Sunday, 24 April 1994

World cup: This is not proper rugby - and it's time women knew

Mark Reason

CANDI ORSINI is a stuntwoman who makes her living by jumping off high buildings and crashing cars. She will earn nothing for her pains when she plays centre for the United States against England in this afternoon's final of the women's rugby world championship in Edinburgh.

Given her profession, she ought to redefine the term crash-ball centre, but that is not her style. Instead, she is one of the deftest ball-handlers I have seen, and that includes most of the concrete-handed threequarters in this year's Five Nations championship.

Orsini plays like a Frenchman, like Charvet or Cordoniou, and there can hardly be a higher compliment. The French centres ``fixe'' the tackler as they pass. They hold his eyes, carry the ball high, take him out by attacking the inside shoulder, and then they deliver.

That is Orsini's talent. Three times in the semi-final massacre of Wales she made tries through exquisite passes, and every one was given with the tackler about to enter the demolition business.

There can be no doubt that her career as a stuntwoman last seen alongside Bob Hoskins in Super Mario Bros and soon to be continued in Hulk Hogan's Thunder in Paradise is a huge benefit. Kipling's ``If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs'' is one thing, but to keep your head when the odds favour decapitation is quite another.

``I don't know if rugby helps stunt work or if stunt work helps rugby,'' Orsini said. ``I do know that because kicking is not so good in the women's game, it has helped to perfect our passing.

``Our coach Franck Boivert (yes, he's French, and he is also married to Elise Huffer, Orsini's centre companion and another astute passer) wants us to keep the ball alive, to use the whole field. We practise running off the ball, we practise switching from group handling to spreading the line, we practise a lot of running from deep onto the ball.''

And they learn quickly. Not just Orsini, but also the fly-half Jos Bergmann and full-back Jen Crawford, outstanding runners who benefit from her guile.

All three have one thing in common: they are all athletes. Orsini is not just a stuntwoman, but an expert water-skier and an Olympic handball gold medallist. Bergmann has played football for 14 years. Crawford was the first female high school basketball player to score 1,000 points in a season. You may not have to be an athlete to play rugby well, but you do have to be athletic.

Maybe that is part of the reason why the USA are averaging 91 points a game, and why their backs are the only real gold in a tournament of dross. Orsini and Co prove that women can play rugby to a very high level, but at the moment more players than not would struggle to make a school third XV.

England are the only other consistent exceptions to that, and even they have only four or five players of real quality. What they do have is a pack, and a fly-half who will attempt to deny the USA any possession today. That and the belief of Karen Almond, the English fly-half, that the USA are not good under pressure. England's chance of winning lies in the strength of their pack, the direction of their half-backs and the hope that the Americans will bottle it.

What they also have is a dreary attitude to the game. In their semi-final against France they played a joyless, attritional slog that had one gagging on recent memories of their male international counterparts. Women's rugby has only really been going for 10 years and you had hoped that it would still be fun. Happily, that is the way of most teams, but England already wear the tortured earnestness of the professional sportswoman.

The only people entitled to such expressions were in the tiny crowd. The little relief they had was in the sly observation of how the women mirror the national styles of the men. The Scots love to ruck. Ireland have a feisty scrum-half and some quirky manoeuvres; they even attempted the garryowen once or twice, but nobody had the leg power to achieve it. England are the roast beefs. And the French showed a typical mixture of flair and naughty confrontation.

Their lock, Valerie Lenoir, was spoken to three times by the referee in their semi-final. In the end she was shrugging and offering dismissive hand gestures with true Gallic genius. She left the pitch with a rude one-fingered sign at the English. She only fell short by not assaulting the referee in the tunnel.

The real shortfall, though, is in the quality of the women's game. Debbie Francis, a winger who played for England in the last World Cup and who now represents Scotland, said: ``I think there is an appalling lack of publicity and interest in women's rugby.''

It strikes me that there is an extraordinarily large amount of publicity, given the generally low standards of play. The kicking is abysmal. Ball-retention in the tackle is fragile, to say the least. There are more turnovers than in a chain of pastry shops. Barely half of the kicks are caught at the first attempt. Tackling is high, as are most of the scrummaging positions. Passes are shovelled.

Unfortunately, little of the publicity points this out. The tendency is to treat women's rugby as a freak show that is really played to a very high level. Such a pretence is not politically correct, it is downright patronising. It says: ``You are really quite good, considering you're girls.''

Try telling the truth. Most of you are not very good. You're not within light years of the standard that women could reach.

These things wouldn't be worth saying if the women were playing for fun, with a ``sod the rest of you'' attitude, but they are not. They are playing to promote their game, to encourage sponsorship, to increase coverage, perhaps even to persuade the likes of the RFU to assist them financially. Money, however, is usually drawn to quality products and until the standard of play dramatically improves money will be scarce.

That is a bit of a catch-22, because the women could do with such money to finance a recruitment campaign to attract the type of co-ordinated sportswomen that the game so badly needs. For the sake of that endeavour, I hope that the Americans win today, and that they show the elan of their rugby in doing so.

They are worth watching. And the spectacle might just attract a better class of sportswoman to take up the game and raise women's rugby to a level that really would be worth talking about.

Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 1994

Source Citation
"This is not proper rugby - and it's time women knew; Womens Rugby Union." Sunday Times [London, England] 24 Apr. 1994

World cup: Scotland v Canada

Debbie Francis

BEFORE the game we talked through our objectives and one of the questions the coaches asked was: ``What would we not be happy with today?'' We said we did not want a narrow win; that we wanted to play exciting rugby. Throughout the game, then, we tried to run and run when perhaps others would have played safe. I think we achieved what we set out to do, defeating Canada by 11 points to five.

We dominated the first 10 minutes by sticking to our game plan, but even though the Canadians came back strongly in the second and third quarters we weren't worried. In all the games in the tournament we have finished very strongly. We knew that if we stuck at it the same thing would happen.

This tournament has given the Scottish women's team their first chance to put in a lot of work together and we've improved enormously in the last fortnight. Our forwards, in particular, have surpassed themselves. The Canadians thought we might be fragile in that area but our pack was magnificent, especially as Canada tried to attack round the fringes so often.

I suppose the fact that the referee could only award lineouts and not scrums after we had lost our two props both world-class players should have counted against us. But the scrums had been pretty even up to that point, and our lineout jumpers responded superbly when the challenge was put to them. Jenny Sheerin's try at the end came direct from a lineout and I don't think even we would have expected that.

The Canadians seemed to underestimate the very areas of our game where we performed best.

It almost counted against them at one stage because the Canadian No6 broke off from a scrum on the line and we would have scored a pushover try had that scrum not collapsed. We knew they would fear the tackling of Pogo Paterson and Kim Littlejohn, our centres, and as they had a kicking stand-off I think we knew how they would play it.

Women's rugby as a whole tends to have a very low profile and it has been particularly low in Scotland in the past. I think this fortnight will have opened many people's eyes in Scotland. Before, during and for a little while after the tournament the attention that is paid is enormous and I just hope it can carry on from there.

Because it is such a new sport here the response has been surprising. The crowds have played an invaluable part, not least in the big matches against England and Canada. They provided a major boost to our game.

The hope now is that sponsors will realise just how popular the game now is and will become in the future. We've had good support so far but more of the same will be needed to take us up to the next level.

The crowd had to be intense, because at this stage of the tournament we were all very, very tired. As a new squad we don't have real strength in depth and the girls who have taken part have had to play their hearts out. They were an inspiration. It made a huge psychological difference.

We changed the tactics slightly for this game. We knew that they would play close to the gain line to harass our midfield, so knowing that they also doubted the strength in our pack, we concentrated on the secondary drive by the forwards and on chipping over their defence.

If Canada had any doubts about our place kicking then Elaine Black's two penalties were a fine response.

Two weeks of intensive coaching have worked wonders for us. Our forwards' lines of running have improved immensely the kind of stuff that they simply did not know a month ago.

In the championship final at Raeburn Place I think we will see two very different styles of rugby. The Americans will want to run everything as they have magnificent support players among their backs. But the English forwards should match the Americans technically, and if they can win clean ball and their backs are adventurous then it will be a very exciting game.

However, if England play boring, safe rugby, I'd like to see the fast-handling Americans win.

Our concern against Canada was to play a good game of rugby; we would have been disappointed if, in winning, we had been dull to watch.

We have had a truly magnificent tournament. We've played the kind of rugby that people want to see. We've certainly played the game we've wanted to play. I hope that the final is just as good an advert.

Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 1994

Source Citation
"Change of tactics brings a happy ending for Scotland; Women's Rugby." Sunday Times [London, England] 24 Apr. 1994

Saturday, 23 April 1994

World Cup: final preview

David Hands

THE first world rugby union championship for women ended in an American victory, a grin of delight that the organisers had successfully negotiated their self-imposed hurdle and a grimace at the bills that were left to pay. The second championship, which ends in Edinburgh tomorrow, may reproduce the first two results, but not the third.

Good housekeeping by the Scottish organising committee has left it confident of a modest surplus with which to nourish the development of the women's game. It budgeted on the basis that each game in the 12-team championship would be watched by no more than 50 paying spectators. In the event, the crowd that attended the encounter last week between Scotland and England (variously estimated at between 3,500 and 4,000) ensured against failure.

``The tournament was always going to cover its

costs,'' George Williamson, the financial controller, said. Williamson, a banker in Edinburgh, is married to the Scotland scrum half, Sandra, and formed part of an energetic committee, chaired by Sue Brodie, which refused to let the tournament die after Holland's withdrawal as hosts only 90 days before the scheduled start.

``Before everything began, we had enough sponsorship for the brochure to cover most costs,'' Williamson said. The Scottish team also received a development loan of Pounds 2,500 from the Scottish Sports Council, which had been refunded even before the final at Edinburgh Academicals tomorrow, when the United States, the holders, play England, as they did in 1991 in Cardiff.

``We learned from the experience of the previous tournament too and erred on the side of caution,'' Williamson said. ``It's amazing the way it has taken off. Since the tournament began, Melrose have decided to set up a women's section and I have had calls from people asking how they can start clubs. It will put women's rugby on the map here.''

The icing on the cake would be a final of high quality. Three years ago, the Americans dominated a stagestruck England team to win 19-6; in Scotland, they have pulverised opponents by the quality of their running and the power of their tackling.

England, whose ability to reproduce the strengths and weaknesses of the men's national team is remarkable, will go in as underdogs, despite the win over the United States in Toronto last summer.

That, generally speaking, is the way English teams prefer to be seen and a position from which they have been known to win.

Copyright (C) The Times, 1994

Source Citation
"Scotland reaps reward for women's game; Rugby Union." Times [London, England] 23 Apr. 1994

Thursday, 21 April 1994

World Cup: final preview

David Hands, Rugby Correspondent

A QUIET sunny afternoon in Galashiels is an unlikely venue for mould-breaking but, yesterday, across the road from the Scottish College of Textiles, the American Eagles wove a new and distinguished thread into the brief history of women's rugby union.

On Sunday, they will defend the title they won in Cardiff three years ago when they play England in the final of the women's world championship at Edinburgh Academicals. If England are unable to raise the level of their game from their semi-final yesterday, when they scraped together an 18-6 win over France, then they will lose again to the free-flying Eagles.

The technical quality of the women's game has risen dramatically, if unevenly, over the last three years. The fundamentals of kicking and tackling are now of a different order. But the Americans have injected another dimension of pace and skill into back play, critically in the key attacking roles of stand-off half and full back.

If pride of place in the 56-15 semi-final defeat of Wales at Netherdale went to Jen Crawford for her five tries, she owed much to the elusive running and handling of her colleagues, qualities which seem to have deserted the men's international game and with which the Welsh defence could not cope.

Crawford, an all-round athlete who includes football, lacrosse and basketball in her repertoire, joins a select band. Only three men have ever scored five tries in international rugby: G.C. Lindsay, of Scotland, in 1887, ``Dan'' Lambert, of England, in 1907 and Rory Underwood, of England, in 1989. All three were wings whereas Crawford, selected as a centre originally, played full back against the Welsh.

Remarkably, she did not register in the pool game against Sweden, which the United States won 111-0, though she did score three tries against Ireland in the quarter-final.

``They put me at full back because of my pace and the two girls in the centre are good ball handlers,'' Crawford, who played centre in the 1991 final, said.

Indeed, the fingertip quality of the midfield play was never better illustrated than in her final try, the fourth of the last quarter which swept away the hopes of a gallant Wales.

They had the limited satisfaction of scoring the first points the United States have conceded in the tournament, two tries from Liza Burgess at pushover scrums and one from Bess Evans after a quickly taken penalty.

They also exposed the way in which the Americans may be beaten, by keeping the ball tight and driving the scrums or the mauls one was timed at more than two minutes, surpassing by far the long-distance effort of Pontypridd in the recent Swalec Cup semi-final against Cardiff but once the Americans find daylight, it will be a good team who can live with them.

``That's the way we like to play the game,'' Crawford said. ``If we are behind our own line and there's an overlap, we'll go for it.''

With the speed oozing from their back division, and the capable support of such as Sheri Hunt, the flanker, they can afford so expansionist a policy.

England's aim will be to deny them possession, in the way they did the French. Had their jumpers not dominated the lineout the result might have been different, and only in the dying minutes did Karen Almond put matters beyond doubt with a solo try which compensated for some erratic tactical kicking.

Almond, for so long the mainstay of England and Great Britain teams since the first women's international in 1986, participated in the game last summer when England beat the United States in Toronto to win the Canada Cup. ``They have a good set of backs, but they didn't play so well under pressure,'' the England captain said. But she and her colleagues will do well to dampen the threat coming from so many different directions.

Copyright (C) The Times, 1994

Source Citation
"Crawford shines as Eagles fly high; Rugby Union." Times [London, England] 21 Apr. 1994

Wednesday, 20 April 1994

World Cup: semi-final preview

David Hands

Earlier this year, Will Carling, the England captain, mused on the desirability of players having greater input in the administration of rugby union, as they did during the game's infancy. Away from first-class rugby, however, it happens all the time, nowhere more than in the women's game, where a do-it-yourself philosophy has fostered a burgeoning game.

Indeed, women's rugby has grown to such a degree that, in Edinburgh on Friday, delegates from all the countries competing in the women's world championship in Scotland, plus several who are not, will confer over the viability of the next championship and the possible formation of an international body. Among those present will be Keith Rowlands, the secretary of the (men's) International Rugby Football Board (IRFB).

The Women's Rugby Football Union (WRFU), now ten years old, will also decide at its annual meeting next month whether to break into its component national parts. It has been the umbrella organisation for Britain since its inception last year, but the Scots formed a union and affiliated to the Scottish Rugby Union and now England, Wales and Ireland are likely to go the same way.

In a short time, the women have achieved a formidable amount, without much assistance from the men's game or sponsors. Their world championship the semi-finals are in Galashiels today, with the final at Edinburgh Academicals on Sunday is being played on a shoestring.

The Scots have performed wonders in the last three months, since stepping into the breach left by Holland, but the competitors have funded themselves. What the WRFU would love to do, perhaps in the closing stages of their championship, is erase an image problem. Rather than the media rediscovering them at infrequent intervals, the players seek the mainstream acceptance that women in other sports, notably hockey, have won. That alone might overcome the doubts sponsors entertain about women playing rugby and create more opportunities for television.

Maybe it will happen if England win on Sunday. Success against France today will put them in the final, probably against the United States, who beat them 19-6 in the 1991 final in Cardiff. The Americans play Wales today.

Rowlands's attendance on Friday is to discover more about an area of the game some of his member unions report is the fastest growing of any. In Ireland three years ago, there were no recognised clubs and only six in Scotland. The Scots now have 30 and there are 201 in England, Wales and Ireland.

Last week, Rosie Golby, the secretary of the WRFU, and Dudley Wood, the secretary of the Rugby Football Union (RFU), discussed membership of the RFU. The RFU is supportive, but the women want to maintain their identity, even though they know a formal association with the men's governing body may lead to grants and greater financial recognition from the Sports Council.

``Women's rugby is still very different from the men's game,'' Golby said. ``There are few people on the executive committee who don't play and we know what decisions we are making and what the impact will be.'' Would that the men could say the same.

Copyright (C) The Times, 1994

Source Citation
"Women strive for recognition; Women's Rugby." Times [London, England] 20 Apr. 1994

Monday, 18 April 1994

World cup; England v Canada

Alan Lorimer

ENGLAND, joint favourites to win the women's rugby world championship, cleared the quarter-final hurdle by defeating Canada 24-10 at Galashiels yesterday. England won the try count by 4-1 and left the impression that they have a lot more scoring power in reserve.

Canada, although strong in defence, could not match the technical skills of the England forwards who dominated the lineouts, through some athletic jumping from Gill Burns and Heather Stirrup, who provided the bulk of England's posession from this source.

With Karen Almond, the stand-off and captain, both long and accurate with her line-kicking Canada found it difficult to get into the match.

Jacqui Edwards, the Blackheath centre, and Annie Cole, the Saracens wing, crossed for tries in the first half. The second-half scorers were Emma Mitchell and Almond, who landed two conversions. Josee LaCasse scored a late try for Canada which was converted by Natashe Shiels, who also kicked a penalty.

Wales joined England in the semi-finals, where they will meet the United States, as the result of an 8-0 victory over Scotland at Melrose.

In a closely fought match, played at a furious pace, Wales struck a telling blow ten minutes from full time when Kim Yau scored a try after the full back, Kate Richards, had come cleverly into the line. Amanda Bennet, the stand-off, missed the conversion kick but did succeed with a penalty to seal victory.

Scotland matched the Welsh in dynamic forward play but in the final reckoning the greater experience of the Welsh side and the combined skills of Lisa Burgess, a powerful No8, and Bess Evans at scrum half, provided their country with a decisive advantage.

Copyright (C) The Times, 1994

Source Citation
"England advance in impressive fashion; Women's Rugby." Times [London, England] 18 Apr. 1994

Sunday, 17 April 1994

World cup: feature

Sue Mott

THE audible crunch of the scrum was proof, if any were needed, that the first ever women's rugby international between Scotland and England was no place for flower-arrangers. The scoffs of macho detractors died in the throat as the thunderous business of England's 26-0 victory riveted the attention of 5,000 devotees at Boroughmuir RFC in Edinburgh on Friday.

Three tries and the accurate boot of Deidrie Mills ensured England's unbeaten progress to the quarter-finals of the women's rugby world championship. But it was the standard of the mauls, rucks and tackles that had the crowd on its feet in admiration and exhortation. The Scots sang Flower of Scotland, the England bench screamed: ``Get in her face!''

England, beaten only once in five years, are on course for a final showdown against the USA, whose 121-0 win over Japan was both an indication of brute force and the lack of stature of their opponents. With a 4ft 11in shop assistant in the squad and two players aged 47, Japan were long shots for the crown.

But Scotland were pround of themselves. Sandra ``Gnomi'' Williamson played with the snap and ferocity of Gary Armstrong at scrum-half, while the forwards, exemplified by Pogo Paterson, were ``superb, committed, gutsy'', according to full-back Mickey Cave.

There was never any doubt in high places that the world championship would be a success. The president of Kazakhstan sent his team into the fray with this ringing endorsement: ``This tournament of youth, sport and beauty will stay a brilliant memory in the hearts of all the participants.''

He probably did not have in mind the night 10 of the Irish team graced a policemen's disco with one of their number dressed in a size 26 nylon floral dress and yellow-flowered swimming cap. But it was a ``brilliant memory'' anyway. Not least for the policemen who arrived at the Irish hotel next morning to express their personal admiration.

The world championship is that sort of event. An exuberant mix of fierce pride, practical jokes and penury with tooth-rattling tackles thrown in. ``I wouldn't like to put our first team out against that lot,'' a male voice was heard to mutter as the Scots and Russians collided at Gala on Wednesday.

A number of preconceptions that women rugby players are a bunch of big, butch Berthas with whom one would not share even a well-lit alley have been ripped asunder and thrown to the merry Scottish winds.

Kazakhstan, for instance, have a hairdresser in the team. They are here for the greater glory of the former Soviet republic and the experience of foreign competition. They had played only three internationals before this. They had never seen tackle bags or rucking shields before they used each other instead.

They were, however, magnificently well-organised compared with the Russians who arrived at Manchester airport with no transport to Edinburgh, nowhere to stay and no money to pay for it. But, responding to the Scottish equivalent of Dunkirk spirit, a coach company donated a bus and driver and StJohn's Hospital, Livingstone, found space in their nurses' quarters. Handy for the Accident and Emergency Department.

Admittedly, the bus subsequently failed its MOT and the Russians were 30 minutes late for the Scotland match. ``No problem,'' said one of the tournament organisers, operating from a cupboard in Meadowbank Stadium. ``It gave more time for the crowd to gather.''

The fact the championship is being held at all, when Holland withdrew as hosts only 90 days before the scheduled start, is a tribute to Scots efficiency, shameless begging and sheer madness.

``The sport does tend to attract boisterous types,'' Joanne Hall, the Ireland team manager, said. ``Total headers, we call them. But you have very, very quiet girls taking up rugby too. Funnily enough, they're often the most aggressive on the pitch. It does bring out the assertive in you but I've found I'm a lot easier to live with when I play rugby.''

Everybody plays down the violence. ``All sports can be physical,'' the players tend to say, as though savage collisions with 13 stones worth of lose-head prop are an everyday occurrence. Still, Debbie Francis, Scotland's vice-captain, received her worst injury, a broken ankle, when she tripped while out shopping.

The women who play rugby are adamant that no other sport could possibly provide the same camaraderie or intense satisfaction. ``It's the challenge,'' Francis said. ``A girl doesn't have too many chances to use her body to the absolute maximum. This is it.''

Commitment is total. Each Scottish player paid more than Pounds 400 to take part and the Irish team up to Pounds 600 each. The pervasive pennilessness, the youth of the sport, the panic-stations organising and the fact that Scottish students were last-minute replacements for Spain have all contributed to aspersions that the world championship is no better than a glorified scrum.

But it has changed attitudes, enlivened police discos and, most precious of all, given the sport a hefty shove towards national esteem.

Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 1994

Source Citation
"As we thought, rugby is a girls' game; Rugby Union." Sunday Times [London, England] 17 Apr. 1994

Saturday, 16 April 1994

World cup: England v Scotland

Alan Lorimer

Scotland 0, England 26

IT MAY not have been Murrayfield but a crowd of 5,000 at Meggetland last night produced the equivalent atmosphere for the first women's rugby match between Scotland and England.

England's greater experience during this world championship match was particularly evident in their forward play, which produced quality second-phase possession, in contrast to the Scots, who struggled to win ball at the breakdown points.

Helen Harding, of England, was impressive at scrum half, her pass of either hand being both quick and accurate, and at stand-off, Deidre Mills kicked with exemplary skill. She scored three penalties and a conversion from seven attempts.

England's centres were more alert to opportunities and it was a classic break by Giselle Pragnelle that produced a try for Paula George, the full back. England's second try was more opportunistic, Claire Vyvyan intercepting an intended long pass. The lively Harding claimed England's third try, touching down after Jenny Chambers, the No8, had broken off the scrum.

The Scots never looked like scoring. They did, however, tackle with commitment in their midfield.England, the winners of pool B, will play Canada in a quarter-final at Galashiels tomorrow and Scotland will play Wales at Melrose.

United States, the defending champions, will play Ireland after an overwhelming 121-0 defeat of Japan. Amy Westerman scored five tries and three conversions in a spree of 13 tries and eight goals. France will play Japan in the other quarter-final.

SCOTLAND: M Cave (Saracens); L Burns (Aberdeen University), P Paterson (Richmond), K Littlejohn (Edinburgh Academicals), D Francis (Richmond); A McGrandles (Richmond), S Williamson (Edinburgh Academicals); D Lochhead (Dundee High School FP), M Ferguson (Edinburgh University), D Aitken (West of Scotland), I Wilson (Alton), L Cockburn (Edinburgh Academicals), M McHardy (Edinburgh Academicals), J Sheerin (Heriot-Watt University), D Barnett (Wasps).

ENGLAND: P George (Wasps); C Stennett (Wasps), C Vyvyan (Wasps), G Pragnelle (Wasps), V Blackett (Clifton); D Mills (Richmond), H Harding (Wasps); C Bronks (Richmond), S Dorrington (Richmond), E Scourfield (Leeds), K Jenn (Richmond), K Henderson (Novacastrians), H Stirrup (Wasps), G Shore (Wasps), J Chambers (Richmond).

Referee: J Fleming (Boroughmuir).

RESULTS: Pool A (at Melrose): United States 121 Japan 0. Pool B (at Boroughmuir): Scotland 0, England 26. Pool C (at West of Scotland): France 34 Ireland 0. Pool D (at Edinburgh Acads): Canada 28 Kazakhstan 0.

QUARTER-FINAL QUALIFIERS (tomorrow): United States, Japan, England, Scotland, France, Ireland, Wales, Canada.

Copyright (C) The Times, 1994

Source Citation
"England beat Scotland to book place in last eight; Rugby Union." Times [London, England] 16 Apr. 1994

Friday, 15 April 1994

World cup: England v Russia

Clement Freud

Let me begin by apologising for the failings in this article. I went to the rugby international between England and Russia sponsored by Alna Ltd, creative colour printers of East Lothian which England won 66-0 with a stunning display of fast, open football, and I took the most careful notes of who did what; also when.

My notebook makes mention of the sureness of touch of the scrum half; the intelligent reading of the game by our full back; the electric speed of both wingers, of whom the one on the right was powerful, the one on the left nimble and cunning.

I wrote a paragraph praising the valour and mobility of the English No5 in the lineouts, another concerning the strength and discipline of the scrum in which England got lower and pushed harder than their opponents. Our No8, I noted, would be voted ``most valuable player'' were such an award part of the British game.

There was no available match-card or team-sheet, but the press officer kindly gave me a glossy world championship official souvenir brochure containing complete details of every player representing 11 of the competing nations; I accepted this gratefully to use for the translation of numbers into names.

Alas, also alack: the numbers on the brochure bore no relationship to those on the backs of the players' shirts though the positions are chronicled.

As a consequence, I know not whether our efficient scrum half was Emma Mitchell 5ft 3in, 11 stone, 27-year-old sales manager who has 23 international caps or Helen Harding 5ft 5in, 9st 10lb, 22, service adviser with one representative appearance to date. The one I admired looked 5ft 4 in.

The brochure lists only one No8 and a single stand-off: all praise, then, to Gill Burns 5ft 11in, 131/2st, 29 and Deirdre Mills 5ft 4in, 9st 12lb who also kicked penalties and converted tries with rare panache and comprehensive understanding of the effect of the wind.

Paula George fits the statistics of the full back on view (Jane Mitchell, also shown to play in this position, is 5ft 4in and the one I saw was taller).

But there are four listed wingers: which ever of Jayne Molyneaux, Cheryl Stennett, Val Blackett or Annie Cole wore the numbers 11 and 14 shirts deserve the highest praise. They played great rugby. I particularly appreciated the pass from the right winger to the left one ten yards from the Russian line when both were well clear of the opposition.

All this happened at the sloping Boroughmuir Rugby Football Club ground in the south-west of Edinburgh in front of a crowd of 83, a number that includes managers of the teams, their trainers and the substitutes.

Our women wore the white strip of Carling's team; the Russians had white shorts over black knee-length cycling trousers and red shirts, though what they gained in sartorial elegance they lost on the field of play.

Their passing was flawed, they kicked when they should have run, their attempted Gari Ovans went upski without having anyone beneath to gather the ball.

Sadly, Russia is the one team not listed in the brochure, but some of them were called Olga, Natalya, Elena and Svetlana; I heard the coach call out their names.

As the Soviet Union, they played in the first World Cup, held in Cardiff three years ago. The editor of the official souvenir laments: ``Since that time, little has been heard or seen of them and unfortunately player profiles have not materialised.''

What is fascinating about women's rugby it is uplifting that nobody calls it ladies' rugby is the openness of the game. About 50 per cent of set-pieces result in the ball being passed along the threequarter line; the tackling is precise; the rucking hard, but sufficiently benign to enable defending players to fall on the ball without grievous consequence.

We needed a bigger crowd.

A second-year politics student from Strathclyde University shouted: ``Come on Russia'' three or four times.

When our No4 dived across the line to bring the score to 51-0 and Mills missed the conversion, one of the coaches called, ``Concentrate England''.

I also liked ``All the way next time, Emma'', a cry that I have often heard at Twickenham in the bar, after the match.

At 6.30 this evening, Scotland play England at Boroughmuir. If you live somewhere north of Watling Street and love rugby, you would be very foolish to go anywhere else.

Copyright (C) The Times, 1994

Source Citation
"Well played, whoever you were; Freud on Friday." Times [London, England] 15 Apr. 1994

Thursday, 14 April 1994

World cup: Kazakhstan v Wales

Alan Lorimer

KAZAKHSTAN arrived in Edinburgh for the women's rugby union world championship as an unknown force but will surely depart having gained new-found respect.

Yesterday, the former Soviet Republic gave an impressive display of running rugby against Wales at Raeburn Place and were ahead halfway through the first half before eventually going down 29-8.

Kitted out in an attractive blue-and-black strip and displaying clearly on their cycling shorts the logo of Holsten, their sponsor, Kazakhstan gave Wales a much harder game than expected, but Wales's streetwise knowledge of the game allowed them to dominate the second half. Moreover, the kicking of Amanda Bennett at stand-off half created a cushion for Wales that kept the opposition in arrears in the second half.

Bennett no relation to Phil Bennett, the former Wales stand-off kicked four penalty goals and one conversion and saw another of her conversion attempts rebound off an upright. She also displayed an eye for an opening, although the Wales backs failed to capitalise.

It was the Kazakhstan backs who showed the greater running skills particularly Alfiya Tamaeva, the full back, who kicked a first-half penalty, and Sofiya Kabanova, who scored a try in the first period after a break by Tamaeva.

Wales trailed 8-6 at half-time but took the lead early in the second half when Kate Eaves, the lock, powered her way over from a quickly taken penalty.

Bennett's third and fourth penalties took Wales well clear and, when Eaves scored her second try, again from close range, Kazakhstan's hopes were ended. In the final minute, Wales attempted a push-over try but the Kazakhstan pack collapsed at the scrum. A penalty try was awarded, which Bennett converted.

Copyright (C) The Times, 1994

Source Citation
"Bennett inspires Wales; Women's Rugby Union." Times [London, England] 14 Apr. 1994

Wednesday, 13 April 1994

Gill Burns: profile

Sally Jones

To watch Gill Burns at the barre, a tall, striking figure with the poise only achieved by those who started ballet almost before they could walk, it is hard to believe this is the woman who could prove crucial to the England women's rugby union team's World Cup campaign over the next two weeks.

Burns, 29, an outstanding all-round athlete and a teacher of physical education at Culcheth High School, Warrington, plays No8 for the England side that reached the final of the inaugural World Cup in 1991 and is tipped to go one better in Edinburgh.

Ironically, Burns attributes much of her sporting prowess to her early grounding in ballet even though, at a whisker under 6ft and 131/2st, she is no longer the traditional shape for a ballerina. ``My mother runs dancing schools near Liverpool and I was there from the moment I arrived, in a cot or hanging in the corner in my baby bouncer while she took classes,'' she said. ``I took part in my first charity show as a babe in arms, being serenaded by a man singing `Thank Heaven For Little Girls'. I spent the whole number picking his nose and trying to poke his eyes out, so they should have known then what I'd end up doing!''

By the age of 11, she was already too tall to dance professionally but continued her training in ballet, tap and stage dancing and eventually qualified as a teacher. That discipline stood her in good stead in a variety of sports she represented British colleges in hockey, basketball and athletics, including sprints, heptathlon and all the field events but a light-hearted charity rugby game changed her life.

``It was incredibly exhilarating,'' Burns said. ``I love running with the ball in my hands and suddenly realised I'd found the ideal game for me. From then on, my feet hardly touched the ground. I joined the Liverpool Poly side and scored two tries in my first match, then was invited to a North trial four weeks later to give me experience.''

``I went along, scored again and, to my amazement, found myself in the squad. I'd played so much sport and also watched a lot of rugby so it seemed to come to me pretty easily. At the time, England was short of big, strong, fast natural athletes and, after going on the next national training camp, I was picked for the match against Sweden just a year from the day I started playing. We won 40-0 on my local ground, Waterloo, and I've played every match since then.''

Burns believes that ballet, despite its image of delicate fragility, proved the perfect foundation for rugby and, certainly, during the World Cup training camp at St Albans, the statuesque figure with a long flying plait soared effortlessly in the lineouts, hanging in the air above leaping team-mates to clutch the ball. Her balanced running and deceptive changes of pace and direction also marked her out as an outstanding all-rounder.

For Burns and the rest of the side, the high point of their careers was their aggressive victory against France at Cardiff Arms Park in the semi-final of the first World Cup. In the final, they lost to the United States 19-6 but, after beating the Americans convincingly during the Canada Cup in Toronto last year, the players are confident this will be their year.

All are bristling with fitness after a training schedule that includes around two hours of running, weights and circuit training a day, regular practice games, drills and work with a sports psychologist.

The toughest part of the build-up has been trying to raise the Pounds 1,000 each player needs for kit, travelling and accommodation to compete in the unsponsored World Cup, which Scotland took over in December after Holland, the original hosts, had to pull out after funding problems. Several of the England players are taking out bank loans in order to compete.

Steve Peters, a former student international, now coaches the side and is impressed by the skills and commitment on show. ``It's so refreshing to be working with top-class women after coaching blase men's and colts' sides,'' he said. ``They're so keen to learn. You need a different approach because some tend to take instructions as criticism and are slightly lacking in confidence.''

Burns identified another problem. ``We've also had to learn to be pretty tough about coping with teasing and prejudice,'' he said. ``You get used to these male chauvinist comments, like `It's terrible women playing rugby they'll bang their breasts and damage their child-bearing parts for life'.

``In fact, comparatively, we're just as strong as men as it's women playing against women and we're certainly capable of the same commitment and technical skills as men. When people say it's a men's sport, we say: `No it's not, it's a great game for everyone.'''

Copyright (C) The Times, 1994

Source Citation
"Burns holds centre stage for England; Women's Rugby Union." Times [London, England] 13 Apr. 1994

Sunday, 10 April 1994

World Cup: preview


A FLURRY of sleet spattered St Alban's rugby club as the scrum heaved and grunted. 'Power' commanded the flanker and the pack threw themselves into their freezing task with a will and an almost audible buzz of excitement. For most male sides the buffeting would have provided the perfect excuse to end the practice session. To the England women's team at their last training camp before the world championship which starts in Scotland tomorrow, this was just the latest in a string of challenges that would have sunk a less determined squad.

'Bad weather we can handle,' gasped one of the side's stalwarts, 35-year-old Sue Dorrington afterwards. 'What bugs us is the sheer frustration of lack of funding and sponsorship; the humiliation of top athletes like us having to sell raffle tickets in car parks and beg from our families to raise the pounds 1,000 each it'll cost us to compete in the World Cup.'

Women's rugby in Britain, once regarded as a lurid spectacle on a par with mud-wrestling, is expanding rapidly. From small beginnings in a handful of universities in the 1970s, there are now more than 250 clubs and around 10,000 women playing regularly.

The first women's World Cup at Cardiff in 1991 was won by the passionate, ultra-fit American side, who beat England 19-6 in the final at the Arms Park. Dorrington and her teammates are determined to exact revenge this time, whatever the personal and financial cost.

The Dutch were originally scheduled to host the event but pulled out in December after a string of rows and financial problems and the Scots gallantly, if rashly, offered to take it over at the last minute.

Whatever the venue, all the omens point to an England triumph. Last summer they beat Canada, Wales and the United States in Toronto to win the inaugural Canada Cup and the transformation in their technical standards within the space of a few years has been extraordinary, light years ahead of the unpolished play of their first international against France at Richmond in 1987.

The star then was the fly-half Karen Almond, a natural athlete who looked a class apart in her ball skills and tactical awareness. These days she operates within a well-drilled team including several other outstanding individuals like Emma Mitchell the scrum-half, the No. 8 Gill Burns and the explosive centre Jacquie Edwards.

Dorrington was the commercial director of the 1991 tournament and even re-mortgaged her house to help raise the pounds 30,000 needed to stage the event. 'It was a calculated risk,' she recalls. 'We knew it would probably lose money but it was history in the making and we couldn't see it fail for lack of funds.'

Dorrington, a hooker with the Wasps women's side, also introduced a new professionalism into the training, engaging her own fitness coach David Crottie four years ago and working out for around three hours a day as well as holding down a demanding job, until recently at Help the Aged but now with a corporate entertainment firm.

'My life revolves around the game,' she says. 'David puts me through a heavy programme, particularly in the build-up to the international season. It's my love for the game that keeps me going. I'm only five foot one and not a natural athlete but very strong and when I discovered rugby 12 years ago I knew I'd found a sport perfect for my size and body shape.

'We're combating ignorance the whole time and lots of men are amazed watching us play for the first time at the levels we reach. Whatever they think, we don't need their approval. We play this game for ourselves, because we love it, not to prove some feminist point.'

Jacquie Edwards agrees. The only black member of the England team and the star of the Blackheath women's side, she started playing rugby 10 years ago after an outstanding junior career in canoeing and basketball. 'I loved it from the moment I first stepped on to the pitch,' she recalls. 'At last here was a game where I wasn't restricted by a ban on physical contact where I could use skill, strength and speed all in the one sport. I started saving for a pair of boots. I'm the fifth of seven children and money's always been tight - patching our shoes with cardboard, that sort of thing - but it's never held me back from doing something I really wanted to do.'

Edwards, 25, an assessment officer who advises council tenants how to pay their rent and manage their benefits, could well do with some advice herself. She has raised just pounds 400 so far, including her life savings, towards the pounds 1,000 she needs to compete in the World Cup and is bitter about the indifference of potential sponsors towards the game.

'I train five times a week and spend thousands each year to play at international level but although I must have phoned every sporting manufacturer and women's clothing retailer, they all say women's rugby is not at all the sort of image they want to have their products associated with. It seems that if a women's sport isn't full of knife-thin girls in leotards or those sort of so-called 'feminine' stereotypes the sponsors just don't want to know.

'In fact we're as feminine in our way as any sportswomen. There's a lot of grace and real athleticism at the level we play and a growing following for top-class women's rugby. My boyfriend's Dad, who's pretty impartial, came up to me after we'd played a home club match and said: 'With your level of skill and knowledge of the game, if you could transplant that into a man's body, you could play for any men's team in the land.' That was quite a vote of confidence and it's buoyed me up during all the fund-raising and the desperate struggle to scrape enough pennies together to get to Edinburgh.'


Group matches: Pool A (Melrose): 11 April: United States v Sweden. 13: Sweden v Japan. 15: United States v Japan. Pool B (Boroughmuir): 11: England v Russia. 13: Scotland v Russia. 15: Scotland v England. Pool C (West of Scotland): 11: France v Spain. 13: Spain v Ireland. 15: France v Ireland. Pool D (Edinburgh Academicals): 11: Canada v Wales. 13: Wales v Kazakhstan. 15: Canada v Kazakhstan.

Quarter-finals: 17 April: A1 v C2 (Boroughmuir, 2pm); B1 v D2 (Gala, 2.0); C1 v A2 (Edinburgh Academicals, 4.0); D1 v B2 (Melrose, 4.0).

Semi-finals: 20 April: Winner Q1 v Winner Q4 (Gala, noon); Winner Q2 v Winner Q3 (Gala, 2.30).

Third place play-off: 24 April(Edinburgh Academicals, noon).

Final: 24 April(Edinburgh Academicals, 3.0).

Source Citation
"Women in Sport: Props of a new world order - Shoestring sisters united in the cause of crossing rugby's gain line." Observer [London, England] 10 Apr. 1994

World Cup: preview

Alasdair Reid

FOR all the honours the game has brought him the Lions tours, the Barbarians captaincy, the half century of caps Scott Hastings has still not set foot on what has become international rugby's biggest stage: a World Cup final.

And barring a Phoenix-like upturn in Scotland's fortunes in time for next year's tournament in South Africa, the only consolation he will have for this omission from an otherwise spangled CV, is that he went to school with someone who did.

Trick question? Can we now reveal that David Campese spent a secretive half-term at George Watson's College in the late 1970s, or that young Willie McCarling changed both name and nationality before heading off to Harlequins?

Neither, sadly, for Hastings's classmate - and, indeed, class captain was in fact Deborah Francis, who played for England against the USA in the women's World Cup final in 1991.

England lost that game in Cardiff, 19-6, but, according to Francis, they must be considered favourites for the second tournament, now christened the Women's Rugby World Championship, which kicks off at various venues around Scotland tomorrow: ``England have had a really good core of players for about eight years now. Their No8, scrum-half, and fly-half, can't really be competed with by anybody else in the world.''

Francis, however, will not be part of their side. After the 1991 competition, she took time out from the game to give birth to her son, Benjamin, and when she returned to international rugby it was with the Scottish side.

This, though, is no tale of another Anglo flying the saltire of convenience for the sake of a few more caps, for Francis, born in Bristol but raised in Edinburgh by Scottish parents, has always considered herself a Scot.

The nationality issue did not arise when she played her first international in 1986 for a Great Britain side. When that metamorphosed into an England side, Francis, who plays for Richmond, stuck with her friends and won the first of 12 English caps.

At that time, there was no Scottish side anyway, but when the prospect of Scotland playing internationals finally arose there was no question in her mind about which way to turn: ``I wanted to play for Scotland,'' she said. ``I wanted a blue shirt.''

In truth, she had also been frustrated by the actions of the English team management in 1991, when their failure to use their full squad in the early games saw 15 very tired players take the field against the USA, with the inevitable result. England had earlier come through a gruelling 13-0 semi-final win against France, when Francis scored a try, and she still carries the frustrations from the final.

``The England management put out their strongest team in every game. They had done it before, too, in the European Cup in 1988 and in both finals England were winning at half time. They didn't use the squad at all. It was so sad to watch.''

Francis is far happier with the Scottish management's way of doing things. She has been particularly impressed by the approach to selection taken by the manager, Ramsay Jones, and coach Roddie Stevenson, who recently travelled south to assess their Anglo players. By way of contrast, she points out that not one member of England's management was present when Richmond and Saracens, both including a number of English internationals, met in this year's WRFU Cup final.

Still, her assessment of the two countries' playing strengths put England, with their vastly greater experience, well in front. In Karen Almond, the fly-half who was a star of the 1991 tournament, they have a player who could have enormous influence again. Francis rates her highly.

``When she first started she was out in a class of her own. Not only is she a great athlete, but she also has a brilliant understanding of the game. The game has caught up on her a lot, but there hasn't been another fly half who has surpassed her.''

Scotland, though, may suffer for their inexperience: ``We've got a very good set of backs, certainly experienced from the centres outwards. The forwards are young, fit and enthusiastic and they can keep on running for ever, but they've not had the experience of tight play at international level.

``But the great thing is that in every game they play they learn so much; you can't believe the difference.

``I think where Scotland will struggle is that there aren't enough teams of a good enough standard. It was that way in England. It came on in huge leaps and bounds and then there was a stalemate for a couple of years.''

The first week of the championship will involve pool games. The 12 competing countries have been seeded in to four groups of three, the top seeds being USA, England, France, and Wales.

Scotland's place in the international order is measured by the fact that they are seeded third in the group which, ironically for Francis, is headed by England.

Scotland play England at Meggetland on Friday. On Wednesday, however, they meet Russia at the same venue and Francis is optimistic about their prospects: ``We're concentrating all our efforts on trying to win the Russia game,'' she said. ``We've heard nothing of them since the last tournament but I can't imagine that they've played a lot of internationals.''

The second week of the championship brings a round-robin Plate competition and knockout stages in the Shield competition and the championship itself, leading to the final at Raeburn Place on Sunday April 24. Given that the SWRU only volunteered as organisers three months ago, the efficiency is impressive to say the least.

Resourceful, too. The Scottish players will each pay over Pounds 400 for the privilege of representing their country over the next two weeks, while visiting players will have a range of accommodation that includes caravans and their hosts' living room floors.

Scott Hastings must be wondering where he went wrong.

Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 1994

Source Citation
"Deborah shows true colours; Women's International Rugby." Sunday Times [London, England] 10 Apr. 1994