LONDON escaped the worst of the early winter blizzards but it was still parky enough yesterday to discourage thought of outdoor pursuits. At Wasps, however, two sets of rugby players supplied their own riposte to the mardy: faint hearts never achieved a thing.
No less than the men, England's women players can achieve an awful lot next year. World Cups beckon both and if the women's competition is the less regarded, to the point of ignorance among the larger sporting public, the practitioners of a growing code feel they too can leave their thumb print on 1991.
Sudbury yesterday saw a regional set-to between the the South-east and the Midlands and North Thames. Twice the South-east (chiefly Richmond) went ahead with tries; twice the North Thames side (mainly Wasps) levelled the score. From the comfort of the clubhouse there seemed to be as they say in the men's game no quarter asked nor given.
What immediately strikes the observer about women's rugby is ahem how much more gentlemanly it is. Obviously the women cannot run as fast, pass as far, or kick as long. Neither do they show any inclination to punch as hard. There were apologies in the bar afterwards, and even apologies on the pitch during the game.
'The Women's RFU have always had a strong philosophy on violence,' said Karen Almond, the Wasps' fly-half and Great Britain captain, who missed the game through injury. 'We try to play it hard but fair.' Indeed, the solitary fall from grace yesterday was a head-high tackle by the South's Pat Harris.
The Hull-born Almond, who supported the rugby league team of that name in her youth, helped to get the women's section at Wasps off the ground in 1984 with three friends from Loughborough University, where they had all completed physical-education courses. There are now 91 women's teams in England and Wales and a further nine in Scotland, eight of them at universities.
Like her peers, the British captain believes the World Cup is a boon, just the thing to amend some perceptions of women's rugby. 'Some men are very supportive, most women's teams are coached by them. But you can find a chauvinist attitude that women should be in the kitchen, not out playing.
'We are breaking it down bit by bit. I have played in quite a few curtain-raisers before tournaments and you can hear men in the crowd changing their minds during the game as they see we can actually tackle.'
Nine countries, including Sweden, the United States, Japan, Spain and Canada, will definitely participate in the World Cup, to be staged in Wales next spring with the final at Cardiff on April 14. Another three France, New Zealand, and the Soviet Union have yet to confirm.
Midlands and North Thames: Davies; Turner, Ewing, Smith, Stirrup; Ross, Briddon; Burgess, Mitchell, Bennett, O'Kelly, Williets, Robson, Stennett, Harding.
South-east: Bond; Thomas, John, Cooper, Chambers; Isherwood, Edwards; Harrington, Mills, Prangnall, Francis, Gurney, Harris, McMahon, Davies.
"Rugby Union: Plenty of impact but no punch - Women's Regional Championship, South-east 8, Midlands and North Thames 8." Guardian [London, England] 10 Dec. 1990: