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...

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.

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