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