Monday, 19 December 1994

England v Netherlands: report

Oliver Holt

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

Source Citation
"England take advantage of margin for error; Rugby Union." Times [London, England] 19 Dec. 1994

Saturday, 17 December 1994

England v Netherlands and the formation of RFUW

David Hands

ALL the talk is of sponsorship for the domestic game, the turnover in players, the input from the divisional championship and it is all applied to women's rugby, where the international season begins tomorrow, at Wasps. England, holders of the world title they won in Edinburgh eight months ago, play Holland in what is the beginning of a new era for the game in England.

Since last season the administration has been rationalised, an international body has been formed and the four home unions have separated. The formation of the Rugby Football Union for Women, governing England only, has brought access to Sports Council grants and a greater accord with the men's governing body.

Victory over the United States also brought greater recognition from sponsors. National Car Parks has backed the divisional tournament, won by the North, and this week Vladivar Vodka brought a heady tang to the national knockout competition while marketing of the England squad is in hand.

But of the XV that carried off the world title, only eight remain to play the Dutch. There is a new captain in Gill Burns, the experienced Waterloo No8, and four newcomers, all of them behind the scrum as England look towards the next world tournament, likely to be in Canada in 1998, and examine the potential of the next generation.

Burns, 30, a PE teacher at Culcheth High School in Warrington, has no doubt about England's ability to sustain their high ranking.

ENGLAND: H Hulme (Clifton); J Molyneux (Waterloo), J Edwards (Blackheath), A Wallace (Leeds), A Cole (Saracens); D Mills (Richmond), S Appleby (Novocastrians); J Mangham (Waterloo), N Ponsford (Clifton), E Scourfield (Leeds), J Chambers (Richmond), S Wenn (Wasps), H Stirrup (Wasps), H Clayton (Waterloo), G Burns (Waterloo, captain).

Copyright (C) The Times, 1994

Source Citation
"Women's game on sounder footing; Women's Rugby Union." Times [London, England] 17 Dec. 1994

Sunday, 11 December 1994

Prejudice: another response to Probyn


WHEN the England women's rugby side run out for their international against Holland at Wasps next Sunday they will be desperate not just to win, but to win in the sort of style that will make Jeff Probyn eat his words.

After a student suffered a neck injury, which did not prove serious, in a recent women's club match the former England prop and several other members of the establishment's macho brigade declared that rugby was too rough a game for women and implied that female players were a pack of harridans with broken noses and cauliflower ears.

The comments provoked an uproar, with howls of outrage or derision from most of Britain's 5,000 women players, particularly those who took part in England's splendid World Cup final victory against the United States in April. Even the unreconstructed chauvinists of the men's game began, in public at least, to duck below the parapet.

Probyn agreed to hold a somewhat tongue-in-cheek coaching session, televised by the BBC's Rugby Special, for the women's squad at Richmond Rugby Club, which boasts the biggest female section in the world. Much of the programme's obligatory joshing was for once at the expense of Probyn himself rather than the women's game.

Watching the powerful Richmond first team, who are unbeaten in the National League this season, on a wet, freezing night, rucking and mauling under floodlights, the sheer commitment and technical skills were striking.

For two of the players, Deirdre Mills at fly-half and the flanker, Jenny Chambers, there was an extra incentive as they will be on England duty next week.

Mills, 31, a stalwart of the game and a fine all-round athlete, became hooked on rugby in the last year of her degree at University College, London. She spent 10 years in the international shadows as the understudy to Karen Almond before gaining her first cap this year in England's World Cup victory over Russia. She then made her name as a place-kicker with a handful of fine conversions and a memorable long-range penalty in the match against Scotland, to the delight of the 5,000-strong crowd.

As one of a string of newcomers, Mills, a softly spoken accountant with the Birmingham Midshires Building Society, is keen to build on her growing reputation. 'It's moments like the big kick against Scotland that stay with you,' she says. 'I remember placing the ball five yards inside the touchline on the wrong side for me (she's a right-footed kicker), looking up and thinking 'Wow, that looks a helluva long way'. Then I stepped up and went boof and it was there. The team went wild because we all knew that the match against Scotland was going to be tough.'

Her kicking prowess is a legacy of childhood. 'I've got three brothers and I was always kicking a ball around with them as a child, so it's second nature really,' she says.

'These days I spend a lot of time practising place-kicking on the two evenings a week that I train with Richmond, then there's all the weights, circuits and treadmill-running at the gym on the other nights, so it's a pretty big commitment.

'The game's great, though. I love the rough and tumble of it and how as fly-half I have a huge influence on adapting our tactics to outwit different opponents. We're well trained and pit players of equal strength against each other, so I don't see why anyone should try to stop us playing. Life itself can be dangerous. In fact, it's generally fatal! I think the Probyn comments were just a cheap publicity stunt and ironically the women's game has benefited from all the coverage they got.'

Jenny Chambers, 32, a former army officer in charge of PTI training, is equally bullish about the future of women's rugby, despite Probyn's jibes. 'Since I started playing six years ago,' she says, 'the game's mushroomed incredibly with over 200 clubs and growing numbers of teenagers and young women taking it up. At the top level, the game is tactically and technically virtually as good as the men's, although there's still a lot of prejudice to overcome. I had to wait until I left the army to play it because it had a big image problem with my superior officers, who nearly fainted when I suggested starting an army side.'

However, by the end of her first practice session Chambers, who now runs a leisure centre near Heathrow, was a rugby addict and began training every day. At 5ft 9in and 10st 10lb, Chambers admits she is light for a flanker, but with her pace and abundant natural talent, she has improved rapidly. She gained her first cap last year and was on the bench for the World Cup final, coming on early in the match to play as a replacement lock for an injured team-mate.

'It sounds arrogant to say it,' she says, 'but at the final whistle, I just felt utter relief. I knew we ought to win the match after all the work we'd done on skills and tactics over the previous three years, but it was wonderful to fulfil that dream. After that performance and all the media coverage it got, we suddenly found we were being taken a lot more seriously and even the Probyn comments have worked in our favour.'

Chambers, who is a qualified coach, was unimpressed by the session Probyn took, believing it was designed to humiliate rather than instruct.

'His first drill was chip-kicking a tackle bag, tackling the bag then recovering the ball from beyond it. It was a bit chaotic, but any sensible coach would have started a session with basic warm-up skills and I think the only reason he chose such a complicated manoeuvre was to make us look inept.

'He also taught our forwards how to pull the opposing prop's elbow down to prevent her seeing the ball as it's put into the scrum. He wouldn't admit it, but that's a dangerous manoeuvre that could cause the scrum to collapse. It's also bending the laws of rugby and if I'd been there I'd have protested.

'Sadly his attitude is typical of a lot of the top male players, although there are honourable exceptions like Rory Underwood and Brian Moore who's coached us and is incredibly supportive. We don't need anyone's approval to take part, though. We'll be going out against Holland to play our own brand of fluent, attractive rugby. I'm convinced we'll win and win well.'

Source Citation
"Rugby Union: Sisters who pack a heavy punch - Sally Jones finds England's women on a forward roll as they prepare to meet Holland." Observer [London, England] 11 Dec. 1994