Stephen Jones celebrates England's world-title-winning women's rugby team.
THE CLASSIC counter to the team with brilliant backs has always been to scrummage the soul out of them, to push them back so that their backs are trying to be brilliant from the back foot. Try pushing back a tractor in low gear.
In the final of the world championship played in Scotland earlier this year, England's tactical planners knew from previous rounds that they could scrummage the life out of the USA, the holders of the world title and their oponents in the world final. ``We could see from their semi-final against Wales that the Americans hadn't really come on technically since the last tournament, especially in the scrums,'' Carole Isherwood, one of the England team coaches, said.
But would England take up the option? They knew that a big crowd and television cameras would be present, hoping to see a running feast, and they knew that, essentially, the women's game is still based on skills that have disappeared from the men's game, not on simple confrontation. Thankfully, the team and the coaches made precisely the right decision.
If the tournament, itself reflecting the almost unbelievable growth in the women's game, was as big as it was cracked up to be, then it had to be worth winning with all the legal means at their disposal, not worth treating as some sort of glitzy festival that would have presented the match, gift-wrapped, to Candy Orsini, Jen Crawford and the clever American backs.
England set themselves from the first scrum. In a remarkable match, they almost drove the Americans out of the stadium through the back entrance. England were awarded two penalty tries when the American scrum caved in and disintegrated under pressure, and Gill Burns, the No8, scored another from close range.
England won 38-23, their power restricting the American backs to four tries. England also made progress by forcing the Americans to run possession, even when it was ragged. The deposed holders were less than ecstatic afterwards but, for unapologetic excellence, it was one of the team efforts of the sporting year, and has led to the England team's nomination in the Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year competition.
``We wanted to starve them of possession,'' Isherwood said. ``They were trying to play a seven-a-side game with 15 players. We played to the laws for 15 players. We did not play negatively; we played some good rugby and scored a really good try from long range. In the previous final we lost after winning 60 per cent of the ball. This time we exploited our superiority.''
THE Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year competition is held in conjunction with Moet and Chandon, the Central Council of Physical Recreation and British Airways. For an entry form please write to: Emma Robertson, PO Box 480, London E1 9XW.
Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 1994
"When push comes to shove Burns and Co have the edge; Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year awards." Sunday Times [London, England] 4 Sept. 1994