pen (well actually I used Excel, but never mind). Now pick your Best XV of the tournament - the IRB's website ( will be a big help as it has all the teams, scorers, etc. etc.

Done that?

Okay - how many players in your team are NOT from England or New Zealand. Apart from Nicole Beck? And maybe Lucy Millard might just have squeezed in. Even if you have a full 22 chances are that the bench will be pretty much filled with England or New Zealand players. Astonishing isn't it - at pretty much every position the best player in the world will be on display in the final on Sunday.

The gulf between the top two and the rest is an ocean. Look at what the Black Ferns did to France - probably the third best team in the world (they beat Canada, after all, and I suspect Australia will have all sorts of problems against their forwards). Its a gap that has been there for the past 15 years really, and there isn't much sign of anyone bridging it. Given some investment, a decent tour programme (indeed any sort of regular fixture programme), and some forwards Australia are clearly the best hope to break up this duopoly. As for the rest?

Is there a word for "consistency" in French? If so maybe someone could explain what it means to their players and management. How can a team that cannot string two passes together one day play like demons the next? But hey, they're French! Yes, and that is why they will never get above third place.

Canada and the USA both suffer from being on a different continent to everyone else - well, that and money obviously. Both have such potential and look great, but need more experience of playing teams other than each other (Sunday's fifth place game will be their 28th meeting, and the fifth this year!). Ireland and Wales flatter to deceive at times - they may sting the big girls occasionally, but then a big hand comes and swats them away. And something has gone seriously wrong with Wales in the past year - maybe the new coach they will get after this tournament will not be coming a moment too soon.

Maybe the best hope is South Africa. Okay, they'll probably finish 9th or 10th this time (several injuries mean that they may not be able to repeat their earlier performance against Wales), but with their youth and rate of progress (and - please - regular fixtures?)  in 2014 they'll be in the top 8 and by 2018... who knows?

Until then... its back to the Old Guard for Sunday. Who will win? Heart says England, head says New Zealand - and somewhere in the middle says it all depends on Katy McLean.

Elsewhere? France for third, Canada to beat the USA for fifth, Ireland to take 7th from Scotland, Wales to pick up 9th from South Africa (for the reasons above), and I fear for Sweden's pack against Kazakhstan so with regret I think my favourite team will finish 12th. Sorry Jenny, Ulrika, Lina, etc. Prove me wrong!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Is women's rugby now "box office"?

  • 8,000 spectators over three days for the pool games (plus a likely couple of thousand who would have gone if tickets had not sold out on all three days)
  • Up to 1,000 more for the 5th/12th play-off semi-finals at Surrey Sports Park
  • Around 4,000 - 5,000 for the semi-finals at The Stoop
  • 12,000 - 15,000 expected for the final 
  • Live matches on TV in the UK, and around the world.
However else you look at these numbers its a significant step forward from the first World Cup in 1991, when England's opening game attracted a "crowd" of 47! More significantly this points to a turnover of around £200,000 or more in ticket sales alone. Is this the tipping point for women's rugby?

From a purist point of view this should not matter. As a amateur sport the people that matter are the players - they play because they love their sport, and would play even if no-one came to watch. As long as they are happy this is all that matters - certainly at times this seems to have been the attitude held by the organisers of this year's World Cup where match timings and spectator facilities appear to have been a last minute thought (even supposing there was any thought at all).

However, the fact of the matter is that it does matter. The more people go to watch then the more press and broadcasters are likely to take an interest, as their know that coverage will attract readers or viewers. Which brings in not only potentially more players, but also money from sponsors and advertisers, which attracts more media interest... and so on.

And these numbers are impressive. They compare well with quite a lot of semi-professional sport - athletics or tennis tournaments in this country (outside of Wimbledon). Most National League rugby clubs would be happy with crowds of a couple of thousand. So have we cracked it?

Well, on one level obviously not. This is a major occasion - there are not world cups every week, or every year. Furthermore it was played during the summer, so the spectators - many (most?) of whom were players - could get to the games. A major drawback with the Women's Six Nations, for example, is that it takes place in the rugby season when most potential supporters are busy playing rugby!

However, the potential is undoubtedly there. Bring together the major rugby nations - New Zealand, England, Australia, Canada, France, USA, Ireland - in one place so you can see several matches in a day, get the timing, ticket prices and marketing right, and this tournament has shown that you will get a crowd. Top level women's rugby can pay for itself. And that means that the Black Ferns and Wallaroos need not disappear into hiding for the next four years, and that we need not have to wait until 2014 before seeing Canada take on France, or before we can hear to the USA supporters in full voice again (err... okay, pick any two out of three...).

However, the key thing is that whatever the RFU/RFUW do please don't make it be nothing. The success of this has to be built on - and built on now. Let's hear some plans. The next European Championship is in 2012, for example, why not host that here (for some reason we have never hosted any FIRA tournaments in England)? Give us a programme of tours we can build interest and anticipation for (and include in the to Sky TV contract). And why not a Women's Lions tour to New Zealand - now THAT would be something!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

World Cup Live from the Stoop press box: England v Australia

Okay. The Big One (for today at least). A bit of background (if you need it!) - the teams have only played three times before, all England wins, the last in 2001, so ancient history. Rather more relevant is Nicole Beck's 79% conversion record - well ahead of everyone else, including England's Katy McLean who is on 65%.

Lights are on, sun has disappeared. five minutes to go. More people drifting in. Tension builds. Cheesy music starts.

Australia to kick off. An early exchange of kicks see England with a slight advantage, but most play in the centre of the field so far. Australian  line out under a lot of pressure, and the second is called not straight. Scrum England, 40m out. Aussie scrum goes backwards, setting up an excellent move. England now 5m out. Scrum. Push over. Try for Cathy Spencer. Simple, really. Katy McLean slots a fairly tricky kick. 7-0. Australian forwards in for a hard night. 7 minutes gone.

First Australian back move - good until the final pass. Katy McLean kick for position - superb. Aussie 22. Katy seems to be playing with the Australian backs - kicking the ball to wherever they are not. Australian line out just about holding under the pressure.

England putting Australian forwards under huge pressure. Australian scrums just about holding, but little secure ball.  Australia now resorting to short or lone line outs.

Fantastic run down the win from Fi Pocock - but smashed into touch 10m out.

England now win lineout on Australian throw - and now another scrum, 5m out. Aussie put in this time, held, but England line-out on 22. Second phase almost scored by Emily Scarratt, third phase ball, and in at the corner by Nolli Waterman. Katy misses this one - 12-0. 23 minutes.

Fi Pocock off on a stretcher, replaced by Michaela Staniford. May miss the final now - bit of a blow for England, opportunity for Michaela however. England playing better than they have all tournament.

Good period of play by Australia - multiple phases inside England 22 - but no forward progress. England eventually turn over and clear.

Excellent England back move, starting from a recovered Australian kick behind England 22 - all the way down the line to Barrass - who is tackled after kicking. Australia in all kinds of confusion nearly let England in anyway - but still and England line out results on 10m, and a maul just kept out. Three minutes to go - England looking for their third try are throwing the ball around - but no more score. 12-0 - half time.

Okay we are off again, and its England attacking. Maggi almost through in the centre, Staniford on the wing. But Australia hold out and its back to a scrum near the centre. 5 minutes gone.

Play fairly balanced now, England slight upper hand - and with the ball in hand Barras and Waterman return Australian kicks with interest. English backline working well - the odd ball not quite going to hand - but its exciting stuff when they throw it wide. Playing Australia at their own game, but doing it better. 10 minutes gone.

15 minutes in - first time England line broken, by Cheyenne Campbell, bringing Australia into the England end for the first time in the second half. A long period of Australian pressure followed, with the Wallaroos growing confidence. 25 minutes gone - Australia still inside England half - but rarely the 22.

Try saving tackle on England 10m. With replacements on England scrum not as dominant, and the teams are more closely matched. 12 minutes left and Heather Fisher, after several warnings, is in the bin. Could be a tight finish now.

England clear but not for long as with ten minutes left Nolli Waterman uncharacteristically drops a kick on the England 10m line and Australia are back on the England 22 - but can rarely seem to get beyond it.

Six minutes left. Line out near halfway - can England relieve the pressre  now - no. Overthrown, but England recover and move on the offensive for the first time in 20 minutes. A ruck 10 m out from Australian line - and Ruan Sims infringes and is off. Australia now down to 14, England up to 15 - and Alice Richardson slots the penalty. 15-0.

And that is the whistle. 15-0. Its been harder than expected, especially the second half. But England are through to the final on Sunday.

World Cup: Live from Twickenham Stoop, New Zealand v France

The 5th place games at Surrey Sports Park are still going on (it seems), but at The Stoop the business end of the tournament has begun with France against New Zealand. Crowd a bit small at the moment - but then those currently at Guildford will be joining us later, it seems (the USA supporters will be backing Australia, I gather, which should be fun!).

New Zealand on top at the moment with eight minutes gone - but no points thanks to a couple of last minute tackles by the French who, at the moment, are playing well. Or at least they were Carla Hohepa breaks down the far wing to score, conversion missed. 5-0. Anyone who has bet £500 on a Black Fern victory looks safe for their £1 win.

20 minutes gone. Still 5-0. Match has yet to really catch fire, but the French are certainly not rolling over. However, a great 40m burst down the wing by Ferns hooker Fiao'o Fa'amausili smashes through the French defence. She is taken down, but the ball moves across the field to full back Victoria Grant. 10-0. Kick again missed - this time in a very kickable place. This does seem to be possibly the only New Zealand weak point.

Didn't take log for the next try. Carla Hohepa again, breaking through the centre to offload to Huriana Manuel who is in under the posts. 17-0 as Kelly Brazier cannot miss this one.

New Zealand handling is astonishing - so quick. Grabbing every half-chance. France pinned back now. 33 minutes gone, and its another try - Renee Wickliffe in the corner. 22-0 - and excellent kick this time by Brazier, slight breeze behind her. 24-0

[News through from Guildford that USA have beaten Ireland, and that Canada have murdered Scotland. So that's a Canada v USA for 5th place]

And another from the kick-off, Brazier slicing through the defence for Hohepa's sixth try of the tournament, converted to make it 31-0. The bookmakers have a 39 point win for New Zealand - looks like they'll do better than that!.

Its back to the French maul - and its working too. Up to the 5m line from well beyond the 22. And a penalty to France.They choose to run it, and after a long consultation its a try, in the right corner - Laetitia Salles, the hooker - and perfectly converted by Bailon. 31-7 at half time.

The second half is away - and after two minutes its nearly a try for Brazier (forward pass), but never mind one minute later Anna Richards is over - 38-7 as Brazier converts.

Its ominous. New Zealand have already gone ahead of their winning score against France at the 2002 World Cup, and are just one point behind what they managed in 2006. And there is still 30 minutes left. Front row change, however - they know that they have won! Its not as if France are playing particularly badly, just that they hardly ever get the ball!

They have the ball now (23 minutes to go) however, and its the maul again. 10m gained - but then its stopped. As a tactic, though its very effective - but its the only the the French have that is!

Quieter now - though New Zealand have a line out just inside the French 22. Lots of changes from both teams is disrupting the rhythm a bit. All in the French half with 17 minutes left - but France defending well. Trisha Hina nearly breaks through. Game moving across the field. Now New Zealand 10m out. Ball down the line to Wickliffe, but poor final ball to Lavea. Just not quite jelling at the minute, not that they need to.

But now New Zealand have a drive - and are over the line and Joan Sione is credited with that one. Emma Jensen has taken over the kicking and slots that one easily. 45-7.

Nine minutes left. At last France get the ball and run with it, now its a maul starting on the New Zealand 22, passed out to the centre  - and a penalty. Can France make double figures (would be an achievement - their best ever against New Zealand is 10). Another maul, another penalty. 10m out now. French maul very effective - but they have dropped it! Scrum 10m out, by New Zealand put in - and the pressure is lifted.

The lights are on, the crowd is building - slightly - just a couple of minutes left on this one. Disappointing second half, France unable to break through, New Zealand happy to play out time and not strain too much - taking chances when they come along, but otherwise... nothing silly. And that is it - 45-7. Bookmakers (almost) right!

Girls' rugby season starts this Sunday!

The girls rugby season gets underway at Letchworth this Sunday (September 5th) with player registration and the first training session starting at 10am. So, in addition to the regular rugby kit, please be sure to bring a parent (and chequebook!) if at all possible.

As John has already pointed out, the Herts County day is only 3 weeks later so you need to take advantage of all the training sessions between now and then to give yourself the best chance of selection.

World Cup: Its play-off time

9th/12th place playoffs at the Surrey Sports Park. A crowd of a couple of hundred of or so (Swedes in their matching t-shirts - Go North! - in one stand, Welsh in  ther other) greets the arrival of Sweden and Wales, while Kazakhstan and South Africa play in front of a around 100(which kicked off 15 minutes earlier - no score as yet).

Wales kick off. Both team in their change strips, Sweden in blue, Wales in yellow. Welsh back line looking good in the opening exchanges, but Sweden firm and gain a line out on Welsh 22. Well won, but the same problem the Swedes have had - keeping the ball for more than one or two phases - is counts against them.

Seven minutes gone and the teams seem well matched. Wales slightly bigger and stronger, Sweden a little cleverer when it comes to back line moves. The Welsh forwards seem to have a slight advantage, however, and are disrupting Swedish set pieces - Swedish scrum under significant pressure again.

[Its all over on Pitch 2 - 20-10 to South Africa]

Lisa Newton nearly breaks through - but after a 50m run is brought to earth by her oppositte number after a straight footrace - Elisabeth Osterberg the faster!

12 minutes in and this forward advantage may be beginning to tell. Welsh forward pressure has turned over a Swedish scrum, and the resulting penalty has got them to the Swedish line. Desperate defence results in another penalty and 10 minutes in the sin bin for Jenny Ohman (her second yellow of the tournament). However, Sweden survive - for now.

Mared EVans on the Welsh wing is looking good every time she gets the ball, cutting through the Swedish defence. She sets up another Welsh attack on 18 minutes, but after the ball is recyled its Caryl James on the other win who finally breaks the deadlock. 5-0, with teh conversion missed.

Sweden being repeatedly penalised at the breakdown now as pressure grows. Ceri Redman breaks through, but is brought down on the Swedish 22 - most of the play is in that final quarter now as Ohman's sinbinning has its effect. Another Welsh maul is too strong for the Swedes, the ball finding its way to Sioned Harries... who is just held up on the line.

[Its 10-5 to South Africa at half-time on Pitch 2, incidentally - but Kazakhstan are looking the stronger side, coming very close to scoring on several occasions. Two tries were scored near the break, first Kazakhstan going ahead, then South Africa replying ]

Ohman is back - but its a 5m scrum to the Welsh, but Swedish defence keeps them out. But from another 5m  scrum the ball is controlled, and finds its way to Sinoed who crashes over, converted by Arwen Thomas. 12-0

Finally with 5 minutes left in the half, Sweden get into the Welsh 22. They win a penalty in a very kickable position, but as Andersson-Hall is down (temporarily injured) they go for the line out. The best Swedish attacking move of the half develops - but again a promising position is lost as the Swedes are turned over after only two of three phases.

However, they recover well and gain another penalty when Gemma Hallet fails to roll away. Lina Norman (not Andersson-Hall, whatever the IRB say!) takes the kick about 30m out - and puts it between the posts. 12-3.

Wales soon reverse that score - Sioned Harries break the Swedish defence again, and Mel Berry touches down. 19-7 at half time (Arwen's kick awarded rather late... like 5 mins into the half-time period!).

Three minutes into the second half and the Welsh score again, Sioned Evans finishing off in the corner after a Welsh pressure from the start of half. 24-3.

But Sweden are not finsihed. A series of Welsh substitutions may have leveled things up. Westin-Vines skips through the Welsh defence to score her third try of the tournament - 25-10, as Norman converts.

[Its 20-10 to South Africa now - close game on Pitch 2, near its end]

Looking much more even now. Can Sweden get back two scores in 15 minutes? Most of the play in the central third of the pitch - but Sweden's Achilles heel remains their pack, Wales now dominant at the scrum, and could now finish things with that advantage. Safe- even driving - on their own put-in, while Sweden  cannot rely on ball from theirs.

[All over on Pitch 2 - South Africa winning 20-10]

Lisa Newton almost breaks through - brought down after a 50m run by her opposite number - the faster running Elisabeth Osterberg. However, this puts Wales in a great attacking position and after 5 minutes of pressure they score again with a try from Laura Prosser. 29-10. 5 minutes (or so) left.

[Ground is filling up with Americans.Stands nearly full. A few Irish here and there...]

Another Swedish scrum, turned over again by Wales - and its Jamie Kitt touching down after a run from Mel Berry breaks the line. 34-10. And the whistle blows.

So its South Africa v Wales for the 9th place on Sunday, and Sweden v Kazakhstan for 11th.

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