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...

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 soufflĂ© - 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.

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