England 30, Holland 5
BIG LOUIS the barman was rushed off his feet. The players poured out of the changing rooms, enveloped by steam, and headed for the long bar looking out over the pitch where the faces of past club presidents gazed down from the wall. It was one of the smoke-filled rooms you read about in tales of power and male prejudice and it was thronged with women.
Louis had only seen anything like it once before. There was a women's rugby A international at the Wasps ground in northwest London last year, but this was the Real McCoy. Still, he treated it as routine. There is nothing novel about women's rugby any more; England's win in the World Cup in Edinburgh, in April, saw to that. After establishment, though, comes consolidation and progress.
That process began under the light of a watery sun here yesterday when the survivors of the team that beat Russia, Canada, France and the United States to win the world title played their first game since their triumph. Despite the disruption caused by the presence of five new caps, they coasted to a 30-5 victory over Holland.
It was not a game to banish the creeping cold with endless thrills. The 80 minutes were bedevilled by a series of handling errors and a glut of inconsequential rucks and misplaced passes. Still, a 30-5 victory on the back of a patchy performance is not bad and everyone, even the world champions, can have an off day.
What continues to irk team members, though, is the supercilious tone taken by some commentators. Some devote themselves to searches of northern England, supposedly a bastion of male prejudice, for the remnants of those who scorn the idea of women playing what has always been seen as a man's game; others continue to attempt comparison with men's rugby. Both approaches marginalise the players and demean women's rugby.
The idea of sport, after all, is to try to compete at the highest level, to compete fairly and to try to win. The 500 or more who braved the cold yesterday were rewarded by the sight of 15 England players, representing the pinnacle of their particular discipline.
That the level of skill on show here was below that of the men who play rugby was irrelevant. Few question the brilliance of Steffi Graf or compare her with Pete Sampras. Equally, any who bothered to watch could only admire the athleticism of the English captain, Gill Burns, the speed and trickery of Jacqui Edwards and the tackling ability of Suzie Appleby.
Nor could anyone question the commitment and courage of Sarah Wenn, who started the game despite a bad nose injury, only to retire after 26 minutes.
Mills kicked a penalty to put England ahead in the eleventh minute and Coles atoned for an earlier error when she went over in the corner. Edwards, who had set up that try, scored the second herself five minutes after the interval.
Abbenbroek gave the Dutch some hope with a fine try midway through the second half but Burns put the match beyond doubt with England's third try, Stirrup adding a fourth in the last minute.
There are now more than 6,000 women playing rugby in Britain and the ground here yesterday was dotted with coats swearing allegiance to various clubs. Burns, happy with her first match as captain, was optimistic about the future of the game. ``It was a bit of a scrappy match in parts,'' she said. ``I think there were a few butterflies early on from the new caps. But it is behind them now and there is a lot for us to build on.
``This was the beginning of a new era for us after the World Cup. We are getting more and more coverage. We have made it beyond curious pieces on the women's pages to the point where we are forcing the game on to the sports pages. We can't worry about that too much, though, we just want to keep winning.''
ENGLAND: J Mangham (Waterloo); N Ponsford (Clifton), E Scourfield (Leeds), S Wenn (Wasps), H Stirrup (Wasps); J Chambers (Richmond), H Clayton (Waterloo), G Burns (Waterloo), S Appleby (Novacastrians), D Mills (Richmond), A Coles (Saracens), A Wallace (Leeds), J Edwards (Blackheath), J Molyneux (Waterloo), H Hulme (Clifton). Wenn replaced by T Sivek (Richmond), 26min.
HOLLAND: L Schoone; S Veltkamp, M Hibma, M Van Den Hoger, A Van Waveren; D Van den Berg, M Schmutzer; M Veldscholten, B Terpstra, E Lichtenbeld, K Abbenborek, H Van Mens, O De Bruin, G Hamilton, C De Greef.
Referee: J Fleming.
A 62nd-minute try from Sandra Williamson gave Scotland a 5-0 victory over Wales in a women's rugby international at the Brewery Field, Bridgend, yesterday.
Copyright (C) The Times, 1994
"England take advantage of margin for error; Rugby Union." Times [London, England] 19 Dec. 1994