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...

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Undercurrents not going in the right direction?

Another article about the Canadian pay-to-play protest (below) has come out (see here) - and I suspect there will be more (indeed I hope there will be lots more).

This article gives a bit more background - but of more concern is that it also unearths some worrying developments.

First, there is the news that annual "CanAm" test between the USA and Canada - one of women's rugby's oldest fixtures - has been dropped this year due to funding problems. In a way its not a major problem, and  no real a surprise especially when the teams will meet at the Nations Cup, which starts next week. But even so it is hardly good news.

What is more worrying is that it is pretty clear now that if you want to play women's rugby at a high level in North America then an ability to shell out $4,000 or more per year is of greater importance than actual ability.  A sport - and especially a team sport - that restricts itself to the financially comfortable is not a sport that can ever grow. Admittedly, to be an international in any amateur sport costs - as one of New Zealand's leading players revealed this week - but, having put in all that time, missed all those holidays, put careers on hold, and then still being presented with a four digit bill - even having to buy your own international shirts for heaven's sake! - is plain wrong when if you were male you would not have to do the same!!!!

What is even more remarkable, however, is that a clear impression given that men's and women's rugby in North America are financed separately - it is not one game - and that IRB funding systems not only allow this but even encourage it. Funding is tied - earmarked - to certain gender exclusive projects.

Isn't this meant to be one game? Is it even legal? Where would your average rugby club be if it put all its income from male and female members into separate accounts, and then said that women and girls could only use the facilities that their account paid for? The High Court, presumably....

And that is all before you read about the strong hint that - unless the WRWC 2014 includes a proper African qualifier - Kenya at least will cease to play 15s, which will presumably mean Uganda will as well as they will have no-one to play. You cannot remotely blame the Kenyans - what is the point of a XVs programme if it leads no-where? It could be brinkmanship by the Kenyans, of course, but is this is real evidence of a possible reduction in 15-a-side rugby. What would the IRB's view on this be? Would they care?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Women's international rugby: ¡Viva la Revolución!

There are signs that the patience of women rugby internationals is beginning to snap, with these top level international athletes becoming increasingly fed up are being treated as second class citizens by their unions.

Spanish women protest in May
You will remember the Spanish rugby players demonstration before the FIRA European Championship final - in their cases about the disparity between the amount of preparation the men's team were given compared to the women.

Brooke Hilditch: Protest leader
Now, in Canada, three of the nation's senior team have pulled out of the their Nation's Cup squad days before the tournament is due to start. The reason? Because, in a year when Rugby Canada has spent C$1.8 million the men's national team, everyone selected for the women's team has had to find C$2,900 of their own money before they could play. And this for a tournament to be played in Canada (apparently the U20s had to find C$4,100 each to play in their Nations Cup last week!).

It is - simply - indefensible. Canada's women are 6th in the world - is their men's team likely to reach these heights? Ever? Hardly! Rugby Canada spokesmen have spoken about the lack of funds at this stage in the women's four year cycle, but will members of their men's team be faced with similar demands next year? Do Canadian men's age group team have to cough up? Silly questions, really!

I guess there is always a danger that some unions would rather cancel their women's programme rather than offer any equality of funding or support, so protest can be a calculated risk - but it is great to see that some women in some parts of the world are no longer content to make do with the scraps that fall from the table. 

¡Viva la Revolución!

Going to Loughborough next year? The women's rugby club needs YOU!!

Message from former Legend Jess Robinson.

If you are going to Loughborough University next year the women's rugby team are inviting all freshers to pre-season training, which starts on 19th September. A Facebook group  has been set up for freshers - so if you can make training, or just want to ask about the team ahead of Freshers week, please join the group.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Like it LOUD: women's rugby from Africa

Those who were at the World Cup last year will recall that the US supporters would have won the title of the loudest supporters at the tournament. Well, it now seems that they may have a rival - should Uganda ever be allowed to play outside East Africa.

Video highlights of last weekend's disputed Elgon Cup tie between Uganda and Kenya has now been published and, as well as an impressive crowd, the quality of play isn't bad either. It is criminal that these teams never have an opportunity to play anyone else, and it would be a nonsense if South Africa were again allowed to waltz into the finals of the 2014 World Cup without being challenged by one or the other (or ideally both).

First half highlights
Second half highlights

Monday, July 25, 2011

A new star from the Lone Star State?

Take a look at the face, and remember the name - Amelia "Meya" Bizer. England - and all of us - may be seeing quite a lot of her in the future.

Rugby football's junior rules discourage, or actively ban, kicking until very late in a player's development - its pretty much the last skill that is added to the mix. This is mainly to stop football-obsessed boys - who will have been playing the round ball game from the moment they could walk - from putting boot to leather all the time and never developing handling skills.

This is all well and good for boys, but it remains a major barrier to the girls' game. Girls' pre-rugby sporting background is invariably sports like netball and rounders. Young girls just don't play sports where you kick, and this is a major reason for the women's rugby's greatest weakness - kicking.

[Incidentally, you'd think that any sensible governing body promoting the women's game would actively encourage kicking from as early an age as possible in order to overcome this problem, so (for those who have worked with the RFUW) it can come as no surprise to learn that the new U13 rules - which RFUW are thoughtlessly and painfully forcing through for next season - will ban all kicking. No girl in England will be able to put foot to ball until the start of new two-year U15 band (school year 9!). Perhaps the RFUW are embarrassed by the size of some of England's recent wins and want to close the gap...]

Its a problem that seems to be worldwide and, as a result, pretty much all of the world's best kickers are imports from other football codes. Soccer has given us (amongst others) Caroline Colley (Scotland) and Nicole Beck (Australia), Gaelic football produced several Irish stars, most notably Niamh Briggs (Ireland) - and now it looks like we have the ultimate cross-over. Because Meya Bizer, who debuted for the US U20 team in last week's Nations Cup, comes from American football.

"I didn't know there was women's American football" I can hear some of you say. True - there isn't. And that is, in a way, the point, because Meya - 18-year old graduate of Woodlands High School in Texas (somewhere near Houston, apparently) - plays the game with the men. What is more, she is currently attending the University of Saint Mary’s (Leavenworth, Kansas) on a (American) football scholarship won in competition with 500 male players of her own age.

How come? Well, partly because she has been playing the game since she was 11 or 12, but mainly because she is a kicker. And a very good one. For those who don't know much about this slightly weird cousin of rugby union, American football allows for specialist players to come on and off the bench at key points in the game. So, if the team needs to take a kick, they wheel on the kicker who does just that. Admittedly they then have to stay on the field until the next break in play (which is never very long), but it does mean that Meya occasionally has to get into contact, a "problem" which copes with admirably, from all accounts!

This is useful as Meya's opportunities to play rugby in Woodlands were limited by her local club barely having enough players to form a team. However, she went to the US U17 trials, was spotted by U20 team coach, and fast-tracked into the state U19 side.

Rugby was all a bit different to the game she grew up with - “I expected it to be fast, but didn’t expect it to go from a ruck and all the way through the back line all within about three seconds,” she says but after converting a 40-yard penalty in a West vs East trial game US coach Bryn Chivers knew he'd found something.

Meya is far from the finished article yet - she probably needs to develop her kicking in play - but it is clear that she has given the national U20 team a new option. Any penalties within range (and for Meya that is pretty much anything in the opposition half) can now be turned into points, while most tries are now worth seven points for the USA instead of five. That was the crucial difference between the USA and Canada in the game that decided who would make the final - both scored two tries, but Meya added a penalty and a conversion to give the USA a 15-10 victory. She also kicked two penalties in that final.

Come WRWC 2014 Meya will be 21, with five years of rugby experience behind her (not to mention four years of American football at university level). The USA will be aiming to reclaim their place in the world's top four - and, just as Nichole Beck helped transform Australia - it could be Meya that helps USA achieve their ambition.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Women's rugby podcast: impressive production, remarkable ignorance

A new, free, women´s rugby podcast was launched a week or so ago. Launched by  talkSPORT's Kathryn Anastasi, the first issue one looked at the 7s game and previewed last weekend's European Sevens. As a result, its a shade out of date already - but still well worth a listen.

This production itself is faultless - very professional (aside from the mildly annoying bloke who unnecessarily pops up between the various items and makes irritating comments) with interviews from RFUW Head of Performance Nicky Ponsford, England star Maggie Alphonsi, Head England Sevens Coach Barry Maddocks, and editor Ali Donnelly. You can now download it from iTunes at - and I suggest you do exactly that.

That said, the main thing I learnt from the production was how scarily ignorant RFUW officials are about their own game. Nicky Ponsford in particular starts off by confidently stating that the European Sevens has been "in place for 10-15 years" when it has barely been running for half that time (the first tournament was in 2003, and England did not enter until 2005); she also says that England have done quite well "recently", when in fact they have always done very well. England have the best sevens record in European rugby.

Nicky then says that the FIRA tournament is and will be used to decide who qualifies for the Sevens World Cup when, in fact, it doesn't -  last time, in 2008, FIRA suspended the usual tournament format and ran something completely different - and we have no idea yet what they plan for next year, FIRA have not said (and I know that because a rather more turned on coach from another European nation told me).

Nicky also then says that there are very few international women's sevens tournaments, which really isn't true. There is no official IRB women's international circuit - yet - but this year there have already been a dozen or more tournaments featuring international women's teams, and England could easily have played in half of them. Does Nicky not know about Amsterdam or Rome or Las Vegas or Hong Kong? What is more, if Nicky thinks there are too few sevens tournaments then the answer is actually in her hands. Not only could the RFUW maybe run one themselves (instead of leaving it all to the unions of far smaller nations), but - as is mentioned elsewhere - sevens is popular, and the appearance of an England team at events like - say - Prague Sevens in August would transform the event, probably pulling in more teams and sponsorship. Obviously if you just sit around waiting for just FIRA or IRB to put on events for you then your email box is going to look a shade empty because this is not how it works. Take the initiative, Nicky!

Elsewhere the interviews with Maggie and Alison Donnelly (from ScrumQueens) are good, but its a shame, in a way, that the latter comes at the end. Alison asks a number of awkward questions about what England are playing at with their sevens policy which really could - and should - have been put to Nicky Ponsford and Barry Maddocks, but aren't. As a result these two get away with some annoyingly bland replies to relatively tame questions. Trouble is that we all know how much RFUW hate being questioned about anything - could it be that Kathryn is worried about upsetting people? I hope not.

So - a really good start. A great listen, and very revealing (perhaps unintentionally!) - but please don't let the RFUW get away with it - ask them the questions we want them to answer!

England U20s retain Nations Cup

An impressive performance last night from England - comfortable 48-11 winners over a plucky USA side that has (from all accounts) improved significantly since 2009, but which never seriously looked like causing an upset. Indeed, the celebrations at the end when the USA finally crossed the England try line said it all - for the older Former Legends it reminded me a lot of the celebrations the first time we scored a try against Welwyn and, to be honest, the difference between the teams (and, come to that, the final score) is also very like the Letchworth v Welwyn games of around 2004 or 2005. There is also a small off-the-ball near the end of the first half which may well revive some more memories of these and later games in that series.

The USA were also unlucky to come up against an awesomely good England U20 team - it might have been different with last year's team (well, England would probably still have won, but not by anything like the same margin). Indeed, these young players have a few things to show the senior squad when it comes to handling and back line moves. Not entirely faultless, but sometimes pretty damn exciting to watch.

Despite the quality of their backs, the basic tactics adopted by the U20s are also very similar to those of their seniors - wear down the opposition with a forward-based game that makes full use of some unusually fast forwards. Indeed its interesting that the speed of forwards seems to be prioritised by England above strength and size. USA seemed to have the more powerful pack, but when England front row are at every breakdown well before the opposition it really does not matter how much more powerful they are.

The commentary team commented on how England use forwards in the line, and how confusing opposition teams found this - bit when you have a tight five that are as fast as centres its a great tactic, especially when the handle like centres too. What this all meant was that the USA rarely got beyond second phase, and that white shirts seemed to be everywhere (and it was great to see white again after the migraine inducing horrors of the sevens last weekend).

In fact, it clear that the current England 7s squad will - in the short term - probably have more to fear from this team, maybe, than the seniors. Good though the team in Budapest was, I think come 2016 there will be more Olympians from yesterday's team than from last week's. Anyway - watch the video below. Its well worth it. Earlier Canada beat South Africa  to take third - also worth a watch as it was way more competitive than the score (38-5) suggests.

Video streaming by Ustream

Saturday, July 23, 2011

U13s: RFUW blunder on...

In all the excitement and good news flowing from the international scene, many of us may have forgotten about the RFUW's bid to torpedo the very system that has ensured that England have a world beating U20 team.

The U13 shambles staggers on, as confirmed in the latest newsletter. The one concession - allowing U12s with previous experience to play U15 rugby next season (but only next season) remains, but the ears have remained closed to all other appeals.

So, in a very few weeks time, a whole new game will be introduced. A game with no coherent set of  published rules, no trained coaches, no trained officials, and no sign of any of the promised training materials (well, not that I have heard).  A game that is being sold as a form of glorified tag or touch - which can be coached by people with only tag qualifications - but which, in some interpretations of the if those rules we have seen, would seem to allow for significant levels of contact.

But all this has been said before - it makes no difference - because this is nothing to do with improving the game - we only have to look at what has happened in California this week to see that there isn't much wrong with junior girls' rugby in England if it produces players like that! It has everything to do with sports politics and money - and, I suspect, of RFUW having to show the RFU its making an effort, even though most of the loss of player numbers is a men's problem.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

England U20s - Champions of the World!

There can be no doubt - England have the best Women's U20 rugby team in the world. Last night (well, it kicked off midnight our time, so really early this morning) they beat South Africa 66-7, thus completing an unprecedented clean sweep - beating every other national women's U20 team in the world in the space of just under six months.

The match was webcast live last night - but can be watched starting here (for technical reasons - ie. lots of fiddling to get the kit to work properly - its in several bits. After you've watch Part One, subsequent parts can be found on the right of the screen).

England began well with an early unconverted try from Hannah Gallagher, but slipped behind to a breakaway and looked a bit messy (especially compared with their opening games) for a while, before the difference in experience began to tell and the tries began to come. Midway through the first half England regained the lead, after which tries came as regular intervals. After that there was only going to be one winner.

Now this squad have one more game together - the final against the USA (who, against all pre-tournament expectations, beat Canada 15-5 in the other game) very early Sunday morning (around 1am our time - so if you cannot sleep why no tune in a cheer them on. Or invite some friends round and make a party of it!). After that its back to the drawing board again - that is the nature of age group rugby. The core of this team will be too old next season, and a whole new group of girls will have to - somehow - fill their boots, which could lead to some very different results (remember that last year's England U20s lost two of their three games!).

Until then let's salute the best U20 team women's rugby has ever seen!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

War (of words) breaks out in East Africa

Something unpleasant is brewing in East Africa following last weekend's game between Uganda and Kenya, which Uganda won by 29-10, overturning a 22-10 defeat the previous week, to win the Elgon Cup.

Or maybe not. The trophy was not awarded at the end of the second game because the Kenyan players refused to hand it over. They said that the Kenyan and Ugandan Unions agreed that the first game alone would count this year, as Uganda said that the return leg in Kampala could not not take place due to a lack of funding. As a result, after their win in Nairobi on 9th July, Kenya were awarded the cup.

Uganda's players and officials do not dispute this - but they say that "after the women’s game and the trophy being handed over to the Kenyans, the chairmen of both unions announced at the dinner that Uganda had secured late sponsorship and would be able to host the return leg that would determine the Elgon Cup winners. Both teams cheered with the Kenyans promising to beat the Ugandans at home." As a result, after the return game on 16th July, Uganda's players and supporters celebrated, telling the world of their triumph - a win that was reported on rugby websites (well, those interested in women's rugby).

It was only 24-28 hours later that Kenya's view on the matter began to leak out. Responses from supporters to Facebook posts questioned Uganda's win, pointing to a newspaper article reporting Kenya's win. Slowly a Ugandan response to this is growing ... and its beginning to get unpleasant with one side already accusing the other of being "unsporting".

The main thing to note from this is that all of this information is coming from unofficial sources - players, supporters, journalists - nothing is coming from the Unions themselves. In fact the Ugandan RFU have published nothing about their women's team since back in January. Kenya, on the other hand, produced a preview on 6th July - three days before the first game - which muddies the water still more, talking about "the Elgon Cup first leg clash against Uganda on Saturday 9th July 2011".

So what happened between the 6th and 9th July? Was anything agreed (in writing)? And what was said after the first game? Who knows - because both sides are saying completely different things! The trouble is that - unless the Unions (and, if need be, the IRB) get a grip - this has all the ingredients of something that could get very nasty indeed.

Sports vacancy for recent graduate/school leaver

An opportunity is available for a recent university graduate - or someone looking to get into Sports Development - to join the County Sports Partnership in Bedfordshire and Luton and support in
the delivery of community sport.

"team BEDS & LUTON" is a (grammatically challenged) organisation, core funded by Sport England to deliver a number of services which "contribute to increasing participation and widening access to sport, physical activity and the achievement of sporting success for all age groups", and are key to delivering the authorities participation target, as set by central government.

They are looking for what they describe as "an enthusiastic and motivated individual to work in the area of
volunteer and club development, whilst supporting our marketing activities and helping run local and
county events". The post holder will be responsible for promoting, developing and managing the new volunteer legacy programme ‘Sport Makers’ working with a number of our partner organisations including local authorities, schools, universities and community sports clubs and groups.

You will need to have an interest in sport (which, if you are reading this, is a given); work well in a team (ditto); have strong organisational skills; be a good writer and communicator; and be creative when developing plans.

If you are interested you should contact Graham Keen on 01582 813 761 for an informal discussion. You can obtain an application form and job description by either calling us on 01582 813760 or send a
request via e-mail to CV’s can also be submitted but must include a personal statement and covering letter.

This opportunity is aimed at recent University graduates or for A-level and above students who are
looking for a career in Sports Development. Closing date for applications is 5pm on Friday 12h August 2011

Monday, July 18, 2011

England U20s a game away from history

England U20s beat the USA last night (well, 2am this morning) and are now just one step away from a truly remarkable achievement - beating every other team in the world in a single year. Six other nations have U20 teams, and this year England have already beaten five of them. Only South Africa remain.

You can see a recording of last night's game (with sound this time!) below:

RFU Match report:

England U20s 37 USA U20s 0

England Women Under 20s maintained their unbeaten record in the Nations Cup in Santa Barbara on Sunday night with a comprehensive 37-0 victory over the USA.

England, who defeated Canada 41-0 on Thursday, ran in seven tries to nil with Richmond scrum half Fiona Davidson claiming a hat-trick of tries. There were also touch downs for Bristol’s Rebecca Hughes, Gloucester Reds’ Rachel Roberts, skipper Harriet Mills and Saracens’ Hannah Gallagher, who has now scored a try in every game she has played in for the U20s.

England U20s Head Coach Amanda Bennett said: “This game was a step-up in terms of performance especially in the areas of defence. The USA were unable to score against us and that is testament to our discipline, organisation and pride in our tackle completion. The USA were physical, tenacious and determined but our team organisation, game understanding and patience paid off.

“After two games, everyone in the squad has had pitch time and we are faced with selection dilemmas going into our third game against South Africa on Wednesday. We now turn our attention to the Boks, who have improved in each game. We know we need to repeat, and improve on, our performance against the USA if we want to reach the Nations Cup final on Saturday.”

It took England 16 minutes to break the deadlock and make their mark on the scoreboard. No. 9 Davidson claimed her first of three tries after England’s pressure on the USA’s try-line paid off. A ruck just three metres out saw the ball popped out to Davidson who crossed the line unopposed on the blindside. Worcester’s Ceri Large couldn’t make the conversion.

The tourists moved into a 10-0 lead soon after with wing Hughes finishing off some good work from the midfield. Amber Reed was tackled just short of the try-line but the ball was recycled along the line for Hughes to finish in the corner.

The conversion was missed as was a penalty on 30 minutes but the one way traffic continued for England with Roberts touching down for a 32nd minute try. England turned the ball over at the scrum, and the ensuing ruck was secured by Davidson who moved the ball out wide for the Gloucester Reds full back to finish off.

Skipper Mills had the final word for England in the first half with a 40th minute try after England penalised the USA. Some scrappy ball by the hosts saw the ball turned over on the try line and Mills picked up from the base and was driven over by the pack to score. With Large adding the conversion England headed into the second half with a healthy 22-0 lead.

Just like the first half, England had to be disciplined and patient after the restart, taking another 15 minutes for the Red Roses to underline their dominance on the score board. A USA line out saw England pressurise their ball carrier and move America backwards. England forced the turnover and the ball was quickly moved by England with Davidson finishing off the move to claim her second try.

Davidson didn’t have to wait long for her third touchdown after the scrum half collected the ball from the back of the scrum and dived around the blindside to score in the corner.

Saracens flanker Gallagher meanwhile continued her impressive form for England rounding off the 37-0 victory with the seventh and final try.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

News from the islands

The women's rugby world is growing, but is still not fully connected - and two of its more important "islands" of rugby had their major championships this week.

East Africa's teams - especially Uganda and Kenya - have been playing women's rugby for close to a decade now but rarely get to play anyone outside their region at sevens, and never at 15s. The Women's Rugby World Cup passes them by - it might as well not exist.

However, that does not stop them playing - and improving their game - and yesterday saw the second leg of the annual competition between these two great rivals, with Uganda (in orange) taking back the Elgon Cup with a 29-10 win over Kenya on the day, and a narrow 39-32 win overall.

Since 2006 Uganda have played 14 internationals and Kenya 12 - but they have never played anyone other than each other, or neighbours Rwanda. If the World Cup in 2014 is to be a truly worldwide competition they must be given the chance to at least enter.
A similar challenge faces this team (right) which lives in another island of rugby - in this time literally so as this is Trinidad & Tobago, winners (again) of the NAWRA Caribbean Championship - rattling up the small matter of 179 points in three games, while conceding a single try. One player - Juliana Straker - scored 79 points on her own!

Yet they too never play anyone else, with their regions World Cup places going to the USA and Canada without either having to ever compete for them on the field. Again - somehow - T&T must have a chance to qualify for Paris '14, otherwise what is the point?

Who needs a sevens programme?

It's England... European Sevens Champions! And all this despite something terrible happening to their shirts in the wash (well, that or their tactic was to pretend to be Dutch...)
So - who needs a specialist sevens programme? That might be the conclusion from England's win today at the European Sevens Championship in Bucharest. After a fascinating (and rather warm) tournament, England lifted the title for the fourth time, beating globe-trotting 7s specialists Netherlands and Spain on the way - the latter twice, including a dramatic 17-7 win in the final (which may be shown in Eurosport 2 at around 9pm this evening).

England's new-look sevens team were at their first international tournament after preparations which included three domestic club sevens (resulting in three finals, and one win) since June, and the big question was how this preparation would compare with teams that have played nothing but sevens for the better part of a year.

The answer was pretty well. Admittedly the draw helped, with an opening game against one of the weakest teams in the tournament (Romania), who were swept aside 46-0, before a game against the only international side England were familiar with - Sweden - who were beaten 20-5.

Netherlands v France. At least one team knows what
shirts they should wear...
Now well into their stride, England went into what amounted to a quarter-final with Italy, and ran out comfortable winners again, this time 20-7. With a semi-final place effectively assured, the pressure was off for the games against Spain (15-5 win) and Germany (33-7).

RFU report on Day 1

If England's Pool A had gone more or less to plan, the same could not be said for Pool B. France were shattered by an opening defeat to Portugal, not recovering until their fourth game - by when they were out of contention. Netherlands were sweeping all before them - until they lost their key player, Kelly van Harskamp - sent off after two yellows against Portugal. With their best player unavailable they lost their next game to Russia, meaning that they would meet England in the semi-finals.

This proved to be an incredibly tight game. With van Harskamp back after her one game suspension the Dutch were very dangerous - but in the end it was they who cracked. Two crucial errors either side of halftime were enough to give England a 14-0 win, and a place in the final... against Spain.

Amazingly, every European Sevens has ended with either Spain or England in the final - and, for the third time in seven events, they met each other. England had won every previous game the two teams had played, and after four minutes a Spanish error gave England the lead. But it did not last - and Spain came back, going in to half-time 7-5 ahead.

To confuse the world at large, this score then appeared on the tournament website as the final score, prompting celebrations at the Spanish RFU in Madrid. However, it was not to be for Spain. England roared back in the second period with two tries and a dramatic 17-7 win.

RFU Report on Day 2

So - do you need a Sevens programme? Well, truth be told it was a "damn close run thing" (to misquote Wellington) and, in the end, it is probably England's professionalism and familiarity to pressure that will have seen them through. What is clear, however, is that the rest of Europe are gaining. The "OMG its England!" factor still plays to England's advantage, but the Dutch at least are less fazed than they used to be (going from 52-0 in 2008 to 14-0 now), and Spain were within minutes of winning as well. With the Dutch - as a result of their 3rd place - getting full-time professional funding from their Olympic Committee, the gap is going to close even more. And that is before you take into account what is happening in Sevens outside Europe.

Fortunately, of course, England do now have a Sevens programme - in essence it starts here. We are promised a dedicated squad who will tour the world, alongside the Dutch, Spanish, French and Canadians - amongst others. Next year could see this European Championship expanded to a three tournament event, as well as a World Cup qualification process. 2013 will be World Cup year, then it'll be straight into Olympic qualification. Its going to be an exciting ride.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Women's international rugby's big weekend

This is one of the year's biggest weekends of international rugby with international championships and tournaments being competed for in four countries on three continents.

The NACRA Caribbean Championship reaches its climax tonight (or early tomorrow morning our time) with host nation the Cayman Islands taking on Trinidad & Tobago for the title. Cayman Rugby TV will have all the action, and an ever so slightly biased summariser from around about 2am BST, though recordings of all games are available for viewing at a more civilised hour. In practice T&T (as they are universally referred to) should stroll it as they seem to be a mile ahead of anything else in the region, with player-of-the-tournament Juliana Straker very likely to add to the 41 points she has personally racked up in just two games to date - but what this tournament has shown is how much the teams desperately need competition from outside their region.

Tomorrow in Kampala the second leg of East Africa's Elgon Cup takes place, with Uganda attempting to overturn a 12 point defeat to Kenya from the first leg in Nairobi. Like the NACRA tournament, this is a fiercely contested annual competition involving teams that live an isolated test match life, playing no-one but themselves. If the game is to grow they must be given a chance to play outside their region - and the World Cup should (in theory) allow them to do that. In the meanwhile, though Uganda may shave a win its probable that Kenya will retain the overall title.

At around the same time in Bucharest the FIRA European Sevens Championship kicks off. This one is the "top division" with the leading 12 nations competing for the title. In practice it will be a battle between five teams - Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy and England - with the last three in the "group of death" that will see one of them knocked out before the semi-finals.

It should be fascinating stuff with England's mainly 15-a-side superstars up against sevens specialists, most notably the Netherlands. Can players from the long game easily convert to the wild and hectic world of Sevens, or is the short game now almost a separate sport in its own right? We should have a clue by Sunday. England have selected a much stronger team this year than the one that finished 5th last year in Moscow, and will be expecting to make the last four as a minimum, but the Italians, Dutch, Spanish and French are pretty much at full strength.

The big game in the opening pools will be England against Italy on Saturday afternoon - win that and England will be in the last four after which... well, anything could happen. I fancy Netherlands to just take the title, but with Spain and England not far behind.

The tournament will be shown live on Eurosport 2 in many parts of Europe.... except in the UK.

Then late Sunday, early Monday we have round two of the U20 Nations Cup with England and the USA - the two winners from round one - face-to-face. England will win, of course - they brushed past Canada in round 1 and most observers would see the Canadians as a step or two ahead of the Americans. South Africa will, meanwhile, be aiming to recover from a disappointing opener where - like their senior side at the world cup - they suffered badly from poor discipline, throwing away a great start to lose comfortably.

The ongoing internet problem at Storke Field will probably mean no live feed for this round, but again a recording of the game should be available for breakfast viewing on Monday morning.

Follow the Nations Cup from inside the USA camp

The USA team have again set up a blog giving an insight into what it is like to be part of an international team, from the preparations to the tournament itself.

USA Rugby U20 WNT blog

Nations Cup, round 1: England v Canada (and an apology)

First, apologies to everyone who tuned in at midnight last night - it seems that there was no internet feed available at the ground, so YSC had to record the game and then rush it over to somewhere where there was one. Bit of a blow to faith in US technology! On the plus side a recording of the whole match is available, below. For some reason there is no sound, except for the first second or so when you can hear someone say "I'm going to turn it off"...

A complete text blow-by-blow account this game and USA v South Africa is also available on YSC - and I guess, unless or until the lack of web access issue is solved, that is going to be the best way to keep in touch with the next round of games. The third round and final are to be played elsewhere, so hopefully we will get a live feed from them.

In the meanwhile if you do not know the result watch below, or page down to the end of this post...

Results from Day 1: England 41, Canada 0; USA 25 South Africa 3
RFU Match report:
England Women U20s 41 Canada Women U20s 0
England Women Under 20s inflicted an impressive 41-0 defeat on Canada in the opening round of the Nations Cup in Santa Barbara on Thursday night. 
The England young guns ran in a massive seven tries against their North American rivals and Canada had very little response. 
Bristol’s Rebecca Hughes and Saracens’ Hannah Gallagher ran in braces of tries whilst there were also touch downs for Natasha Jones, Katie Mason and Ceri Large. Bristol centre Amber Reed added three conversions 
England Under 20s Head Coach Amanda Bennett said: “The aim for this opening match was not just to win but to make a statement of intent. We wanted to demonstrate that we have built on the success of our spring games and improved in many areas, not least our defence. 
“Canada dominated parts of the game especially at the scrum, and we were often forced on to the back foot. However, our organisation and execution in defence proved to be a crucial element in the victory as our tackle completion and turnovers meant Canada rarely got close to scoring. We made the most of the turnovers, some of which were eventually converted into tries. Our midfield and back row worked extremely well together to turn possession over.” 
England started at a furious pace, registering their mark on the scoreboard after just five minutes. A good drive through the centre from Old Albanians hooker Geri Thomas saw the ball taken on by fly half Jones. Despite taking a crunching tackle she retained possession and crashed over under the posts. Reed added the conversion. 
England maintained their pressure and were rewarded on nine minutes with a second try, which saw good hands throughout the backline setting up Bristol winger Mason for a try in the corner. Reed this time couldn’t make the conversion but it did not matter as England soon extended their lead to 17-0 on 20 minutes. 
The score was the first of Hughes’ two tries, but there was also some excellent support play from Alexandra Matthews, Reed and Jones. Jones also made an excellent line break followed by some good interplay between Jones and Hughes, which gave Hughes the space to score.
Again Reed missed the conversion but England took a healthy 22-0 lead into the break with Gallagher touching down for England’s fourth try. 
Canada held England back in the opening stages of the second half, keeping England pinned in their half for some time. The Red Roses, however, broke the deadlock on 53 minutes with Gallagher again at the heart of the action. 
An excellent drive by Mason down the right wing saw the winger come close. Gallagher was in support and picked up to muscle her way over the line from three metres out. 
Canada had their chance to put some points on the board with two consecutive penalty attempts but they weren’t successful and England moved ahead with a late run of tries in the dying minutes of the game. 
On 78 minutes, England overturned Canada after a period of sustained pressure from them. Prop Emily Kingston moved the ball out to Hughes, who sprinted 60 yards to outflank the Canadian defence to score in the corner. Reed added the conversion to make the score 34-0.
Worcester centre Ceri Large added the final try after a good break by Emily Scott saw her come close to scoring. Large was in support and a good Scott offload saw her finish off the move with a simple run under the posts. Reed’s third conversion handed England the 41-0 victory. 
England U20s next play hosts, the USA, on Sunday and Bennett added: “On Sunday we will face a very confident USA team that is relishing playing on home soil. We have plenty to work on in the next two days but the positives from this opening game are many and we are looking forward to the challenge.”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Watch the U20 Nations Cup here LIVE: Tonight

The U20 Nations Cup - including England, USA, Canada and South Africa - kicks off next week, and you can watch all the games here - live - thanks to a live webcast being organised by USA Rugby and YSC.

The England party includes four Hertfordshire girls - two of whom are in the starting line up for England's opening game against Canada, which kicks off at midnight UK time.

***Sorry - for some reason the video is delayed by four hours... no idea why...***

England's other games will be:
USA v England (July 17)
England v South Africa (July 20)
Consolation Finals/Finals (July 23)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Anticipating a big win?

RFU to provide mathematical support
for spectators of the Nations Cup?
The U20 Nations Cup kicks off tomorrow, and - going by the RFU website - England are quite supremely confident.

Admittedly they have every right to be - after all, they have won every game they have played in the tournament, and - against North American opposition - average over 50 points per game.

However, it seems that England are so confident about a big win in their opening game that they suspect that spectators will have problems keeping up with the score, and as a result professional assistance will be provided.

Or, as they put it in the match preview on the RFU website...

Okay, I am maybe the last person who should be making fun of someone else's typo... Sorry, Julia :)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Women's rugby's ultimate all-rounder?

Meet Emmi Laine, who will be playing for Finland in the European Sevens this weekend. What is so special about her? Well, she is one of the more remarkable, not to say busiest, people in the rugby world.

Emmi, 28, who comes from Jyväskylä in Finland is, presumably in her "spare time" (being as its pretty unlikely that anyone in Finnish rugby gets paid) ...
  • Finland's first ever female international rugby referee (refereed at the European Sevens Division 2 tournament two weeks ago)
  • Centre/wing for Finland's 15-a-side national team
  • A leading member of Finland's sevens team ("player of the tournament" at the Amsterdam Sevens in 2010)
  • A leading administrator with Finland's national rugby union
  • The IRB's "lead contact" for women's rugby in Finland
  • Organiser of Finland's famous "Lumirugbya" (snow rugby) tournament
In short, there is almost nothing in Finnish rugby that she does not seem to do, other than maybe drive the coach. Is there any one person anywhere else in the world more involved with in every aspect of the game than Emmi?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Exercises for girls' rugby

Just come across these short videos of various individual exercises, aimed at girl rugby players, but really relevant to any young players - or come to that anyone else. They have been put together by Carl Walsh, coach of West Park U15s in Leeds.

They are pretty good. Some of the positives...
  • The drills are simple, low intensity exercises relying on repetition
  • No weights are used (as such things are, with good reason, frowned upon for young players)
  • They are all individual exercises, so can be used for all sizes of training group
  • Nonetheless many would make good warm-up exercises before a team session
  • The instructions are clear, with good information about the purpose of each drill
As well as being of value to players, these videos would be really useful for anyone doing GCSE PE or similar, not least as an example of how to make simple, clear and effective exercise videos!

The first video is below - the other seven can be found here

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Another ex-Legend flies the flag

Chloe (left) and her team-mates
News from northern France where ex-Legend Chloe Baker has been playing for Leeds Met in the European Universities Rugby Sevens championship.

Its a bit grand a title for what is, in essence, an invitational sevens for universities mainly from England, France and Germany (plus one from Portugal) - but what is very clear from the limited news and results from weekend is that a) its huge fun and anyone who gets a chance to go in the future should not miss out, and b) English teams are well off the pace when it comes to Sevens!

It's a tough game when your opponent is 7'3!
As Chloe reports "My team did really badly but it was a great tournament. The French, German and Portuguese sides were all really strong and the tournament was really well organised."

Chloe's team were not alone in "doing badly". Ten universities took part - four from England, three from France, two from Germany, and one from Portugal. And it was the Sevens specialists from Portugal - the University of Coimbra - who took the title, while France's three entries finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th. The English and German entries disputed the minor places, with Chloe's Leeds Met team - national champions (at 15s anyway) - finishing 8th.

Randy takes on England

A nice picture here of ex-Legend Rosie Randfield taking on yet another international opponent in her career with the British Army team - in this case England at the Newquay Sevens.

Unfortunately the game did not go well for Rosie's team, who lost 44-0 - and England went on to win the tournament, in their last warm-up before they travel to Moscow for the European Championships later this month.

More LIVE women's international rugby

Next week's Nations Cup will not be the only women's international rugby available via live webcast this week - the Caribbean XVs Championship in Grand Cayman will also be broadcast live, starting tomorrow evening (our time).

The Caribbean championship is one of the longest running, but also isolated, tournaments. First played in 2003 it has been played more or less annually since 2006. The whole tournament takes place over a single week - much like the European XVs championship.

Unfortunately the many of the region's RFUs find the cost of getting their teams to the tournament too expensive, and rarely has there been an event where every island took part. As a result a Caribbean Select team has now been formed so that the leading players from any islands unable to field full teams can still play.

Previous winners:
2003: (in Trinidad) - Trinidad & Tobago
2006: (in Jamaica) - Jamaica
2007: (in Cayman Is) - Cancelled due to a hurricane
2008: (in Guyana) - Trinidad & Tobago
2009: (in Barbados) - Trinidad & Tobago
2010: (in Bahamas) - Cayman Islands

None of the teams taking part have ever played any outside the Caribbean so it is difficult to know how they compare with the rest of the world. However, this year the tournament takes place in the Cayman Islands - probably the wealthiest member union in the region - and it is promised that all of the games will be available via Cayman Rugby TV - so we can at least watch the games and make our own judgements. Unfortunately, the kick-off times are not that user-friendly.

2011 match schedule:
Sunday 10th July:
10pm (UK time) - Trinidad vs Caribbean Select
Midnight - Cayman Is vs Jamaica

Wdnesday 13th July:
2am: Jamaica vs Trinidad
4am: Cayman Is vs Caribbean Select

Friday 15th July:
2am: Jamaica vs Caribbean Select

Saturday 16th July:
2am: Cayman Is vs Trinidad

(This does beg the question - again - about why, if rugby unions in the USA and Canada and Latvia and the Caribbean and so on can all manage to webcast their games, why unions in the UK and Ireland are still in the technological dark ages...)

Monday, July 04, 2011

A new force in women's rugby?

Ukraine (blue) in action against Latvia last weekend
Watch out leading rugby nations of Europe, the Ukraine are coming...
  • Before 2009 they were the largest European nation that had never fielded a women's rugby team
  • In 2009 the entered the European sevens for the first time. After a heavy defeat in their first game, they recovered to win finish third.
  • In 2010, lessons learned, they stormed the Division 3 championship, scoring 182 points in seven games while conceding only one try, demolishing pre-tournament favourites Hungary in the final.
  • What its like to play the Ukraine...
  • Last weekend, in Division 2, they did it again. Only more so. This time - against theoretically tougher opposition - they blasted their way to 300 point in sevens games, again letting in but one try. The closest game was a 31-0 thrashing of Belgium, while their semi-final and final saw then rack up 88 points against the Czech Republic and Switzerland - two pretty decent teams.
And in 2012? With Ukrainian feet under the top table - and World Cup qualification to be decided - there will be a few nations looking a bit nervous. Teams like Netherlands, France and Spain probably have little to worry about, but for other countries likely to be scrambling for the last couple of European places at Moscow 2013 it looks like a pretty serious rival has appeared, almost from no-where. Russia will be definitely pleased that the hosts will not have to qualify!

Beyond that... obviously this explosion has a lot to do with the Olympics, though there must have been something there before 2009 for the Ukrainian RFU to build on. The big question - and the big test of the IRB's policy in promoting sevens to expand the game - will be whether or not the Ukraine can or even want to transfer their sevens skills into the more serious and testing XVs game. Here's hoping they will!

Barette - solving the mystery of French rugby?

More on the French game of Barette has now come to light.

As mentioned yesterday, this was a game that was very similar to rugby and was widely played by women in France in the 1920s.

Digging round a bit more I have discovered that the game was rather older than the 1880s, as described yesterday. That seems to be the date when the game was codified, with one set of rules based on the way the game was played in Paris. However the game was far older than that, and was mainly played - to a range of varying rules - in the south west of France, or in other words the very areas of that country where rugby is the principle game today.

Barette was - in effect - "French football", a game developed from a variety of local football-type games, much in the same way that rugby and soccer developed in England - and for much the same reasons (ie, so it could be played in schools, and so that schools could play each other).

The game they came up (and there are more details here) with was spookily similar to rugby, so that the sports looked practically identical. However the differences were there - and significant. To tackle the ball carrier you had to touch not the player (as it had seemed in the films) but the ball itself. If you managed that and called "hit" or "touch", a scrum was formed. However, originally this was a circle of players who gathered round the ball after it was dropped on the ground and kicked it until it emerged from the circle (clearly by the 1920s a rugby style scrum had replaced this near chaos).

In fact, the more you look at it the more it seems be the answer to one intriguing question. After all, why did rugby gain such a hold in France? It is the only country outside the Empire to ever fully embrace the game (though admittedly the USA came close). And the answer seems to be barette - a local game that was so similar to rugby that it must have been very easy (and tempting) switch from a "quaint" local "schoolchildren's" game to a sport that not only offered the prospect if international competition but - at the time - seemed likely to be the world's leading football code. And with barette so popular in the south west it is also no surprise to see that rugby also became hugely popular in that region.

This also probably explains barette's eventual disappearance - because the leading suspect in the death of barette must be rugby itself. By the 1920s only women seem to be playing it, and then all it needed was a change in attitudes to women playing sport  - as happened at the same time in England (where women's soccer was banned) and in Australia (where women's rugby league suffered the same fate) - and the sport died. Today no-one appears to play barette anywhere.

Which just leaves one question - what did the women (such as those above) think they were playing? If asked if they were playing rugby would they have said "yes - it is the women's form of the rugby" (much as camogie is the women's form of hurling, or netball was for many years the women's version of basketball), or would they have insisted that - despite appearances - it was a totally different sport? I suspect the former, but as its now nearly 80 years since barette was played we will probably never know.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Barette - women's rugby 100 years ago

Frederic Humbert (of the Rugby Pioneers website) has uncovered a new picture of a very early women's rugby team, in this case from 1925. In practice it looks like this is a "barette" team - a form of rugby that was popular in France in the 1920s (you may remember a film from 1928 appeared here back in 2008).

Hunting around a bit, I've now unearthed the rules of this game - worth a look, especially with the proposed U13 rule changes that the RFUW are seeking to impose. Another French rugby website - - gives the following information:

At the end of the nineteenth century rugby is far more widely played in France than football, but even so children at many schools in Paris and the provinces did not play the game, but instead played a simplified game which was very similar: Barrette.

The "barette" was an was ovoid ball (like a rugby ball), consisting of a rubber bladder wrapped in leather and measuring about 30cm long and 20 wide. The sport was played on a field, or some other place big enough to allow the free movement of twenty to thirty players divided into two teams. It was possible to kick the barrette, or pick it up and carry it towards the opposing goal.

There were two methods of scoring - either a kick (sending the ball between two posts) or placing it between the posts. If a player failed to do either but instead placed behind the goal line outside the posts, they won an "advantage" and were entitled to a free kick at goal (these scoring rules are all but identical to early rugby rules).

What was special about this sport (compared to rugby, as played at the time) was that any contact or violent aggressive action is prohibited. An opponent could get in his way of the ball carrier, but not struggle with them. They just needed to touch the player carrying the barrette and shout "hit!" Play would then stop, and a  scrum would be formed. In summary, when created (in the 1880s) it was like rugby, but with less violence.

From its introduction it spread quickly. The first inter-school championship began in 1890 with three teams, eight the following year and 15 by 1892. The clubs appeared in the provinces with a growing membership. School children played almost every day, alongside their studies, work and family life, and the quality of play improved.

By the 1920s the game seems to have become an exclusively women's sport, with rules about contact relaxed (if the film clips are any evidence). National championships took place, but the sport never seems to have been played outside of France - and in the 1930s - 50 years after being introduced in schools - it seems to disappear.

What is fascinating is how much this reminds me of the U13 rule debate. The motivation - the creation of a simplified, less aggressive form of the game primarily for use in schools - is identical. The form of play - sort of glorified touch or tag - sounds very like what is being proposed today.

The interesting question is whether it worked, and the answer seems to be a qualified yes - there were more players playing a rugby-type game than there would otherwise have been BUT there is no evidence that Barette players moved in any measurable numbers into "proper" rugby. No true women's rugby develops (unlike in Australia and New Zealand 10 years later). Instead all that happens is that clubs are formed to enable players to carry on playing the simplified game into adulthood. The question is whether history will repeat itself 100 years later, and whether RFUW will consider the creation of lots of adult tag players to be a success.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Euro Sevens: Eyes on Riga

After the excitement and razzmatazz of yesterday's big announcement for the XVs game, its back to Sevens this weekend and the Second Division of the European Championship.

The goal for the 12 teams playing in the Latvian capital this weekend is promotion to the top division of European Sevens, and maybe through that qualification for the 2013 World Cup.

And it could not be more wide open. Really. 10 of the 12 teams taking part can all harbour realistic hopes of winning the prize - only Malta and Israel will be starting with worries about likely relegation in their minds.

Switzerland in particular will have a point to prove. Beaten finalists in 2010 they were overlooked for promotion to the top table following Wales's withdrawal in favour of Romania (because they are hosting the First Division) - a decision that provoked the response "WTF?! We *thrashed* them last year!" from one of the Swiss players (other responses are less printable).

However, they will not have it their own way by a long chalk. Ukraine and Norway, both up from Division 3, look good - Ukraine in particular, who have blown most opponents away since they appeared on the women's rugby scene only three years ago. Throw in teams like the Czech Republic - arguably central Europe's leading team - as well as Andorra  and Belgium (who have both appeared in the top division in the past, and are desperate to return there) and it promises to be a fascinating weekend.

Even better, a live video feed is promised. Fingers crossed on that one...

World Cup promo: you have GOT to watch this

If there is a best prize for the best ever women's rugby promotional video then this wins. Hands down. Especially if you went to the Women's Rugby World Cup last year (or even watched it on TV).

So stop what you are doing, sit down, pump the speakers up to 11, and watch this...

And meanwhile, more reaction to yesterday's announcement...

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