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, August 31, 2009

Shhhh - don't mention that she plays rugby

The story over the weekend about the hooligan (male) rugby players who pushed a heavy roller down a hill into a tent was pretty shocking, going well beyond high jinks and fairly close to attempted homicide. Fortunately no-one was killed - though the injuries suffered were pretty severe.

However, one curious thing to note from the press coverage was how the victim was described. The basic fact is that Emma Winch is a rugby player who plays for Merthyr Tydfil - but strangely many articles in the headline or opening paragraph of the article don't call her that - indeed they almost go out of their way to avoid saying why she was there. A quick glance through some of the coverage shows that:
  • Wales Online called her a "sportswoman" who was camping in a field
  • The Independent and Daily Mirror simply call her a "woman"
  • The Guardian, in two articles, call her a "rugby fan" or a "woman"
  • The BBC called her a "rugby fan"
  • The Sun called her a "camper"
  • Daily Star called her a "camper"
The Times, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Daily Express did identify her early on as a "rugby player", but its all rather strange. Though some of the above do, deep into their articles, mention why she was there, some completely avoid any mention about why Emma was camping at a rugby club in mid Wales.

Why? Do some journalists think that revealing that Emma was a rugby player would make readers somehow less sympathetic? The line taken by the BBC and Guardian in particular is plain weird - "rugby fan"? Do their writers/editors think that the only reason a woman might be at a tournament would be to watch?

Or to put it another way - if the roller had hit a tent occupied by a male rugby player would any newspaper have identified him as anything else?

Friday, August 28, 2009

The new "man off" rule - will it apply to your games?

After all the fuss and fanfare last season about the ELVs is good to know that pretty much all of the most controversial ones failed to get through and so this season the laws will be pretty much unchanged. However, there is one law change that has been made - a change that was not included within the ELVs - which may have an effect on your rugby.

The change concerns Regulation 3.4(c) which concerns the scrum. It is a rule that applies to quite a lot of the rugby you play, much more so than professional rugby - basically it is the one that means that if you have an "inexperienced" front row you have to go to uncontested scrums.

In recent years professional teams, especially when faced with powerful opposition packs, have been using this rule. On a growing number of occasions, when props have been "injured" in games, clubs have claimed that they had no suitable replacements on the bench - so scrums have gone uncontested, much to their more powerful opponents annoyance.

As a result - and with little or no publicity - the IRB have changed the rules. Now, if a prop has to go off injured - and you have no replacement prop - you cannot replace them with another player. Instead, although you will have uncontested scrums, you will also only have to play with only 14 players on your team (while the opposition stay at 15). Trials of what is being called the "man off" rule in France last season resulted in a remarkable reduction in prop injuries!

However, although this rule was brought in to deal with - basically - cheating in the professional game it applies to all levels of rugby. Even, potentially, junior rugby (unless the national governing body says otherwise and, so far, neither the RFU nor RFUW have said anything).

Clearly many junior games - especially at U15 level - begin with uncontested scrums so it obviously would not apply - and we rarely have benches of substitutes anyway, so most of the time this will not matter. But in tournaments it is be different - especially for the U18s where contested scrums are quite normal.

The National Cup, for example, is played to full rules - for instance you already have to play with less players than the opposition if you do not have 15 (or if players become injured and you have no reserves) - so it is very likely that this rule will apply. It is also possible that it might apply in league matches - but this will, presumably, be up to the individual league managers (my guess is that for "development" leagues it wouldn't).

It is also probably that the rule would apply in county and regional U18 rugby (especially regional sides, where again "full rules" normally apply). The first test of this will be the Sussex county tournament in September - so if you are playing in that make sure someone asks!

One interesting matter is that in theory the rule also applies to Sevens - whether it would be applied (even in the men's, professional, game) we will have to see, but clearly losing one player from seven is a far greater punishment than losing one from 15.

The bottom line here is - unless or until the RFUW say something - if you start a game with contested scrums make sure that someone (your captain or coach) has a word with the referee, opposition coach, and/or tournament organisers before anyone's props get injured. Otherwise...

Black Ferns tour details announced

RFU have published details about the three match New Zealand tour to England in November:
  • First Test v England at Esher RFC, 14th November. Kick-off 4pm. £5 adults, £2 U16s.X
  • v England A at Esher RFC, 17th November. Kick-off 7pm. Entry free.
  • Second Test v England at Twickenham, 21st November. Kick-off 4.45pm. Entry free (gates open 4.15). Broadcast live on Sky.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The new season starts - this Sunday!

This is it. A new season dawns. Its Registration Day - 10am this Sunday at the club.

It is very important that all the paperwork is sorted out, fees paid, etc so don't forget a parent! As well as club registration (copies available on Sunday), you will need to complete a Herts RFU form so you can take part in this year's county games. Most of you should have already completed an RFU form - but if you haven't you will need to complete one of those as well (copies will also be available).

However, its more than just form filling. With the county trials only three weeks away there will be a training session (so don't forget your kit!) - but there will also be other activities being put on by junior sections from across the club.

If you can't make it this Sunday please let Mike know asap.

IRB begin to take women's world cup seriously

The last-minute, half-hearted, and somewhat shambolic announcement of the 2010 World Cup and its qualification process will not happen again for the 2014 World Cup, it seems. It is less than a year since England were awarded the 2010 World Cup. Despite statements that implied that every member union would be able to compete for a place in the finals, the late announcement meant that in the end only 22 nations of the over 80 members were actually able to so.

But today the IRB announced that it was launching a competition for bids to host the 2014 World Cup - and the winner will be announced 12th May, before next year's World Cup takes place and two years earlier than last time. For the first time this will mean that a proper world-wide qualification process can be organised. For the first time every country that wants to take part should be able to.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

World Cup: The last qualifier

Details about the last qualification tournament for the World Cup have finally been announced. The Asian qualifier will be a four team knock-out tournament, played in conjunction with the Singapore Sevens tournament (which is played between the 6th and 8th November, so presumably we can expect the semi-finals on around the 5th or 6th and final on the 8th or 9th). Only the winner will take part in the World Cup. The draw for the semi-finals sees hosts Singapore take on Japan, and Kazakhstan play Hong Kong.

The Kazakhs should be favourites - they are the current Asian champions and have been at the last four World Cups finals, missing out on only the first tournament in 1991. In 2006 they finished 11th.

Japan have appeared at three World Cups - 1991, 1994 and 2002 - but missed out four years ago when Kazakhstan beat them in the qualifier.

Neither Hong Kong nor Singapore have reached the World Cup finals before.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Nations Cup: Recordings of last night's games now available

Thanks to Rugby Canada and the strangely-titled Rogers TV recordings of last night's games are now available. They do go for a short advert break near the start of the England game, which results in a blank screen, but bear with it - the picture soon comes back. Just in time for the pre-match national anthem singing contest... Bizarre...

Rogers TV is a cable channel that covers a good many "minority" sports. Shame we do not have anything similar over here.

England vs Canada:

France vs USA:

Calling all former U18s - RFUW want to hear from you!

RFUW want to hear from former U18s who "retired" from junior rugby last season. They are conducting a survey to help them supporting players in their transition from U18 to senior rugby.

RFUW say that they want to retain players in the game and "be able to provide you with opportunities to continue playing Regional rugby and to attend ETCs (Elite Training Camps)". They also want to be able to put you in touch with your local CCO.

Please fill the survey in - its is very short. Apart from anything else it is important that players at all levels (not just elite regional players) let RFUW know about their plans. It is important that they get to know how many ordinary players are interested in regional rugby (for example).

They play it tough downunder...

Girls and women's rugby doesn't have a reputation for fisticuffs, but that doesn't mean it never happens (as those who went to last season's game against Eastern Counties will remember). However rarely will you ever see anything like the scenes those at an inter-school game in Australia last week (as reported in the Brisbane CourierMail).

Its a great article. The irony is that the organisers of the festival had gone to the trouble of keeping parents away from the games due to poor behaviour in the past - but it sounds like it was the teachers (and especially the female teachers) who were at least partly responsible for events kicking off!

(I know this was actually a rugby league tournament - but I doubt that anyone is going to claim that this could never happen in union).

Nations Cup: England win again in downpour

England rounded off their Nations Cup defence in "English weather" - pouring rain - with a four-try 22-0 win over Canada. Apparently they dominated the play having 95% of the possession, according to some spectators - however, as the web video feed didn't work, its difficult to confirm this!

The earlier match was (by the sounds of it) a thriller, USA and France drawing 15-15 - France again coming back from behind, and again having a conversion to win the match... which they missed. This was the first time USA have tied a test match - draws normally very rare (there have only been 13 in 767 internationals since 1982) but we had two in this tournament.

The final table looked like this:
PositionNationGamesPointsBonus points[2]Table
1 England4400126154020
2 USA421176611011
3 France41215282008
4 Canada41035266127
5 South Africa401334116002
So, what did we learn from the last inter-continental tournament before the World Cup?

England were head and shoulders above everyone else, winning even when playing badly (as against South Africa). However, while their first choice XV remains frightening effective it is remarkable how much the performance of the team seems to decline when other members of the squad are brought in. The first half performance against France was less than impressive, and did not really improve until several "1st XV" players came on in the second half, while the South African win was littered with errors and wasted chances. But these are still brilliant players. Its like a finely tuned engine misfiring because a single new component has been changed - are they not as used to playing with each other? Is there a momentary fraction of a hesitation that means that a pass does not go to hand, the kick does not quite go where it is intended?

It was reminisent of the Six Nations, where the loss of half-a-dozen top players to the Sevens World Cup co-incided with defeat to Wales and a narrow win over Ireland - in contrast to the overwhelming wins over France and Scotland that followed their return.

England will not be able to field their preferred XV in every game next year - the intensity of the World Cup will inevitably mean that key players will have to be rested from some games (but you can guarantee that whoever England play will be at full strength!). Could England's greatest threat come from an unexpected result in a game where a few leading players are watching from the sidelines?

The USA, on the other hand, were something of a revelation. With no wins since 2006 a battle for third place with France was what might have been expected - but they exceeded all that. They started well - getting an early lead against a strong England team - and though they eventually lost they were by no means disgraced. A six try win over South Africa was followed by a dramatic win over Canada - their first win over their greatest rivals since before the last World Cup - and a draw with France where they were winning for much of the game.

The Americans are a tough team - no-one tackled harder in the tournament - but their biggest problem seemed to be handling and passing which, at times, was terribly slow. Scrum-half passes too often either loop slowly through the air, or drop short - and that could limit how far they might go next year. Against most opponents they will get away with these technical limitations and dominate through their physical strength - but against the leading teams (like England) it will continue to cost them dear.

In contrast Canada entered the Cup on a high, and confidently expected to reach the final game against England unbeaten - the whole tournament was structured to build to this game. They had grown used to winning, and winning well, and in their opening game with South Africa they exploded from the blocks. Four tries in the opening twenty minutes - the Canadians were sublime, brilliant. The there was a water interval... after which Canada were never the same again.

They actually "lost" remaining 60 minutes against the South Africans 17-10 - a fact that all commentators seemed to miss - but they could not miss the next game. Good defence kept the French out, but poor discipline gave away too many penalties in simple positions, and a lack-lustre attack rarely looked likely to break through, a combination that lead to what has to be called a "shock" 12-7 defeat. The performance against the USA was better - but no-where nearly as good as their performance against the same opponents only seven weeks before - and the last minute defeat was, this time, no surprise. After that the defeat to England was inevitable. Canadian coaches now have a big job on their hands - they have to turn this round, but suddenly have very little time to do it. Improved performances during their tour to France in November will be crucial.

But at least their job is easier than the coach of one of the other teams. Who would be the coach of France? Frustrating is probably the gentlest way to describe how it must be - one moment you are (very nearly) losing to South Africa, the next you are leading against England and beating Canada (without ever looking like losing). Its difficult to see a pattern or lesson to be learnt from how France played in this tournament because there wasn't one - other than to expect the unexpected, and never assume anything.

However the positive that came out of this is that France are maybe not quite as poor as many thought - which also perhaps means that the likes of Ireland and Wales are significantly better than has previously been suspected.

Which leaves us with South Africa - outclassed but by no means disgraced. They possess a fly-half of trully international class - Zandile Nojoko - who scored all their tournament points, apart from one try. However, they became less and less effective as the tournament went on, opposing coaches watching their performances and making tactical changes to match. The are unlikely to cause most opponents serious concerns next year - though they are unlikely to finish last this time.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Swine flu fear causes team to cancel England tour

Swine flu. Yesterday's news, you may think, and perhaps not the terrible plague the newspapers first made said it would be.

But its clearly still worrying some people - especially overseas where the UK in particular would seem to be seen as the home of a new Black Death - because concerns about swine flu have meant that India's top girls' rugby team KISS (Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences - but universally known as KISS, apparently) have cancelled their forthcoming tour of England. Which part of this plague-ridden country they were planning to visit isn't revealed, but for the time being the girls from India's Orissa province (the north-east corner of the country) are staying safely at home.

Which is a pity as this was almost certainly to be the first tour of England by an Indian girls' or women's team. Girls' and women's rugby is a relatively new sport in India, but a growing one - the appearance of seven's rugby in next year's Commonwealth Games in Delhi (even though this will be a men-only tournament) is having an effect. Rugby is unlikely to ever become a major sport in India, but with a population of over a billion even a as "minor" sport the country has the potential to be a major force in the game. The Indian women's team played in their first international sevens tournament in May and are likely to make their debut at XVs within the next year.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Nations Cup: England go for big sign-off

England will certainly not be resting on their laurels tomorrow. After some fairly experimental line-ups against France and South Africa, its more or less back to the "1st XV" for the final game against Canada tomorrow (10pm kick-off, our time - note change of time!) - pretty much the same side that began against the USA and also played the final two games in the Six Nations. This is as near as damn it the best team England can currently field.

Canada will be desparately trying to salvage something from a tournament that, for them, has been a nightmare. The entire event was designed around the assumption (perfectly reasonable two weeks ago) that both sides would enter this game unbeaten - that this would be the "final" decider (indeed in some tournament previews that is exactly what this game was called). As it is - at best - a Canadian win might sneak them into second place, but, frankly, that isn't going to happen. We have had a few surprises in this tournament, but especially given what has gone before, anything other than convincing England win would justify widespread doping allegations!

Canadian failures have turned the other game from a gentle warm-up into effectively the Main Event. USA - without any wins since 2006 prior to this week - have now recorded back-to-back wins and confidence could hardly be higher. And they are up against a resurgant France, a team that plumbed whole new depths against South Africa, then held England back for at least 20 minutes, before a famous win over Canada. Here we have two rockets shooting skywards, but on a collision course. Only one will survive. Which one? We will see starting at 8pm tomorrow.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

No need to stay up late - watch the action when you wish!

A reminder that most of the games in the Nations Cup have been recorded (well almost - the end of the England/France game was lost due, presumably, to the power problem they had) and these recordings are still available. Take the time to have a look at women's rugby at the highest level:
In addition the "CanAm" test between USA and Canada played a few week ago is also now available. This is particularly well worth watching simply because of the superb camera work. By the look of it the recording was made on a hand-held camera by the touch line, but it captures everything and so close that its like being on the field with the teams. You really can see the technique of all positions in great detail - look for whoever is playing your shirt and see how they do it. Or just enjoy the action. No commentary, but plenty of enthusiastic crowd support. Well worth a look.
  • First Half (misses the start- but there's a wonderful ruck within the first minute of the recording after which there is really no let-up!)
  • Second Half
Meanwhile on the subject of watching rather than playing, fancy seeing Saracens free next week (that is the professional men's team!)? Well, they are playing Nottingham at Vicarage Road in Watford on Tuesday, kick-off 7.30, and admission is FREE - even for the "posh" seats in the Rous Stand. It may be "just" a friendly, but Sarries should be unveiling their new team for the 2009/10 season and there should be plenty of tries and action. If you can get there it should be a fun evening!

Nations Cup: England take the title

With one round of games still to go, England have retained the Nations Cup. The bonus point in their 25-0 win over South Africa, and Canada's dramatic last minute 15-10 loss to the USA, mean that they cannot be caught.
PositionNationGamesPointsBonus points[2]Table
2United States32016146109
5South Africa401334116002
Next games: France vs USA, Canada v England

Accounts from the games suggest that fatigue is getting at all the players - but they had better get used to it as next year they'll be playing five games in roughly the same amount of time. This suggests that success will go not so much to the best XV, but the best squad as a whole - and that which players a team manager rests when could make all the difference. Get it wrong and even the top teams can be upset - the absence of half-a-dozen players for England's game against Wales last year certainly contributed to that defeat (and their return resulted in some big wins).

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