Thursday, 27 January 2011

What this blog is trying to do

The aim of this blog is to bring together significant articles appearing in major newspapers and other news media about women's rugby, ideally worldwide though as it is being compiled in the UK there is an inevitable UK (and English language) bias at present. If you have any copies of any significant or interesting articles please send this to this address.

Of particular interest would be any articles from before 1990, but any significant articles from any date which show the development of the game would be a useful addition.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Women show the way to go; England get a fright before clinching the Grand Slam

Stephen Jones

ENGLAND women have achieved a Grand Slam in European rugby for the fourth time in five years, in the process clinching their fifth consecutive RBS Six Nations title with an 11-10 victory over France in front of a hostile crowd in Rennes on Friday night. The win conceivably establishes England as favourites for the women's Rugby World Cup, to be played on home soil later in the year.

But this was no easy passage. France had lost earlier in the tournament to Scotland, a team subsequently thrashed 51-0 by England, but urged on by the raucous crowd France gave it everything, leading initially and making light of the dismissal of their leading forward, Claire Canal, who was red-carded at the end of the first half.

France had a chance to cause a remarkable upset when Aurelie Bailon, their fly-half, kicked for goal in the closing stages, but she fell short and England managed to scramble the ball away.

Gary Street, the England head coach, was apparently unflustered at the end. "Even though this was a tough game, victory was never in doubt in my mind. We knew that France would throw everything they had at us, but we showed great character and mental strength to turn this around."

France took an early lead with a penalty from Bailon but England regained their composure and a forward drive by the pack gave them an attacking position. Amy Turner, the scrum-half from Richmond, crossed for the try despite a populous cover defence and it was 5-3 to England at half-time.

They gained breathing space with a penalty by Katy McLean, of Darlington Sharks, but as errors were made in the wet conditions, England dropped the ball in midfield and France launched a thrilling counterattack. French wing Celine Allainmat scored with the loose ball and the conversion by Bailon took France into a 10-8 lead.

At this point, England's composure served them wonderfully well. They were reduced to 14 players when Karen Jones was sent to the sin-bin for a late tackle but McLean added her second penalty to take England into an 11-10 lead and, once Bailon's late kick missed the target, England were able to scrape home.

England had already beaten Wales (31-0), Italy (41-0), Ireland (22-5) and Scotland (51-0) so the Grand Slam was one of the most convincing in the women's game.

Catherine Spencer, the England number eight and captain, who passed 50 caps during the season, was particularly impressed by the team's attitude in the final stages. "We kept our composure and control, the attitude on the pitch was fantastic and when we look back, we can conclude that this was just the tight game we needed. You learn so much more from close games of this sort and you find out about your own weaknesses.

This team wants to improve all the time, and it was good to be in a good contest."

The England players now return to their clubs for the climax of the domestic season before gathering in the summer for a series of squad camps in preparation for the World Cup. The traditional dominance of New Zealand was exploded by England's win over them at Twickenham before Christmas. If the seedings for the World Cup work out as planned, the two teams at the top of the women's game will meet again in what will be a charged final at Twickenham Stoop in August.

Spencer's next priority was more mundane. "Now it is back to work on Monday," she said. This has been an outstanding season for her team, with England producing a series of results that put the exploits of the men's team in the shade. The best news from France is that there was no easy victory, just England glory.

SIX NATIONS PW D L F APts England 5 5 0 0 156 15 10 France 5 3 0 2 97 47 6 Ireland 5 3 0 2 69 52 6 Scotland 5 1 1 3 31 108 3 Wales 4 1 0 3 34 76 2 Italy 4 0 1 3 25 114 1


Up with the cup: England's all-conquering women celebrate their victory in Rennes; Photographer: DAVID ROGERS

Sunday Times (London, England) (March 21, 2010): p5.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

IRRESISTIBLE FORCE: With four Six Nations titles in a row, England women are a rugby powerhouse. Three of the star players are policewomen - they talk to OSM about juggling work and play, and where the men have got it wrong.


Women's rugby doesn't get a bad press; it gets no press at all. And this despite the fact that England's women have won four Six Nations Championships straight - and were runners-up to New Zealand in the last two World Cups.

Things should change this summer when England will host the women's World Cup for the first time. Sky is covering the semi-finals and final live, and showing highlights of the pool matches. For the England team, it is the opportunity of a lifetime, but it has come at a cost.

Hooker Amy Garnett, 33, and centre Claire Allan, 24, both work full-time as policewomen, Garnett in Newham, east London and Allan in Acton, west London. To play in the World Cup they will each have to take three months unpaid leave. Scrum-half Amy Turner is a community support officer. She has decided to take a year-long unpaid sabbatical to concentrate on the season ahead.

The three get good support from their police colleagues and supervisors, the odd bit of teasing aside ("Sometimes if we have to knock a door down they'll be like, 'Let's take Amy along,'" jokes Garnett), but for a world-class athlete to be burdened with such a heavy workload seems absurd. "Rugby," says Garnett, "pretty much takes up your whole life."

"If you've got a full-time job, it is like having a part-time job on top of that," explains Turner, "because you are looking at anything from eight to 16 hours a week training and playing rugby." Allan, England's full-back, agrees. "It's tough. I remember once when I had a really important league match, I finished a night shift at seven in the morning, had a couple of espressos, went straight to play a game, finished, showered, and then went straight back to work. I played all right in the game but when I was back at work at 3am, I was seeing double."

All three erupt into laughter at the story. They are obviously close friends, which is fortunate, as Garnett points out: "Your social life is sort of zero. We get two weeks off in the summer, but the rest of the time you end up saying no to weddings, birthdays, christenings."

Although women's cricket and football have started to attract more mainstream coverage, rugby is lagging behind. "It is frustrating," says Turner, "because if we had more recognition English fans would be quite chuffed. They'd think, 'Our men aren't in a great place right now but our women are doing well.'"

Garnett is a little less diplomatic. "Sometimes I watch the men and think, 'Oh my God, you're a professional, you get all these hours to train, and you're playing like a bunch of muppets.' I'm a hooker and I practise as much as possible. Some of these guys, you see them and sometimes they couldn't hit a barn door with their throwing." She pauses before adding: "And we're generally a lot better-looking too."

Garnett, who has 81 caps, made her debut in 2000. In that time she has watched the standard of the women's game sky-rocket. "Like a lot of the older girls, I didn't start playing rugby till university. But players now have been playing since they were nippers. Skill-wise, our game has gone through the roof."

Turner started playing when she was five. "I used to watch my older brother play at Kingston rugby club and they had a mixed under-sevens team that I started playing for." Like Garnett, she is one of the more experienced players in a side whose blend of nous and youth has helped it become one of the world's top two teams, alongside world champions New Zealand. "The standard of rugby we are playing now is worlds apart from the 2006 World Cup. We've worked much harder on the core skills - passing, kicking, tackling, decision-making."

"It's a nice balance," agrees Garnett, "very similar to what the men had in 2003." This new confidence was brought about by a 10-3 victory at Twickenham over the All Blacks. Interestingly, the men's and women's national teams are far more integrated there. "In the Sevens World Cup last year the New Zealand men's and women's team were training together," recalls Allan, "which is quite a step forward. We'd love to be more involved with the men in the future." With the odd exception - Wasps fly-half Dave Walder and Josh Lewsey have both worked as club coaches in the women's game - the paths of England's two national teams hardly cross.

Partly that is because the women do not play at Twickenham much. "First we were at St Albans," says Garnett. "Then London Irish," adds Turner. "Then London Welsh," chips in Allan, "and now we're at Esher." Before the win against New Zealand last November, the team had not played at Twickenham since 2006. When they were allowed out onto the turf last November they won a lot of converts. "We don't kick as much as the men," explains Garnett, "we play the more exciting style of rugby because we keep the ball in hand more. It's ambitious. There are big smashes and lots of offloads, it is good fun to watch."

"At times when we had played here before we had not been put on the ticket," points out Garnett. "People did not even know we were playing." For the team, playing more matches in the public eye is important. "You're an English rugby player, you want to be playing your games at Twickenham," says Turner. "We should be the curtain-raisers for the men." It is time the team got a little of the recognition they have long deserved.


The Observer (London, England) (Feb 7, 2010): p34.
From left, Amy Turner, Amy Garnett and Claire Allan photogaphed at Twickenham.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Lives in brief

Linda Uttley, England women's rugby player, was born on October 26, 1966. She died of cancer on November 27, 2009, aged 43 Linda Uttley played rugby for England and forged a gloriously colourful reputation that ensured her place in the game's folklore.

She was born in Barnes, southwest London in 1966, the youngest of eight siblings. She began her career in 1989 at Teddington Rugby Club and grew into one of the finest players of her generation. She moved to Wasps Rugby Club in 1995 and played a key role in a team that dominated the women's game.

In 1997 she won her first cap and began a career for England in which she would win 13 caps and play in the 1998 World Cup. She played in every position except prop, hooker and fullback, although she was best-known as a flanker.

The tales of her conduct away from the field are as stunning as her reputation on it, such as the memorable sumo wrestling match while on tour to Paris, in 1992. She had beaten all the women in the vicinity and then took on, and beat, a French No 8 called Bernard.

In November 2007 she was told that she had a rare, aggressive and advanced form of cancer, leiomyosarcoma. The rugby community rushed to her aid, raising funds to help her to cope with the illness. In the event she defied all the medical predictions and was still dancing a year later. She would whip off her wig and dance the night away, eking out every last moment of joy. She remained a regular on the touchlines at Teddington, continued to work for the Rugby Football Union and even toured with the Classic Lionesses.

She bore her cancer's devastating effects with great humour, fortitude and mental strength.

The Times (London, England) (Jan 27, 2010): p51.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Operation petticoat.

Simon Barnes Chief Sports Writer

Last week in this space I was looking for information about the first woman to play rugby. I am delighted to say that I now have information in overplus. The first lady of rugby - rugby's Eve - is Emily Frances Galwey, nee Valentine, born in the 1870s, at first a tomboy and then a lady of much spirit. She later wrote a rather splendid memoir and here is a chunk of it.

"I loved rugby football, but seldom got a chance to do more than kick a place-kick or drop goal, but I could run in spite of petticoats and thick undergarments. My great ambition was to play in a real rugby game and score a try. One day I got a chance. It was just a school scratch match and they were one 'man' short. I was about 10 years old. I plagued them to let me play. 'Oh all right. Come on then.' Off went my overcoat and hat - I always wore boys' boots anyhow, so that was all right.

"I knew the rules. At last my chance came. I got the ball - I can still feel the damp leather and the smell of it ... I grasped it and ran dodging and darting, but I was so keen to score that try that I did not pass it, perhaps, when I should; I still raced on, I could see the boy coming towards me; I dodged and breathless, with my heart pumping, my knees shaking, I ran. Yes, I had done it, one last spurt and I touched down."

Thus was set in train the events that will lead to the women's rugby union World Cup, which will be held again this year.

The Times (London, England) (Jan 18, 2010): p69

Monday, 11 January 2010

Miss Valentine the mother of women's rugby.

Simon Barnes Chief Sports Writer

There will be a women's rugby union World Cup in England this summer, which is all splendid stuff. But here is a question: who was the first female rugby player? Who was women's rugby's Webb Ellis? Who was rugby's Eve? Greatly to my surprise, I am told that I supplied the answer myself in a column in this newspaper in 1985. A rugby match was played at Portora Royal School, in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, in 1885. The school was short of numbers, because the headmaster had just decamped and taken half the pupils with him. But they still got a XV out, and in the threequarter line, there was the daughter of the acting headmaster.

But who was she? John Birch writes to tell me it was Miss E. F. Valentine, who together with her three brothers, set up the school team, in the face of some opposition. Miss Valentine went on to become Mrs Galway and emigrated to South Africa.

It seems clear that Miss Valentine both trained for and played rugby, and this predates anything else documented on the subject. But, so far, the researchers have no idea of Miss Valentine's first name, and no photograph. Anyone with information on the subject, please get in touch.

The Times (London, England) (Jan 11, 2010): p61

Saturday, 26 December 2009

England's new golden girl is on a mission Scarratt keen to change image of women's rugby

THE answer to Martin Johnson's creative void is

19 years old, stands a fraction under six feet and rips across the gain line with grace and beauty not seen since Jeremy Guscott lit up winter afternoons. The hair might be a little on the long side for Johnno, and changing-room arrangements could present a problem, but in all other respects Emily Scarratt is your girl.

Ms Scarratt, the youngest member of the England women's squad, touches down at an average of a try per match and can play across the back line. In England's subordination of New Zealand at Twickenham on the same bleak November afternoon that the men lost to the All Blacks, Scarratt was poster girl under the high ball at full-back. More than 12,000 stayed behind in filthy weather to watch our women beat down the world champions.

This was not rugby lite. Had the Rugby Football Union the foresight to keep four sides of Twickenham open instead of one, the place would have been packed out. Men young and old were left peering one-eyed through gaps in security fences, risking the amber nectar, to watch England win a game of rugby against southern hemisphere opposition. Next time it might be an idea to put the women on first.

Stereotypes were trampled into the mud, which is high on the agenda at the RFU. Watching women taking lumps out of each other in gum shields requires an adjustment. Immersion therapy works best. Eighty minutes glued to the bump and grind at Twickenham cured me.

"It has taken people a while to get their heads around the idea of women playing rugby. There is a big physicality about the game. But it is important that women are taking part in sports like this,'' said Scarratt. "I have had it before when I tell people what sport I play. They say, 'oh you don't look like a rugby player'. We are trying to make the game more appealing and increase participation. Personally what people think doesn't bother me. I just love to play.''

Scarratt is wandering through the sports emporium at Leeds Metropolitan University with a rugby ball under her arm. I was grateful for the prompt since the amazon filling the space was a makeover or two removed from the mug shot in the England media guide.

One day, perhaps, women's rugby might gain the platform that her level of commitment, heart, skill and nerve merits. Were Scarratt a man the cameras would not give her a minute's peace. Here's an idea: why not invite her on to Sky's panel of gnarled ex-pros? Michael Lynagh would be delighted to exchange passes with her.

The boys would be chuffed to find a woman fluent in the game and happy to tackle the tricky subjects, like reconciling the big hit with traditional ideas of femininity. Here is how she does it.

"It is about being comfortable with yourself and your choices. On the pitch, in training, in the gym, we are just rugby players. How people present themselves in their private life is completely different and nobody's business. Some people have issues with that, but the girls are all happy with themselves. There are no issues at all for us.

"When it comes to talking about me and rugby, I prefer to be known for the 12 tries that I scored in 12 games, rather than the way I look. The 12 tries is the important stat. Everything else comes afterwards. I'm a rugby player first. Rugby is what I'm about.''

Scarratt is a second-year sports science undergraduate. It had to be sport. Throw her a ball, any ball and she will hit it, catch it, kick it or slam-dunk it. She played international rounders for England Under-18s and county basketball. Nothing quite gives her the fix she needs like rugby, a game she has played since she was five years-old, tagging along with her dad and older brother.

She brings to it the old enthusiasms of the amateur ethos. Unlike Johnson's over-trained, over-indulged underperformers, the women have not lost the sense of wonder and joy associated with participation. It is fundamentally fun for them, not work. With each defeat Johnson retreats further into his coaching coalition. He should be looking outwards, not in, and could do worse than hang out with our women ahead of the Six Nations.

Scarratt made her debut against the United States in August last year, and scored. "We had a midfield move, I got the ball and hit a line, I didn't remember much until I was over the try line. I just ran as if it were a life or death situation. America were a big, physical side, quite happy to smash you into the middle of next week. It's part of the game. I've grown up with it. Just as you have to pass the ball you have to make a tackle and take a tackle in rugby. I enjoy it in an odd kind of way.''

Time up. She had to go. Another tackle to make. Never mind, the conversation is ongoing. The sisters are on their way: 2010 is World Cup year, a chance to show the world England really does know how to play the game.

Daily Telegraph (London, England) (Dec 26, 2009): p021.