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, December 31, 2012

Looking back

As 2012 comes to an end a few thoughts come to mind.

On the "home front" I came across the team picture from Rochford and its a shock to realise that the triumph of the Letchworth Girls at Rochford Tens is a full six years ago now. All of the "girls" from that day have, needless to say, grown up - two have children of their own. Others are working or coming to the end of their higher education studies. Several still play - most notably Jess Robinson, who played in the Dubai Sevens again a few weeks ago. They were a great bunch and I miss those days, though maybe not when the weather is like this!

Beyond that it is often a shock to see the outcome of stuff that I have written, even (maybe especially) stuff that starts on here. It was, after all, on this blog that the world first heard of Emily Valentine - the first woman in the world to play rugby (that we know of). Her story has spread and spread - its been rewritten and published in Italy and Germany and Sri Lanka and Fiji... and now, in New Zealand, she is a brand! EmVale is a new women's health and sports range, whose name comes from Emily.

Its things like this that make a total amateur blogger and occasional "reporter" (well, that is what the press pass said) feel... well, slight scared to be honest! And rather pleased as well.

There were other personal highlights in 2012 - especially the London Sevens, and meeting and trying to talk to the great Kelly van Harskamp in front of 70,000 very noisy spectators at Twickenham counts as a lifetime moment. And to also get to meet other players as well was amazing. And its really hard to keep the "fan" at bay when you are pretending to be a journalist and ask journalist style questions! But the great news is that it looks like I will get another chance to meet them all, in Amsterdam in May! At last I might get the chance to see Spain play, live - that is worth looking forward to!

Its not all been sweetness and light, though. Returning to matters domestic it must be clear to anyone with eyes to see and half a brain that girls rugby in England is no-where near as strong as it was when Letchworth were playing only 4-5 years ago. The great gamble to putting all of the development eggs in the school sport basket just is not paying off - the statistics of players in schools and school teams entering competitions is up dramatically, but there is no sign at all that even a fraction of these "new" players are staying in the game beyond 13-15 (ie. when the school game stops). The club game in key areas - like the north - is in a pitiful state. Yorkshire cannot raise a county team in both age groups. Something has gone disastrously wrong - and its very upsetting to watch. Hertfordshire continue to do well, compared with the country as a whole, but even in the best organised county attendance at county trials is, from what I hear, down by 60-70%  from the heady days of 2005-06.

It will take about 10 years, probably, before this hits the national team. In the meanwhile (and to end on a positive note) England are truly the best in the world now, certainly at 15s and maybe next year at 7s too. That is really something.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Never complain about the state of the pitch again...

The picture below comes from a women's international between Burundi and Rwanda, played on 15th December, details of which have only just come to light. There is a positive story here about the spread of the game, etc. but I think the main thing to look at is the pitch.

This is, I remind you again, an international. Rwanda will have travelled for quite a long time to get here and presumably this is the best that would be available to the home team. Drowning does seem a real threat in some areas...

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Q: In which country is the national women's rugby team fronting their sponsor's poster campaign?

And, moreover, without the prefix "women's"?

Could it be New Zealand, home of the World Champions? No. Australia, then, home of the Sevens World Champions? No. England? Currently home of the best women's rugby team ever? Daft question.

No. It is a country where rugby is not even a major sport. I give you...
Holland (the slogan means "Clean. Strong. Power" apparently).

All sorts of thoughts come to mind here, like...

  • When did you last see (Olympics-related advertising excepted perhaps) any women's sports team promote any product in the UK?
  • Why the heck not? This is, after all, a pretty powerful - and eye-catching - image.
  • Yes, okay, phrases like "posing pout" have been used but even so its still probably one of the most positive images of women in advertising that I have seen for some time. Compare and contrast with how women are being portrayed by people like Asda at the moment...
  • As well as advertising the product (nuclear power, apparently!) this is a brilliant way of advertising the sport as well.
  • "Sponsor of the Netherlands Sevens team" you note - not the "Netherlands women's sevens team". No prefix. That is a level of subliminal recognition that is pretty remarkable.
  • This is a minority sport in Holland. But note the lack of explanation as to who they are. It is roughly the equivalent of a campaign in the UK being fronted by the British women's handball team, so who says you need to be big media stars to be valuable for advertisers?
  • Add in the knowledge that this sponsor only sponsors the women's team - and it was the players themselves who went out and won the deal. Any team that has a sponsor-less shirt should maybe see it as an opportunity.
  • Who is the promotional genius at the heart of the women's rugby set-up in Holland?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The weekend's county festivals cancelled

Breaking news: RFU have cancelled ALL of this weekend's senior and junior festivals due to the weather, flood warnings, and saturated pitches. See here for official statement.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

England poised to be the best in the world - ever

After last nights 16-13 win over New Zealand the England are on the verge of becoming the best in the women's rugby team in the world - ever.

This is really one for the statistical geeks out there, but since women's test rugby began 30 years ago the "league table" of the most successful teams (that have played 20 tests of more) looks something like this:
In fact the top six have been pretty much unchanged for the past 20 years or so, but if England were to win the current series 3-0 we would see the first significant change for two decades. For the first time ever England would go top. 

England's record would go up to 87.56%, while New Zealand's would fall to 86.72%.

Even if England were to win only 2-1 the gap would close to barely one percentage point, which is pretty remarkable as after the World Cup the gap was nearly 10 points. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

U11 girls rugby - in Holland!

Just had to put up this great picture of Dutch international Mara Moburg coaching some 9-11 year old girls in the Netherlands. Partly because its a great picture (they are all hanging on her every word), partly because U11s in Holland clearly play contact, and partly because it shows again  how international the game really is.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Celebrating 25 years of test rugby in North America

More or less exactly now, but 25 years ago, the first ever women's rugby international to be played outside Europe took place in Victoria, British Columbia, in Canada. USA won 22-3, which was really no surprise as they were way ahead of pretty much everyone and went on to win the first World Cup four years later.

No-one seems to be wanting to celebrate this much, though the US women are at this very moment getting together for their tour of France and Italy so may have other things on their minds.

Anyway, its a even worth marking by someone... so well done to the US and Canadian women!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

NZRU - New Zealand women's rugby's worst enemy?

20 years after the NZRU took over the running of the women's game, a remarkable article has appeared highlighting how badly treated the women are ("NZRU must stop treating top Women rugby players as Second Rate"). When rugby tournament have to cut costs it the women's teams that suffer; the Black Ferns will be playing with shirt sponsors next week but thus far it seems none of this money is making its way into the women's game (the entire tour is being funded by the RFU); and it seems the NZRU's funding of women's sevens may even be illegal under the rules of Olympic sport so far is it behind their funding of the men's game.

Yet despite all this the Black Ferns will undoubtedly be the greatest challenge England will face all year. Four times world champions despite their governing body the information detailed in this article shows that they must be the greatest miracle workers in modern sport.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Calling all students and past players!

Not played rugby since the U18s? Or back from university, but without a club? Then there is special festival for you!

19th December is normally the date for the boys students festival, for players who've gone off to Uni and are back for Christmas. However for the first time a senior ladies match has been organised - if there are enough people interested in playing! 

If you are interested contact - by 16th November. It takes some planning so please please let him know if you are interested.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Women's rugby: the early days

A chance find had revealed a collection of 45 fascinating photos of women's club and international rugby in England and Wales from the mid-1980s. That may be barely 30 years ago, but for women's rugby its almost prehistoric!

The photos - which can be found buried in the Daily Mail's Picture Archive - include...

Several pictures (right) from games involving the Wiverns - the first ever women's rugby team from the US to tour Europe.

A national side in all but name (the USA - and come to that England - had not started playing test rugby in 1985), the Wiverns went undefeated throughout a long tour of the UK and France.

Many of the players went on to be part of the USA team that would win the first World Cup six years later.

A picture (left) from the first ever women's test match to take place in the UK - Great Britain vs France, a year later.

The picture shows France's Maris Gracieux tackling Great Britain's Suzy Hill.

The match took place at Richmond in London on 19th April 1986, France winning 14-8.

If you look carefully you see that the GB team have tape around their arms. This is because apparently the GB shirts only arrived minutes before the kick-off - and were found to be several sizes too big. The players had to tape up the sleeves to stop them flapping around... but the shirts still seem a big baggy!

Various club and university matches from in and around London are also featured (some in some very dodgy kit), one including a very young Carol Isherwood, as well as two pictures of the New Zealand team from the first world cup in 1991 doing a haka - apparently in the middle of a huge open field.

It all makes for a fascinating bit of women's rugby history.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

More tales from the real world

Apart from much of my writing appearing elsewhere, I felt reluctant to write on here what I have been hearing because its always so negative. But in the end there is a paucity of real good news about girls' club rugby, hence last week's review. Now some more information had found my way.

Remember Yorkshire? A few years ago girls' rugby in Yorkshire was so big they were not just a county, they were a region - on their own. Their clubs were feared across the country (for all sorts of reasons).

And now, after four years of centrally imposed leagues, in the third year of the glorious U13 programme, and with player statistics higher than ever before? Yorkshire cannot raise a U15 team.

You start with frustration, then anger, then despair, then... It is the worst sort of nonsense where those in charge of the sport seem interested in just the numbers, because numbers on paper mean grants that... well, I suppose they go somewhere.

But all the evidence - I mean ALL the evidence - is that player numbers - REAL player numbers - are falling through the floor. Yeah, girls are being introduced to the sport in record numbers in schools, and more schools are playing in more tournaments than ever before BUT practically none of these girls are making their way to clubs.

U15 rugby should be booming this year. Three years after the start of the U13 programme, its graduates should be flooding into clubs. But traditionally the single biggest girls rugby county cannot raise a team. All of Yorkshire cannot find thirteen U15s interested in playing rugby. WTF????

The wonderful nationally imposed leagues shrink year on year, and now I hear that (unofficially) rules that restrict guests players in league matches are being quietly shelved just to get matches going.

I hate to say that some of us told you so, because that hardly helps.

(If someone has some good new stories about expanding rugby at U15 and U18, please let me know. It would make a huge difference...).

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Girls' rugby still in decline?

Yesterday was a big day for women's sport - an important Parliamentary committee was looking into how to keep the legacy of female success at the Olympics going and there were tales of interest and numbers up, but also information about how few girls - especially teenage girls - play any form of sport at all.

Which raises the question about what is happening with girls rugby. Remember that only five or six years ago Hertfordshire could expect 100 girls to turn up to county trials, and draconian restrictions had to be introduced into regional rugby just to keep the numbers trying to get into the teams down. New competitions like the Herts Sevens were attracting more entries that it knew what to do with, and the game was booming from the north-east to south-west. It was, officially, the fastest growing girls' sport.

And now?

Northumberland - a hotbed of girls rugby in the early 2000s, with much-feared clubs like Darlington and Tynedale - had barely enough players turn up for county trials to form a U18 team, and not enough at all at U15s (10 in fact).

In Hertfordshire numbers trialling were 36 for U18s - way less than five years ago - but actually up on last year thanks to a big cohort of players graduating from U15. More worryingly, however, fewer players seem to be coming in at the bottom - only around 20 turned up for U15s, perhaps half the number from last year.

Overall the country numbers playing at club level now seem to be lower than they have been for 10 years or more - though we cannot be certain of this as the official stats are wildly inflated by the numbers now playing in schools.

And schoolgirl rugby is indeed on a high - more schools entering tournaments than ever - but, as the county trials show, practically none of them are moving to clubs. And this is the third year of the U13 scheme should have seen - all those players introduced to the game by the U13 rules should now be moving into U15s... but  there is no sign of that happening.

One hint why from Northumberland - of their 25 U18 players, six play other sports, and all sports that got TV coverage in the summer. The rise of women's sport means that there is competition for sporting girls, and rugby (still largely invisible in the media) is losing out badly. Maybe things will improve after 2016 when sevens joins the Olympics, but that is four long years away.

Solution? My suggestion would be to look back to 2003 and recreate the world that made girls rugby thrive. No leagues, a game that moved seamlessly from mini rugby to the girls game, a game not overburdened with regulation, a game where a broader range of ages could play together (albeit unofficially!), and a game that worked through the clubs. And a game where England men were the new World Champions, of course. That helped too...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Best women's rugby video ever?

Sorry about the long period of silence, but most of my writings now are on Scrumqueens.

But this remarkable video - from Norway of all places - deserves wider notice. Its very artistic, and frankly brilliant. Entirely instrumental backing means that it has potential value for use in presentations and promotional events. Watch, enjoy.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Herts Senior Trials

Date: Sunday 30th September meet at 2pm, trials end 4pm
VenueTabard RFC Cobden Hill, Radlett WD7 7JN
Eligibility criteria:1. 18years or over, no upper age limit.
2.A trialist needs to either live in, or play rugby in, or have been born in, Herts.
3.A trialist must not have been awarded a full international cap for another country within the last 3 years.

We are hoping to arrange  a warm up match (venue TBC) on Friday October 19th under floodlights against Buckinghamshire Ladies county team.

The county fixtures are:
1. 4th November away to Essex
2.18th November at home against Kent. venue will be OA's and the U15's and U18's will be playing the same day, so a wonderful day of female rugby!
3.a Festival on either 1st or 2nd December- details TBC.

Training will take place the Friday evening before each match.
( excluding the warm up match.)

Your coaches will be Nat Granger and just waiting on confirmation of a fowards coach.

You do need to Register your intention to trial before Monday 24th September.
Please e-mail Amanda Bate, Team Manager the following essential details.
3. mobile number of birth
5.County of birth if you do not live in  or play rugby in Herts
6.Club you play for.
7. please give your 2 most preferred positions you would like to play in.

Any questions, do please ask.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Title IX for the UK"? Should sport equality be a legal requirement?

An interesting article appeared today about how to achieve a more level playing field in UK sport, and in particular whether we can learn from a US initiative called Title IX.

This was an amendment made to higher education law in the US back in 1972. Quite simply, it said that when it came to funding and participation no universities could discriminate between sports based on sex. Actually (needless to say) its a bit more complex than that in practice, and controversial, but it is widely believed to be the reason why female sports participation has grown by up to nine times since 1972, and why female US athletes won more medals in this years Olympics than men.

The question is whether we need something similar over here. Obviously the US is a very different place - university sport is hugely important over there, whereas in this country to say that "no-one cares" would be a gross understatement - primary school sport probably gets more interest and coverage.

So, while a Title IX applying to university sport funding would be a nice thing, its pretty unlikely that it would have the sort of effect it has had in the US. However there are plenty of other sports bodies that are publicly funded which could be put under similar requirements - Sports Councils, for example, or individual sport clubs and governing bodies. So, if a club received a grant, it would have to comply with Title IX-type regulations.

The article asks for feedback as well, so what do you think?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Congratulations to North Herts Crusaders

Congrats to anyone involved with North Herts Crusaders (men's) RL team - East League winners in their first ever season, which is pretty amazing. Okay, not a women's team so slightly off topic, but major regional titles don't come to this area that often in any sport, leave alone one based in Letchworth.

The team was based round a pretty solid core of pretty talented players from Letchworth RFC (which bodes well for them next season I guess), so they were hardly new to this sort of sport (though RLis a bit different) but still...pretty impressive.

The scoreline (63-30) was even more remarkable considering the team they beat certainly were not newcomers to the game.

So well done everyone - and worth a reminder that if enough women over the age of 16 wanted to play the game NHC have said that they would be welcome.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A whole new piece of kit

Details of the latest law amendments were published recently. Some, concerning rucks and scrum engagement have already been the subject of much discussion - not to say ridicule in some quarters. However there are a few others that are worthy of comment.

1. GPS. Players can wear GPS equipment during games.This apparently is not in order to ensure that the concussed props know which way to face after half-time, nor is it to ensure that the game can continue on particularly foggy days - apparently it is because some professional clubs now monitor exactly where each player goes during the game. Amazing. The coaches will be using remote control next...

2. Tights. Female players can now wear "cotton blend long tights with single inside leg seam under their shorts and socks". It will be interesting to see how long it will be before such tights appear in equipment catalogues, what funky colours will be on view, and how quickly we will see equipment logos on them.

3. Conversions. Apparently kickers will now have 90 seconds to do their dances, throw grass into the air, say their prayers, smile for the camera, give interviews, sign autographs and generally waste time before they kick the ball. Why? 60 seconds always seemed more than enough.

More seriously, there are some interesting videos for referees (but also good for players) highlighting the things that refs are supposed to be particularly looking for next season.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Great Britain women win World University Championship

The FISU World University Championship for women's rugby sevens has been won by Great Britain for (I think) the first time. A powerful squad packed with internationals breezed to the title with wins over Romania (27-0), Japan (31-5), Spain (24-0); Belgium (26-5); Italy (38-5) and, in the final, hosts France (24-7).

This represented a pretty significant improvement on the last championship in 2010 where GB finished only 7th. The reason for this is that, for the first time, the British unions have taken the tournament seriously and allowed current internationals to take part, as well as releasing England's Susie Appleby to coach the team.

Lead by Emily Scarratt (Leeds Metropolitan), who scored one of their four tries against France, the team included players from universities in England, Scotland and Wales and, as well as Emily, featured players such as Izzy Noel-Smith, Vicky Fleetwood, Sarah McKenna, and Steph Johnston. Vicky and Izzy had also played in 2010, before they became England internationals.

The GB men's team also won their tournament.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Sasha completes Legendary bike ride

For those who have not been following it, Sasha Acheson and Poppy Cleall have just completed an amazing charity cycle ride from Land's End to John O'Groats... and back!

One month, over 1700 miles, and over £2000 raised (more than twice their target).

Congratulations girls!

Sunday, July 08, 2012

If this is true, is it fraud?

A few weeks ago I reported a dramatic (but generally unpublicised) rise in player numbers in England, as reported by the RFU to the IRB.

The adult player number rise made sense - it matched the sort of numbers that have been reported by Sport England for some years. However, the rise in junior player numbers was extraordinary - like a 3,000 to 10,000% rise in reported player numbers since 2009, which (even with under-reporting of girls) seemed difficult to believe. However, it is rise that is being used to support the RFUW (and now RFU) policy on the U13 game.

What was not clear was where on earth this data came from as a claim that there are over 129,000 teenage girls playing rugby just does not match with the declining number of teams playing in leagues, etc. In short - wherever this figure comes from it certainly is not (solely) club registrations - it must now include schools as well.

Okay, if that does include schools then - in theory - that is fine. A girl playing regularly at school can learn the game just as much as at a club, and will be quite capable of moving onto divisional play, etc.

However the key here is "regular". Girls who play in just one tournament, based on maybe a handful of PE lessons and no regular programme of inter-school matches - and no club rugby - are not rugby players. To call them so is a nonsense. They had - at best - sampled the game.

But  I hear from a well placed source in one region, that that is what is happening. I am told that junior player numbers in this area are being extrapolated from the "100 or so girls from six schools turning up for ONE school tournament for Year 6 and 7".

For a game's officials to pretend that these are "real" players is at best dangerous self-delusion. Dangerous because it can hide endemic problems within the game, which - in this particular region (a region that was until recently one of the strongest in the country) - seems to be the virtual collapse of the club game at U15 and U18 level. It means that an official, changed with expanding the game, can hit all their "targets" despite what is happening in the real world.

However, if a game is knowingly using this meaningless data to extract grants from government by pretending that the game is dramatically expanding and has many more players than it does then... is that not fraud?

One defence might be that everyone else is doing it - and I am told that Rugby League in the same region is using similar methods to compile its junior player data.  Its not much of a defence, though. And even if it was, it does give a picture of various sports - including rugby union - spending so much time and money coming up with ever more clever (but ultimately meaningless) schemes to increasing player statistics that they do little or nothing to increase the actual numbers of players. Frankly, the people who involved in this sound like a load of bankers.

And its all probably not unrelated to the report last week that pointed out how few people from state schools (as opposed to independent schools) now make it to the top and win, for example, Olympic medals - because most of this grant money is supposed to support and develop talented state school sports people.

I may be wrong, of course - and if anyone has any more evidence one way or another I'd love to see it.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Goodbye, RFUW - we are now one game

Today rugby in England became a single, unified, game. Its taken a long time - three or four years since "integration" began. Outwardly we have been one game for a while - England's women players have been playing under the RFU rose for some time - but today the final moves behind the scenes took place. All of the RFUW's staff have now moved to roles within the RFU.

All of the statements today have been positive - RFU Chief Executive Officer Ian Ritchie said: “We are very much looking forward to combining knowledge and resources and to welcoming new colleagues from the RFUW. This is a progressive move to make the Union even more inclusive going forwards, with our ultimate aim to broaden the reach of the game to the widest possible audience. Joining forces with the RFUW will allow us to do that”, while the new RFU Head of Performance (Women's) - ex RFUW MD Nichola Ponsford was also positive - “Of the many positive changes I've seen over the years, integration is certainly a high point. It is a recognition of the hard work and commitment of the organisation’s staff and volunteers, the vision for the game set early on and the commitment shown to overcome all the challenges."

And with reason - the resources potentially available to the women's and girls' game now dwarf anything that it has ever known before. However, it remains potential - and women's and girls' rugby will still have to fight for those funds, and there is always the risk that the demands of the bigger men's professional game will swamp the amateur women's. That, after all, has been the tale in some other countries - from France to New Zealand. Indeed its actually quite hard to think of countries where a merger has been a total positive. Japan probably? Wales possibly? Ireland, perhaps?

By and large the "integration" has gone well - so far - with increased media profile via access to RFU contracts, for example - but there have been negatives, like being swept up in the problem reducing player numbers - an entirely MALE problem - but which has resulted in the U13 game being forced on the girls' game to solve a problem that did not exist. It was a policy brought in just to increase some statistics - to give the impression that player numbers were growing, and it seems from the outside to only make sense as part of something to benefit the whole RFU because surely no-one who knew anything about girls' rugby would have introduced it voluntarily.

However, integration does now mean that all of the petty personal rivalries and personality clashes that can affect a small organisation should no longer be possible. The expertise is there - and the grants too, as a unified games with a single governing body will be a bigger attraction. 

Integration is a risk, but there was no other choice - and  if those who play women's and girls' rugby are willing to fight their corner it will work.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Just the funniest women's rugby blog ever

Scrub that - the funniest rugby blog ever.

No... the funniest blog of any sort.

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Go here now.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A bit quiet on here this summer?

Compared with previous years - yes - there is less on here than before because most (but not all!) of my summer coverage of the international women's rugby circuit is now on appearing on ScrumQueens.

Come over and follow all the women's rugby news on there!

Needless to say, anything on the junior game - or anything that is rather more opinionated - will continue to appear here!

Letchworth girls reunion - 4th August

In case you've not yet had an invite, Carla is calling for everyone with a previous connection with Letchworth Girls' rugby teams to meet up at the club on 4th August, when Letchworth are hosting the (men's) Herts 7s.

More info on the Facebook page,

Thursday, June 14, 2012

More on our legendary "pro" rugby star

A quick update on our most successful ever former Legend - Rosie "Randy" Randfield - who is now literally touring the world with The Army rugby team, here pictured on their way to Australia where their tour started at the end of May.

Randy has also played rugby league for the army, and even cricket. How much army-related stuff she does that is not sport related is unclear - presumably not much as she can hardly have the time!

Monday, June 04, 2012

Massive rise in women player numbers in England... but don't tell anyone...

Questioning RFU and RFUW's player statistics has been a continuing theme of this blog for some years. The way in which Twickenham appeared to be wildly under-estimating the number of women and girls playing rugby was first pointed out in 2009, and a post last autumn pointed out how laughably inflated the number of boys playing the game seemed to be.

All of these numbers were culled from the IRB website, and a few months ago - some weeks after the second article appeared, in fact - all of England's data mysteriously disappeared.

Well now its back... and its changed. Wow has it changed!

Up until recently (like when I last looked in detail, which was about 2009) the data said that there were around 180,000 men playing rugby in England, and a mere 6,000 women. Or about 3% of the total. Well, now RFU are claiming there are 131,000 men... and 25,000 women.

That means that 16% of adult rugby players in England are women - one in SIX. It also represents an apparent leap in player numbers of 400% in about three years, which you think might be worth celebrating? On the other hand, in reality, what it does show is that all of the RFU's data published up until now - you know, the data they used to win grants from the government etc. - was probably complete tripe and it may be that they do not want anyone to know this.

Is this data likely to be any more accurate? Well, yes - it probably is as it is a much better match for Sport England's 2009 estimate of 17,500 women players than the old 6,000 figure was. Note that France have recorded a 17% rise in their player numbers in the past 12 months alone, so a rise from 17,500 to nearly 25,000 in three years is not impossible.

The corresponding drop in male players also suggests that the theory put forward on here - that, due to defaults on the Rugby First database many female players were being registered as male - may have been correct.

What is even more amazing, though, are the junior numbers. Pre-teen players are up from 2,787 in 2009 to 408,072. No - you have not misread that, that really is a 10,000% increase. Teenage player numbers are up from 3,794 to 129,121 - a paltry 3,000% rise.

Now, RFUW can claim all they like about the success of the U13 scheme, but it ain't that good. I would instead suggest that  the data they used to justify the panicked and damaging introduction of this game was total rubbish. Maybe an apology to every club in the land is in order?

You can see all the new numbers here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"If you’re not offering women the chance to play you’re excluding 50% of the population"

This excellent article details how Hackney RFC set up and women's rugby team - and why.

If you’re not offering women the chance to play rugby you’re excluding 50% of the population

Its a lesson - and policy - that should be applied to every sport club, not just rugby club, in the land. Too often women are seen as some sort of burden for sports clubs - remember Otago, as covered here recently. But the fact is that opening your club up and encouraging everyone in your local community to join makes a club/sport stronger... and richer (in every meaning of the word).

Saturday, May 26, 2012

England change sevens policy

A subtle change has been made to England's policy on sevens, which I slightly missed.

Last season a separate Sevens squad was announced - selected from the Guildford open sevens trials - which, it was said, would be only occasionally bolstered by players from the Elite squad. In practice this did not happen. After a couple of defeats in warm-up tournaments the Elite players quickly took over a larger and larger proportion of the team.

The reality of the situation has been acknowledged for next season with a slightly larger Elite squad being given responsibility for both England's 15s and 7s campaigns, while the squad selected from this year's Guildford trials is officially the "RFUW Sevens Development", and will play in domestic sevens tournaments this summer. Curiously no announcement has been made about who is in this squad (the elite squad was announced earlier this week).

Its a subtle change, but I am guessing may have something to do with the arrival of Barry Maddocks, who was already referring to last season's sevens squad as "development" in the lead-up to Amsterdam last weekend. It certainly seems to be a change in policy that has come about since his arrival - before the Guildford trials last month it was clearly said that successful trialists would be playing for England, not England Development.

Which is not to suggest for one minute that there is anything wrong with this - on the contrary it makes more sense this way - but you do wonder about the way the change has been slipped in like this.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Nations Cup to be revived next season

This summer will be the first "blank" summer for England's women's teams since 2007, but next year it will be "back to normal" for the world's busiest women's rugby team. The announcement about the England Ellite and U20 squads for next season included the news that the Nations Cup returns.

For the U20s it will be taking place in England, for the first time since 2009. No details yet about who else will be taking part, but the release also mentions a home-and-away series with France.

The senior Nations Cup will be in the USA, with England taking part on their way home after their three-test tour to New Zealand. In addition England will again play an Autumn home series against New Zealand, as well as a series with France, before competing for their 8th consecutive Six Nations title.

So that is a programme of at least 17 test matches for England over the next 12 months, plus the Sevens World Cup, and European Trophy for the A team.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Change at the top in Herts

One of the things that has kept Hertfordshire girls and women's rugby ahead of the rest over the years is a body that probably most players will not have heard of. This is may be partly because its name - the Hertfordshire Women's and Girls' Rugby Development Group - is less than catchy, but in practice it has kept the game going with ideas and initiatives that were invariably ahead of everyone else. Even the very idea of a county development group was pretty innovative when it began.

The HWGRDG has done things like create county teams before most other counties, organised things like the Herts 7s, U12 rugby, county-wide development days for players who were not away at Regional, county leagues for developing teams, and next year a county-wide cluster team. If you want to know why Hertfordshire teams do so well, why the county gets a disproportionate number of players into divisional sides, and maybe even why two out of seven of the players in England's first game at London Sevens were from Herts, the Group probably paid a part in it.

The main reason for mentioning this is that the chair - only the second chair the Group has had in nearly 10 years - is leaving. Peter McCullough, who many of you will know through Welwyn, has been in place for about five years and is at last looking to find out if there really is life outside rugby coaching and RFUW politics. He deserves the thanks and best wishes of anyone who has played or been involved with girls' and women's rugby in Herts in the past five years.

He is being replaced by Adrian Pomfret, ex-Hitchin now at Welwyn, who has a tough at to follow - not least the the current worrying trends. The way in which the U13 initiative has turned the U15 player number problem into an out-and-out crisis has been discussed before, as has the failure of the centrally-imposed leagues to create anything other than fewer and fewer clubs with longer and longer journeys to more and more one-sided games. These problems will not be going away soon.

However, the adult game in Hertfordshire also has a problem - indeed there this too is probably a national issue. After two years of repeated hammerings in the Premiership, Old Albanians are reducing from two teams to one and dropping down two leagues to lick their wounds and recover. The problem is that English women's rugby is dominated by a small number of clubs who are streets ahead of anyone else. Spanish international Patricia Garcia told me how she is pleased she chose to play for Lons in the French leagues, instead of coming to England, as it is much more competitive. In France a promoted team really can realistically fight for the title, in England OAs - despite having several international on board - lost 28 games out of 28 in two years, conceding an average of 60-70 points per game.

But it is not just OAs that have suffered in the past year - Hertford's women's team has folded. With the OA 2nd XV going the county has lost two out of eight teams in a year.

Whether this is a reflection of reductions in player numbers is, of course, impossible to say as RFU/RFUW player statistics are hilariously inaccurate (see many previous posts on this). It may be that players are gravitating to bigger clubs, and generally clubs in the south of the county. Saracens are in rude health, for example, and Tabard now have enough for a second side. It is a situation that matches problems in girls game - ambitious players moving to bigger teams, with the result that their older club collapses. In France this is tackled by limiting the number of recently registered players a club can field. No such rules exist in England.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Law changes (from August)

Some new trial law changes are coming in from August, to apply to all levels:

  • 1. Law 16.7 (Ruck): The ball has to be used within five seconds of it being made available at the back of a ruck following a warning from the referee to “use it”. Sanction – Scrum. 
  • 2. 19.2 (b) (Quick Throw-In) For a quick throw in, the player may be anywhere outside the field of play between the line of touch and the player’s goal line. 
  • 3. 19.4 (who throws in) When the ball goes into touch from a knock-on, the non-offending team will be offered the choice of a lineout at the point the ball crossed the touch line; or a scrum at the place of the knock-on. The non-offending team may exercise this option by taking a quick throw-in. 
  • 4. 21.4 Penalty and free kick options and requirements: Lineout alternative. A team awarded a penalty or a free kick at a lineout may choose a further lineout, they throw in. This is in addition to the scrum option. 
  • 5. A conversion kick must be completed within one minute 30 seconds from the time that a try has been awarded.
1 and 5 would seem to be the most noticeable changes - they will certainly have an effect in the professional game, though how much time-wasting (because that is what these changes are designed to eliminate) happens outside of the professional men's game is debatable.

2 seems nothing new, 4 also is really just directed at the men's professional game - but 3 might be interesting. Knock on, ball bounces out, whistle goes and everyone relaxes and prepares for the scrum - only for there to be a quick throw in, and...

Something to be aware of, anyway.

If you're good enough, you're old enough

Another example of the way in which the RFUW's exacting and non-negotiable age restrictions are not shared around the world. And not just in smaller nations where there are not many players - New Zealand have a pretty flexible attitude as well as this story of this 14 year-old Georgia Mason, who plays adult club rugby confirms.

Last year she also played U19 rugby, despite being barely 13. A name to watch for at the 2016 Olympics, maybe.

The only age limit seems to be on appearances in representative teams - provincial or above. Other than that it appears that Georgia can play for any team she is good enough to play for.

A weekend at the London Sevens...

The biggest thing since the 2010 World Cup, and the first international women's sevens ever held in England, last weekend's IRB Women's Challenge at the London Sevens was an incredible occasion and experience - especially for the media representatives present (er... me and Alison Donnelly of ScrumQueens).

All the facts and figures are on ScrumQueens, but from what I saw and from discussions with players from many countries a few random thoughts and impressions about international women's rugby...
Kelly van Harskamp - a distracting interviewee (see below)
  • Spain's main players were given a choice between 7s and 15s this season - all bar one chose 7s. No other country is quite as "democratic" - English and French players go and play where their coaches tell them!
  • Spain are a very strong team (not playing in London) but one of their leading players told me that she believed that Spain have perhaps 20 international quality players (7s and 15s combined)
  • French players told me how difficult it as for them as they 7s squad rarely play together - they have yet to develop an "automatic understanding" together... and it showed. They were very disappointed by their 8th in London.
  • Girls rugby is growing in Netherlands. Player numbers are up 15% and some schools are offering the game.
  • An official IRB ranking system based on the men's system should be in place by year end - once all nations have signed off on their acceptance on The List. The status of matches in tournaments will depend of tournament organisers (ie. FIRA, for instance), while for friendlies tests will be tests if both sides agree on the status.
  • A calendar for women's XVs tours for up to 4 years ahead should be agreed this year.
  • Brazil, Argentine, Columbia and Uruguay are very interested in expanding into XVs in the near future - but IRB are trying to ensure that they and other ambitious nations can walk before they run to ensure games are not cancelled etc.
  • Trinidad are similarly hoping to break out of the Caribbean
  • China's rugby sounds like a fragile soufflé - a thin crust of mainly students and elite players, but almost no club structure below it.
  • "New" names to keep an eye on from outside the Usual Suspects - Paula Ishibashi (Brazil); Fan Wenjuan (China); Anna Yakoleva (Kazakhstan); Koletsa Gadu (South Africa). Paula and Anna especially - Anna was an extraordinary glint of sevens gold in a very 15s-y Kaz team. She can do everything - kicking, great handling, runs superb lines, fast, strong - and the loudest voice on the field. You KNOW when Anna is playing!
  • All national coaches (and most national squads!) live up to national stereotypes. Without exception. If you want to party, follow the Brazilians. The happiest team with the wildest supporters are the Dutch (even before their wins). Portugal are fun to be with too. Americans and Canadians are very scientific with all kinds of American football-style Plays. And so on.
  • Most women's teams plays 7s like its 15s. The Dutch are the big exception.
  • Dutch players are all at least 6 inches taller than players from anywhere else - and if they can match their technical ability with a bit more power and strength they could be devastating.
  • England players seem to have a level of media training akin to leading politicians.
  • Dutch star player Kelly van Harskamp has the most amazing deep brown eyes which are incredibly distracting when you are trying to interview her.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Golden Gregson

More glory for former legend Sydney Gregson, now with Welwyn, who won gold at last weekend's School Games when she played for London & SE's 7s team.

Syd still has a couple more years with the U18 regional team, so more medals and trophies can be expected, and then...?

Apparently Rio will be the place to be in 2016...

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Women's rugby test match list gains equality with men's game

If you will forgive me one small moment of self-congratulation, the list of women's test matches that I began researching in about 2005 has now had official approval! The IRB have loaded the entire list onto their database, alongside the men's list. At last women's and men's test match rugby has statistical parity!

Quite when they did this I have no idea as they did not tell me, and still haven't. I had been wondering why various Unions have been quoting information that I recognised as "mine" but sort of assumed they'd been using the version that is on Wikipedia - which is what Sky etc. do.

But no - a PR guy at the Swedish RFU who I was chatting to today said he'd got all his info off the IRB website. But no, I said, there's precious little women's info on there - to which he replied "go take a look".

And there is is, in its wonderful fully searchable glory! Whoop, whoop and whoop again!

Okay, I don't actually get any credit anywhere - but I know its my research, which is good enough.

I just hope they keep it up to date!

Self congratulation mode off.

And you thought the season was over...

The weekend actually sees the start of a pretty hectic time in the world of women's rugby. The qualification process for (slightly confusingly) two different world cup kicks up a gear, with international players jetting from tournament to tournament in a madly compressed but - from the sidelines - rather fascinating few weeks.

To start with the 15-a-side World Cup may be over two years away, but the hopes of at least two nation's players - Russia and Finland - are already over as they lost on Thursday to Sweden and Netherlands. These two should have been playing today in a sudden death play-off for a place in the final European Qualifier next year, had not FIRA and the IRB changed the rules on Thursday morning. So instead they will simply be playing for an attractive piece of glassware (see above) and the European Championship "B" title.

Should actually be a very interesting game as, with most of the leading Dutch players playing sevens, the teams are exceedingly well match - the slight Dutch advantaged balanced out by Swedish home advantage.

Today also sees the climax of the French club championship - or at least the league section as they play well into June. I suspect that few readers here will be interested by this, but having been following it for Scrumqueens all year it has been fascinating - and rugby in the south of France certainly has its attractions.

Anyway, this weekend is just a foretaste of what is to come. Next Saturday the London Sevens kicks off with its (and the UK's) first ever proper international sevens tournament. Twelve great teams - not quite the world's best as there are a few obvious gaps (Spain are not there, for heaven's sake!), but should be amazing. England, Australia, Canada, USA, Netherlands...

Then in London, as the second day kicks off, in Italy the European 15s championship begins, with England playing Spain, and France against Italy. In many ways this should have been a classic, but all teams have put sevens first and have significantly weakened squads. England are flying out several players from London for the second and third round of games later in the week and actually should now stroll this as, even without reinforcements, they now have easily the strongest squad. Pity.

Never mind though as in the middle of the week - just down the road from the 15s championship and neatly clashing with the second round of games - Rome Sevens takes place, with a New Zealand team, Italy, and several other nations - before we get the Amsterdam Sevens, starting on the 19th - genuinely the biggest women's sevens tournament since the last world cup.

All this is all just a warm-up. Because in June 36 European countries will take part in the continent's sevens championship and world cup qualification process - a long and complex affair spread over four tournaments in four countries in three weeks.

It is going to be an exhausting six weeks of intense international competition, and - it is worth remembering that - in an almost entirely amateur sport.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Otago women hit their target

Women's Rugby NZ is reporting that Otago are back in the National Provincial Championship, presumably having raised the $NZ20,000 needed to pay for their entry (see previous stories).

Congratulations girls, though we must all hope that other parts of the rugby world don't get similar ideas and expect women's teams to raise their own funds.

Saturday, April 28, 2012


For the first time the Herts 7s has had to be cancelled, due to waterlogged pitches at Tring. A great pity as it looked like being another great success with teams from all over the south of England taking part, and at least one England player on hand to give out prizes.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

U13s: Important RFUW announcement

Two major announcements concerning the U13 band were made today:
U13 Dispensation will continue for the 2012/13 season All players must be 12 years of age as of midnight on the 31st August 2012 and of played club rugby during the 2011/12 season under the RFU continuum, only players that have been registered on Rugby First before the season closed on the 12th May 2012 will be approved to play U15 Girls rugby. Applications will be made through a new enhanced application form and this form will be available on line.  Any club applying for dispensation must prove over the coming season that they  endeavour to set up playing pathways for any future U13 girls. 
While the only logical decision I confess to being slightly surprised, but clubs now have about two weeks to ensure that any girls with a smattering of interest in the game are registered before the deadline as at least they will get a choice about what game they play, though realistically this is either playing U15s or playing practically no rugby at all.

And even better, of course, it means that girls with years of mini experience (ie. the ones that will go on to play for England) will not be forced to return to the rugby kindergarten.

Slightly worrying that this will continue to be reviewed each year - difficult to see what the down side is for anyone.
Introducing the U11 age band to the U13s making the age band open to all girls aged 10, 11, and 12 years of age at midnight on the 31st August 2012.Any girls playing rugby in the RFUs U11 age band have the opportunity to join an U13 girl’s side if they wish or they \can continue to play rugby under the RFU continuum. 
The rational[sic] for introducing this option is to try and stop the drop out at the U11 age group as research shows this is taking place due to the introduction of playing contact with the boys. 
Two matters of note here. Well, three. The first is the very sensible decision to expand the U13 band to a three year band - why not go the whole hog and make it a three year U12 band with no overlap with U15s, I am tempted to ask, but you cannot have everything.

Secondly - note that the RFUW seem to now be adopting the RFU definition of a person's age, not the old ambiguous "11 on 1st September" that has caused so much fun and confusion over the years. Hopefully the same will now apply to the definition of U15 and U18?

Finally - the alleged drop out from minis due to the introduction of contact. Sorry - what research? And is the problem really contact, or boys? I strongly suspect it is the latter, and not the former, being as boys of around this age do often show signs of regression into Neaderthalism which most sensible girls would want nothing to do with. But just because girls get fed up playing contact rugby with boys who are incapable of basic communication or understanding words like "pass" does not mean that they dislike playing contact. Well, that always seemed to be the case with the ones I spoke to.

Oh - and could someone at RFUW get a dictionary out and look up the words "rational" and "rationale"? Just a suggestion.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

"Claire", I am unworthy....

There are times when this blog has attempted to make the odd complaint about this and that, has expressed a degree of disappointment about certain policies or decisions, and generally tried to make a point. And such articles have attracted some comment - even notoriety. Which is gratifying.

But today I came across something that makes anything I have done on here seem positively amateurish.

I refer to this article - an open letter to "Irish Tag" about their childishly awful promotional campaign - which is simply brilliant. I am now in awe of "Claire" - true genius. Enjoy.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

All Black fronts up in bid to save Otago

The stories about the bid to save the Otago women's provincial team (see earlier article) continue apace, with new information coming out almost daily (you'd think the sheer level of publicity would result in a reassessment from those involved, if only due to embarrassment - but not, it seems).

The latest news is the involvement of All Black Adam Thomson who has made it his "personal mission to help the region and the game that has given me so much by giving the Otago women an opportunity to play." In pursuit of this he has auctioned off a 2011 RWC ball signed by the All Blacks (that raised $NZ3,240 on its own!) and Highlanders polo shirt and shorts (bids around $NZ200 each at the moment).

No announcement has been made about how far the total is from its $NZ20,000 goal - but it must be well on its way.

Save Otago Women's Rugby Facebook page
Main fundraising website
Latest: American rugby player writes about her views of NZ women's rugby, and the Otago situation

Friday, April 20, 2012

Junior Leagues - full speed for the iceberg!

Details about next season's RFUW junior leagues have been revealed, along with next season's junior calendar, in a mailing to all junior clubs. The letters detail that the planned U15 Leagues will be as last year - ie. games for between 7 and 10-a-side [odd, I thought U15 rugby was a 13-a-side game?], however the U18 Leagues could be significantly different.

While - again - games will be for 10 to 15 a-side, clubs will not be able to enter the U18 league unless they have at least 18 registered players - and there will be separate leagues for "developed" and "developing" clubs. Alternatively (presumably if there are insufficient entrants in an area) there will be a "Challenge Series" of four festivals, with "friendlies" covering the rest of the season.

The state of the leagues was discussed last month, and given the decline in both competing clubs and completed games at U15 level "carry on regardless" does seem, at best, odd - especially when compared with what is proposed at U18 level. A similar system of festivals - what sounds a bit like the old "SW League" - would actually make far more sense at U15 level.

From information I have seen about the state of U15 rugby, after one year of the U13 scheme, there is little doubt that entries for the leagues will be even lower this year. Across East Anglia and Middlesex it is likely that there are probably three - at most four - entrants (and one of those will be a cluster) a truly appalling state of affairs when you consider how many U15 teams the region had before the RFUW began its leagues. And no - the decline is not a co-incidence. Not even slightly.

With so few entrants any club entering a U15 league is therefore likely to be faced with ludicrously long journeys to fulfil their fixtures - thus guaranteeing that many games will not take place, and so the spiral of decline will continue. Its crazy - why not just gather all the clubs together in one place for a 7s or 10s festival like, well, we used to do?

The decline of U15 rugby has clearly been accelerated in this area by U13 rugby, as this has ensured that clubs have even fewer players. There is little doubt that for club rugby in Hertfordshire the U13 scheme in  has not been a disaster but a complete catastrophe. Across the county surveys indicate that there are fewer than 20 U13s who have joined a club, and only one club would be remotely capable of fielding a team.... which means that that club has no one to play! Obviously the U13s could be all brought together at county level to form a county team (like we used to do with the U12s)... if the RFUW had not forbidden inter-county U13 rugby!

Will this madness never end? Well, clearly not as the Junior Calendar (see below) now has a whole host of dates set aside for inter-club U13 rugby! ROFL! It is a level of self-delusion that is mind-blowing.

Compared to this insanity and hole digging, the proposals for U18 leagues are actually remarkably imaginative. The  festival idea is an interesting proposal which would - in effect - return the running of U18 rugby to the counties and regions with a game based around friendlies and festivals. This will happen if insufficient clubs enter the main league in any area - a distinct possibility because of the minimum number of players needed to enter. I mean, even at the peak if the junior game, about 4-5 years ago, how many clubs were there that had 18 or more players at U18 level? Half a dozen, at best, nationwide?

The one snag, however, is that this requirement may well encourage the more ambitious coaches and pushy parents to drive to set up Super Clubs of the sort we saw in the discredited and unlamented National Cup, which would be a disaster for everyone else for reasons discussed too often on here.

So - what we could we look forward to next season? Potentially it is a disaster of Titanic proportions:
  • Girls who have been playing mini rugby moving into U13s and giving up on the game either because they find that there is no rugby for them to play, or if there is its a weird form of the game that they thought they had left before at U9s;
  • A tiny sprinkling of U13 girls joining a club having started playing at school, but giving up for much the same reasons as above;
  • The odd club forming a U13 team... but finding there is no-one for them to play within at least 50 miles or more;
  • U15 leagues, but with fewer clubs than last year, resulting in teams having to travel insane distances across country to play maybe one game of 7s;
  • A small number of U18 super clubs cherry-picking the best players and playing in a national league.
Of course it may not all be like that. There are some potential lifeboats. U18 coaches may have the sense to consider all their players, and the game as a whole, ahead of the gleam of silverware and go for the festival model. And in Hertfordshire at least the county's internal U15 and U18 leagues and cluster events will continue - a fine example of what can be achieved if you ignore RFUW edicts and carry in regardless. Wouldn't it be great if the rest of the country could do the same?

Finally - the Youth Calendar for next season....

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

You won't be able to miss them

This is probably one of the few positives that can be said for the new Sevens kit that England have launched. Well, that and its better than the old one where, for some reason, it seemed we were trying to disguise ourselves as the Netherlands.

In addition, if the floodlights ever fail on a night game England will be able to play on and (I'm really struggling for positives now) its not as bad as Australia's "vomit green" affair.

And its really good to see Michaela Staniford involved in the launch - and wearing what I assume it the "first choice" shirt too.

But... what on earth is wrong with white? Why do you have to have different Sevens shirts - its not exactly likely that the sevens and fifteens teams will have to play each other.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

World's easiest world record gets broken - again

Back in October I highlighted the record of "World's largest scrum" which had just been broken for the third time in less than a year, going from 68 to 361.

Well, Thurrock RFC have just set a new record - 571, including at least one proper forward, one Maggie Alphonsi.

As you see - front row aside - it remains not exactly a taxing record to break, all you need are enough people who are capable of bending down and leaning on those in front of them.

Perhaps some may think I am being needlessly critical, after it must have taken some organisation and no doubt  it raised lots of money for charity. But come one - four minute mile this isn't! Personally I think that (at the very least) the record should only count if the scrum is contested - and even then not until the ball has been thrown in by the scrum-half and properly heeled, though how on earth they could throw it into the middle of the front rows I do not know.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

U20: England v France video

The French U20 are clear chuffed about the result of their series against England, and two videos including their preparations and highlights has just appeared. Those involved in the recent discussion about the games may like a look.
Match 1: Match highlights begin around 2:30

France -20 féminines : le défi anglais I by FFR
Match 2: Match highlights begin at around 2:50.

France – 20 féminines : Le défi anglais II by FFR

Legend stars in rugby promo video

There is a familiar face in the latest (very, very good, by the way) promotional video for girls' rugby - take a look at around 1:24.... (and 3:00 as well!)

(The really odd thing about this, frankly, brilliant video is that it was made over a year ago... but hardly anyone has watched it (barely 500 views in the first six months - the Letchworth Girls video did better than that!). Its been hidden away. Why? It is the emphasis on clubs as the way into the game, maybe? Strange...

U13 rugby: Wales tackle their retention problem, and learn from RFUW mistakes

News from Wales where the WRU has proposed changes to their age banding, almost exactly a year after the RFUW introduced the controversial U13 band in England.

Details are a bit thin, but it is clear that the Welsh are taking a different route to England, and with different aims.
  • There appears to be no suggestion about a new, untried, set of rules being introduced
  • The aim of the change is primarily to retain girls currently playing mixed mini/midi rugby - the introduction of new players will be easier, it is hoped, but this is clearly secondary. 
  • The WRU changes will work through a system of "local development centres" in each "population centre" - which will be hosted at a club, based on its facilities and location. Not schools.
As such the scheme is in marked contrast to that of the RFUW - indeed it might even be suggested that the Welsh have been watching from over the border and learning a few very important lessons.

It is fascinating that the aim is retention, for example. As pointed out on here repeatedly a glance at the England team will show you that almost every player in that team started playing with the minis - very few girls who starting playing in their teens (never mind university) now go on to play the game at the highest level. Wales have recognised that we should be treating mini-rugby girls like precious jewels, making sure they are not lost, and as a result have come up with a plan that is the complete reverse of RFUW's policy which is entirely focused on finding new players and (especially if last season's dispensations are removed) pays no heed at all to retention whatsoever - indeed makes the problem worse.

Even more impressive is the "local development centre" concept, which - if it can overcome inter-club rivalries - will be a huge boost. Details of all the Centres are listed on the WRU site, where many have the support of international players (my only observation is that all seem to be in South Wales). If you can bring all of an area's mini/midi girls - with several years of rugby experience already behind them - together at the age of 11 or 12, what an amazing team you will have by U15 or U18. And also what a positive atmosphere for new girls to join.

So best wishes to Wales - I think we will all be watching how your system develops with great interest.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

New Zealand: Men's rugby messes up, women's rugby pays the price

Interesting news from the home of the four-times World Champions, where some (male) administrators seem to be trying very hard to ensure that they cannot make it five...

Otago is one of the main homes of rugby in New Zealand, both men and women. Some of the greats of women's rugby - players like Melodie Robinson, Farah Palmer and Carla Hohepa - are from the province, but for players of the future it may be more difficult. Because, as things stand, Otago may not have a team as all funding has been withdrawn from the women's team.

What on earth have they done to deserve this, you may ask? Wrecked some bars? Got drunk on a plane? Smashed up a stadium changing room? No - must be worse than that surely - after all, men's teams do these and don't get shut down.

Truth be told that the women have done nothing, other than play rugby very well and be a credit to the province. In fact its the men who have messed up - and the logic of New Zealand rugby seems to be that it is the women who must pay.

Otago run a professional provincial team. Well, "run" may be pushing it a bit as this would seem to imply a degree of competence. Essentially, in a nutshell, Otago have been fielding a group of overpaid, poorly managed, and underperforming players for some time now. The crowds have noticed this and have deserted the team. And the practical result of all this is that the province is in deep financial trouble.

In order to save money the some teams have been merged - for example - the men's B and Colts teams are now a single development squad. This has reduced playing opportunities for the province's male players, but - while unfortunate - it is rather different for the women. Their opportunities to play have been removed altogether.

Attempts are being made by Farrah Palmer to raise funds for a women's team independently of the Province, and hopefully they will succeed. But it does seem stupidly unfair that the group that suffers most in this farce is the one that was least to blame for it.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Support-a-legend - Sasha's charity cycle ride

Sasha says....

"Rigggghhht friends!!! :):) So, in a nutshell, I am doing an insane bike ride for Macmillan Cancer Relief...its 1748miles...and it's basically got to be done in under a month. Its just myself and Poppy doing it...good cause...crazy can be done!! 

We've figured out we need to cycle at least around 80miles a day to reach our ideal optimum finish date, which is one hell of a trek every day, but totally worth it!! 

We shall be starting this awesome adventure on the 26th of June, and really want to finish by the 20th July. It's not a random route either...we're cycling from Lands End (bottom of Cornwall), to John O'Groats (top of Scotland) AND BACK, completely back to back!! 

So please can you all dig deep; attached to is our just giving page, and any donations automatically go straight to Macmillan, we have nothing to do with it at all in that respect. Please give as little or as much as you'd like, it all helps and makes every muscle and bum ache well worth it!! 

Spread the word too please :)"

Sunday, April 08, 2012

France win U20 series 3-0

The excuses for the England U20 performances seem to be getting a bit thin. The 50-0 defeat in Paris was due to all the major players being unavailable, last Wednesday's 11-5 loss did not really count as both teams were playing their younger players - it was, in effect, a "A" international. Just you wait for Saturday.

But yesterday England lost again, 13-3.

There again it is difficult to know what the real strategy for the U20 team is this year. Although England called up some big guns with full caps to their name, they were not used in the actual games.Coach Amanda Bennett seems to have decided to keep with her core players, perhaps putting learning and development ahead of short-term success? If so, this would be to her credit as in the end age group rugby is about learning.

Of course, there may be other reasons for such a dramatic turn-round for a team that was literally world-beating 12 months ago (though with some differences in playing staff, obviously).

Clearly there is more to this than meets the eye, especially a distant eye with only access to match reports and a few bits of film. And the result has been a England team losing three consecutive matches - which has never happened before. How RFUW will react to that will be interesting to see.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

25 years of Test Rugby: England celebrate, but its very quiet in Wales

Today is the 25th anniversary of the first women's test rugby for England and Wales' who met on this day back in 1987 ay Pontypridd. RFUW recognised this today with a press release, and the Rugby Museum at Twickenham will also be running a special exhibition. The WRU, on the other hand, seem to be letting the occasion pass by. 

RFUW's press release says:
"25 years ago to the day England Women played their very first international rugby match. On a spring day at Pontypool RFC in Wales, England’s first ever 22 female rugby players ran out against a Welsh team who were also enjoying their first ever taste of international rugby. Only a handful of spectators were there to witness this significant day in the history of the women’s game, but for England their first tentative footsteps into the international arena ended in success with a 22-4 victory.
The stars of that victory included names such as Nicola Ponsford, MBE, who is the current Acting Managing Director of the Rugby Football Union for Women (RFUW) and England Women’s Head of Performance, as well as Carol Isherwood, OBE, who is a RFUW Board Member and also holds a seat on the International Rugby Board (IRB) Committee. 
“My abiding memory of that first ever international match was that it was an amazing experience but one where we were finding our feet,” said Ponsford, who started at hooker in that match. “We stayed in a youth hostel, and our match preparation included taking our walk and stretch on the swings in the park! 
“The game itself was all a bit of a blur. It was much faster than we had played before. There was a lot of mauling and I seemed to be stuck in the middle of all of them. There were a few people watching, but mainly family and friends and a few interested spectators who seemed baffled that women were actually playing rugby. We also played in big, baggy white cotton shirts that we had to pay for.” 
Since then England and the Women’s Game has come a long way. England have played 186 international test matches, including playing Wales 29 times and losing just one match against them in that 25 year period. That phenomenal record has continued for England who have since gone on to win 165 matches, draw two, and lose just 23 games. England have also won the Six Nations a record breaking eight times, including seven Grand Slams, since the tournament first began in 2003. Despite England’s impressive record they have surprisingly only won the Women’s Rugby World Cup once and that was in 1994, although England have come close on four occasions, making the final in 1991, 2002, 2006 and 2010. Ponsford, who went on to win 50 caps for England, was part of that historic 1994 winning side. England took the title by beating the USA 38-23 in the final in Edinburgh. 
“Since being involved in the first ever game there have been many highlights but certainly winning the Rugby World Cup in 1994 ranks as one of my best memories, alongside helping to organise the first Women’s Rugby World Cup in 1991 and England hosting the 2010 Rugby World Cup which proved to be the most successful Women’s Rugby World Cup ever.” 
The 2010 Rugby World Cup, hosted by the RFU, in London was certainly a landmark tournament for Women’s Rugby globally. The tournament broke new ground with record breaking broadcasting and media exposure, whilst pool matches were sold out and the final, at the Twickenham Stoop, witnessed the biggest ever crowd at a women’s XVs match of over 13,000 people. 
Since then it has been non-stop for England and the RFUW and the RFU who are at the forefront of growing and developing the Women’s Game. England now regularly play their home games on the hallow turf of Twickenham Stadium, whilst live television coverage is becoming a regular occurrence.
And the enthusiasm is growing at the grass roots level of the game too with currently 13,645 women and girls playing rugby in England –that’s an increase of 87 percent since records began in 2004/05. Worldwide, Women's Rugby is one of the fastest-growing forms of the Game with over 200,000 registered women actively competing in XVs and Sevens and 800,000 women and girls participating in leisure rugby in all its forms.
With Rugby Sevens also now on the Olympic agenda, which the game making its debut in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, the game is set to reach new heights. This season has seen the introduction of the IRB Women’s Sevens Challenge Cup with the worlds’ best Sevens teams competing over three tournaments, in Dubai, Hong Kong and London, alongside the men’s HSBC World Sevens Series, whilst next season the IRB are looking to introduce a new Women’s World Sevens Series. 
Ponsford added: “The game has developed so much since I first became involved and it has developed only for the better. I was the first ever paid employee but now we have a wonderful, extremely talented team at Twickenham with massive support from the RFU, as well as the likes of Sport England, the English Institute of Sport and our various sponsors. Club level, there is now over 300 teams playing rugby in England and we hope that one day soon girls’ rugby will become a first choice sport in schools across the country. 
“At the top level we have around 400 players in the England system. Although we have not won a world cup in 18 years I am confident that soon our time will come. We are also experiencing exciting times in Sevens Rugby too and I hope that in 2016 both the men and women’s Great Britain teams will be in fighting contention to win two gold medals.” 
In recognition of this historic day the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham Stadium is hosting a special exhibition entitled England Women’s Rugby – A Continuing Success. The new display shows a range of objects that highlight the increasing success of both English and international Women’s Rugby. The display is located at the entrance to the museum exhibition area, and will run until July 2012."

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

England U20s lose again

England U20s lost 11-5 today against France, their second defeat running - the first time that any England age group team has lost consecutive tests.

It was a far closer game than in Paris, needless to say - one try each, with the difference being France's Audrey Abadie's first half penalty and drop goal (talented young lady - clearly not going to be slumming it in Federale 1 for much longer!). England's first half try from Bucks Jester Lauren Cattell was unconverted, giving France a 6-5 half-time lead. St Oren's Margaux Deyland extended France's lead with an unconverted try in the second half.

Admittedly neither England nor France were not at full strength - both England captain and vice-captain were missing. Those in the know say that the game was close to a "B" international with the younger players having a chance to prove themselves. The real game is on Saturday, apparently. Cannot help thinking that this will not stop the French celebrating.

Official RFUW match report:

England Women Under 20s bounced back from the tough lessons they learned in Paris last month, when their French counter parts inflicted a 50-0 defeat, with a much improved performance against France at Moulton College today (Wednesday).
Although England lost 11-5 the hosts raised their game on home turf and will now look forward to their next clash against France on Saturday April 7th, at Moulton College, kick off 1pm.
In rain-soaked and blustery conditions both sides managed to touch down for a try with fly-half Lauren Cattell (Chesham RFC) England’s scorer and flanker Margaux Deylaud for France. But in the end it was the boot of France No. 10 Audrey Abadie that proved decisive as she kicked a drop goal and a penalty.
In the opening stages of the game both England and France battled against the elements to try and put some points on the board but the weather proved restrictive for both sides. England worked hard at the breakdown and showed a real improvement in their physicality whilst their line speed throughout their backs was much improved, but in the end errors for both sides led to missed opportunities and only a drop goal from Abadie on 22 minutes separated the two sides.
England were then penalised for being offside in the breakdown in their 22 and France, with the wind in their favour, made the most of their opportunity and converted the points to take a 6-0 on 32 minutes.
The battle, however, between the two sides remained at a high tempo and England continued to put pressure on France and in the end some good work by Plymouth Albion lock Courtney Gill saw her charge down a clearance kick from Abadie. The ball ricochet into the air and Cattell gathered to then dive over the try-line and score. Cattell, kicking into the wind, wasn’t however able to make the conversion with her kick falling just short, and leaving the score at 6-5 at half-time.
The second half continued in much the same way, with both sides eager to assert their dominance. With England conceding an early penalty, France kicked to touch and then executed a strong line-out, catch and drive which saw flanker Deylaud take the clean ball and muscle her way over the line to score an important try. With France now kicking into the wind Abadie was also unable to make the conversion, with the elements taking their toll.  
Going into the final quarter France looked to have the edge in terms of possession and territory but England’s physicality and intensity kept the tourists at bay, leaving them without any further scoring opportunities and keeping the score to 11-5 at full-time.
England Assistant Coach Steve Halsey said: “This is a bitter, sweet defeat really. Although we are disappointed to have lost the game the players showed real improvement in the areas we have worked hard on – our physicality and our intensity – and that meant we were able to dominate areas of the game rather than be dominated and reactive as we were in France last month. We could still have improved on our execution, although the weather also did play a part there, but with another game coming up against France in a couple of days’ time we will have the opportunity to make those improvements and hopefully this time come away with a win. This is a young group of players, who have already made a big step-up this season, and I am confident that if we carry on making these improvements then we will have a very competitive and experienced squad next season.”

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