Sunday, 3 September 1995

RFU honours England women - men refuse invitations to attend

Jane Elliott

AFTER nine years and two World Cup wins, women's rugby in England has finally merited the ultimate accolade entry into the RFU's hallowed Rose Room at Twickenham. At an honours ceremony marked by a conspicuous lack of support from their male counterparts, who declined invitations to attend, the 67 women who have gleaned such consistent glory for the Great Britain and England sides since 1987 were officially capped.

The dinner celebrated the start of what promises to be yet another glorious season for the England side that notched up a 40-0 victory over the Nomads, the women's equivalent of the Barbarians, in a friendly at Rosslyn Park.

``It really is a historic day for the women's game,'' said England captain and most capped player, Gill Burns. ``The England side really showed their world-class form and recognition at the dinner makes all the time and effort everyone has put in worthwhile.

``In the past, it was all done for pats on the back, mostly from the rest of the side. Now I feel the game is really getting somewhere and fast.''

With the launch of their Home Nations tournament this season and the Five Nations championship next year, there are only two ghosts left for the RFUW the women's version of the RFU to banish. Its record for the lowest crowd at an international match and its image within the male sector of the game. Hundreds, rather than thousands, turned out to watch England's total dominance over the rest of the world and, although the quality of play was high enough to draw burly Rosslyn Park players pitchside from the bar, it was to comments of, ``Dodgy women playing a men's game,'' and ``It is not the sport you play, it is the quality of the way you play it.''

Women's rugby may be several centuries behind the men's game but surely the talent of the England side, unbeaten since 1991, can no longer be in any doubt.

Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 1995

Source Citation
"Pulling down another barrier; Women's Rugby." Sunday Times [London, England] 3 Sept. 1995:

Monday, 31 July 1995

Prejudice in New Zealand: John Kirwan

AFTER the speeches are made, the festivities can begin in unbridled earnest. The bartenders are kept busy as the senior players mingle with the multitudes, flirting capriciously in a sea of supporters and peers. Amidst the pre-eminent company, women's rugby is only a temporary conversation piece. An older woman appears bemused. She is holding a beer for one of the All Blacks, a responsibility she is thrilled to have. 'Why would you want to play the sport?' she asks. 'It's so violent.' Behind her, a male player chats with one female admirer while surreptitiously groping the backside of another. A drink is spilled, but no one notices. John Kirwan, the number 14 who has become an All Black institution - 'the best winger in the world,' some say - approaches a young American woman who has joined Marist during her two-month stay in New Zealand. He towers over her. He, too, wants to know why she plays rugby. 'And don't give me any of that feminist bullshit,' he adds curtly over the noise of the hired band. She seems puzzled by the question. 'I love the game,' she answers. Her reason is almost depressingly logical - why else would women subject themselves to such an under-appreciated role? - but Kirwan refuses to accept this response and insists on further justification. 'I don't believe in women's rugby,' he says. 'Why don't you leave something to us?' . . . The band is soon replaced by someone's CD collection, and Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing comes on during the fraternising and flirtation. Meanwhile, the American is having an animated conversation with a New Zealander who is also the former coach of the Dartmouth College women's rugby team. 'I was sceptical at first too,' he is explaining. 'I was like a lot of the guys here. I couldn't stand the idea of smart, attractive girls going out on the field to rough up their faces and bodies.' The coach seems delighted to have fallen on someone who can relate to his overseas experience and will appreciate his change of heart. 'Isn't it great,' he raves a bit drunkenly but with admirable intentions, 'that you and I can have an intelligent conversation about the game, and I can ask you things like do you use your outside shoulder on a tackle and how do you run your lines, without bringing sex into it?'

'Rugby mad' Ming Nagel's reminiscences of her time with the Marist Old Boys women's rugby team in Auckland, New Zealand, published in the American zine Girljock - slogan 'Fuck the well of loneliness, good-bye to all that. We're here to have fun'. The Marist women's team was unbeaten last year, with four of its players representing the national women's team.

Source Citation
"Jackdaw." Guardian [London, England] 31 July 1995

Saturday, 20 May 1995

All fall down

Chris Dighton insists that rugby has shed its public-school image and is rapidly becoming the people's game.


The spin-off is that parents become involved; dads get itchy feet, reviving memories of younger days or giving the game a go - and so, too, the mothers. If you had mentioned women's rugby in clubhouses a couple of years ago, the reaction would have been a leery smirk or a sneering put-down. No longer. Supply is based on demand and the demand is there. Bromsgrove are starting a women's section next season.

For a game perceived to be so chauvinistic, and the wives of international players might have cause to complain at the way the RFU prefers them to be seen (occasionally) and not heard, the club game for women is remarkably open. At Wasps, the women pay the same playing subscription as the men, and are allowed the same run of the club.

'It makes sense for the club to look after us right, which they do,' said Claire Vyvyan, the Wasps and England centre. 'We are utilising the facilities at a time when they would otherwise be dormant, and we are putting money over the bar. The club recognise that the women's game is here and growing, and they have come to respect it for what it is.' Women's rugby started in the universities - Vyvyan began at Loughborough, just to see what it was like - and has taken hold. 'I can't imagine not playing,' she said, 'and, when I left Loughborough to start work in London, I immediately set out to find a club. The appeal is that it is the ultimate team game.

'It is a different game from the one played by men, and has to be because of the physical differences. The fallout from two nine-stone women forwards colliding is obviously a lot less than when two 15-stone men crash into each other. But what is lost in the physical battle is made up for elsewhere - the games tends to be far more open, the handling swifter. Three or four years ago men would come along and they would be ready to put us down. Apart from the inevitable few who still insist on sterotyping us, and always will, most were pleasantly surprised, and have become supporters.' Counted among the pro-women's rugby lobby is the England hooker, Brian Moore, who has helped coach the women and has seen them pull off intricate moves that are still beyond the grasp of the Grand Slam winners. Indeed, England are the holders of the Women's World Cup, having beaten the US 38-23 in Edinburgh last year, and they even have their own commercial sponsor. In rugby, the pension book for men arrives at 35 when the snarl of aggression has dimmed, but not the urge to go on proving that you can still play a decent game. 'There are some very skilful sides around and often you will find a quality first team will play down through the years and turn into a quality veteran side,' said Ivan Gunn, a former captain of Old Walcountians Vets in Surrey. 'The players know their game inside out and you will find vets' sides running for years and years unbeaten.' It is very different game to the traditional end-of-season Sevens tournaments, but the spirit is the same: a game played for out-and-out enjoyment. Gunn is an example of the old player who never quite hung up his boots. Injury forced him out of the game at 20, but, shortly after reaching his 40th birthday, he was roped by a side short of players.


"Rugby World Cup: All fall down - Chris Dighton insists that rugby has shed its public-school image and is rapidly becoming the people's game." Guardian [London, England] 20 May 1995

Sunday, 30 April 1995

Player profile: Anny Freitas (Scotland)

Alasdair Reid on Anny Freitas, the open-side flanker more than happy in her aggressive work

AS an exercise in preconception-demolition, the Women's Rugby World Cup, staged in Scotland a year ago, proved a class act. Raised from the rubble of a tournament originally scheduled to take place in Holland, the Scottish women's rugby union produced a competition that ran with gloriously improbable smoothness from start to finish. Their real feat, however, lay in showing a dubious Scottish public, once and for all, that the second sex could indeed play rugby.

And even if the standards of play sometimes fell short of what some coverage, strained to a patronising consistency through the clenched teeth of political correctness, tried to claim, the improvement through the tournament came in leaps and bounds. None more so than Scotland, who finished in fifth place after a rapturously-received victory over Canada in the final of the shield competition .

It was a memorable performance after some distinctly forgettable showings by their male counterparts in the Five Nations. Central to the success was the explosive play of the Scottish back row, with Anny Freitas, the 24-year-old Edinburgh Accies flanker, the undoubted star of their show.

Not content with one thistle on her jersey, Freitas shaved another on the back of her head. A year on, her current trichological adventure is a sort of Mohican minimalism ``just a head shave with a bit of a fringe'' but when she wins her 10th cap against Italy at Meggetland this afternoon her ability to concentrate the minds of opponents with her forceful, driving play will be undiminished.

Scotland have not been beaten since the World Cup. They have, however, chosen their opponents carefully and Freitas admits that England, the ultimate winners last April, are still a class apart. She believes, though, that the standards of the two countries have moved closer together.

``I think the gap is definitely getting narrower. England are still a very formidable force and still the team to beat, but we're getting stronger with every game. I can see in the near future there could be a real contest.''

Yet even after the success of last year's tournament, Freitas still senses a need to stress the fact that female aggression is no different from the male version, a function of individual character rather than gender and perfectly acceptable so long as it is positive and controlled. The notion that women can play that way may be uncomfortable to some, but the suggestion that women's rugby can somehow develop as a gentler, nicer, version is a complete non-starter to her.

``In a contact sport, if you're not aggressive you'll get hurt. There is this thing that society doesn't expect women to be aggressive and I think there is a strong, positive connection between being aggressive and being assertive. Everyone has the potential to be aggressive and it's only negative when it is associated with violence.''

It would be wrong to see Freitas, a student of community education, as a strident pioneer, obsessed with the issue of women's rugby rather than the playing of it. She was introduced to the game four years ago and almost surprised herself by finding enjoyment in something she had previously despised.

``I just went along with a couple of mates and that was it. I actually hated rugby before I started playing, basically because I didn't understand it. I used to watch it and it just seemed so static, there was no dynamic. There was also the fact that it had the stereotype of being the middle class game and being completely male dominated. I suppose I discovered rugby by playing rugby.''

Her discovery was Scotland's gain, too. Her importance to the side can be measured by the fact that, having decided to give international rugby a miss for a while as she concentrated on her final year studies, she was persuaded back into the fold by the Scottish team management earlier this year. This afternoon, against a confident side that has already inflicted a heavy defeat on Scotland's A team, Freitas will be trying to demolish a few Italian preconceptions as well.

Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 1995

Source Citation
"Demolishing the preconceptions; Anny Freitas." Sunday Times [London, England] 30 Apr. 1995

Sunday, 9 April 1995

National Cup final: preview


WHEN Richmond and Wasps run on to the Stoop Memorial Ground for the Vladivar Cup Final at 3pm today, at least half a dozen of the players will have a distinct sense of deja vu. For it was a decade ago, when the women's game was in its infancy, that these teams met in the first final across the road, on the hallowed turf of Twickenham.

On that occasion Wasps, the longest-established women's side in Britain, won in style, but according to the form book they will be hard put to repeat their victory this time. Richmond are packed with highly experienced internationals, including Sue Dorrington, Jenny Chambers and Deirdre Mills, and unbeaten this season.

The Wasps' right wing, Cheryl Stennett, helped England reach the 1994 world championship final, although she was not in the team that defeated the holders, the United States, to lift the trophy. She is bullish about her team's chances this afternoon, despite their underdog status.

'We've been training hard; twice a week together as a squad and then doing individual training programmes that we're given,' she says. 'We quite like being underdogs for the final because it puts the pressure on Richmond. Although they've beaten us narrowly a couple of times this season, both losses were during our bad run of injuries and now we're almost back to full strength.'

The women's game is booming at all levels. From small beginnings in the early Eighties, there are now nearly 140 teams and more than 5,000 senior players competing regularly, plus hundreds of youngsters involved in 'New Image' rugby, a less physical version of the sport.

Stennett, aged 32, a PE teacher at the South Bank International School in west London, is an enthusiastic ambassador for women's rugby and hopes to introduce it to her pupils next season. 'When I first tried rugby as a student at Bedford PE College, the thrill of being able to run with the ball and the challenge of the handling and teamwork got me hooked straight away.

'International standards have risen so much over the past few years that men watching top women's sides playing for the first time are almost always surprised by just how well they play. I think far more people now know that women's rugby exists, and when they see us in action they realise we've got a skill level and are effective decision-makers.'

She believes the key is to be accepted not as surrogate men but as women playing rugby. 'Some of the rubbish that's written, like a recent Daily Express article that said it wasn't a suitable game for women because it was a contact sport, makes me furious. I'm glad to say that the Wasps' prop Jeff Probyn, who got a lot of flak for saying he wouldn't want a girlfriend of his looking like a woman rugby player, has since apologised to us. He claims he said it jokily off the cuff - he hasn't dared to try coaching us yet, though!

'I just want to prove what we can do in the cup final. We'll be going in there with an open mind, but we're quietly confident and know that if all goes well we can certainly win it.'

Source Citation
"Upbeat wing with a sting: Sally Jones assesses the form for the women's rugby union cup final today." Observer [London, England] 9 Apr. 1995

Wednesday, 22 February 1995

RFU loses sex discrimination case


BEVERLEY DAVIS, a Cornish dentist, won her sex discrimination case against the Rugby Football Union yesterday.

The 35-year-old honorary secretary of Helston RFC plans to stand for election as Cornwall's representative on the RFU's national general committee but claimed that the all-male RFU at Twickenham was damaging her chances in the poll by questioning whether its rules would allow her to sit on the committee, should she win the local vote.

At Brentford county court Judge Bishop granted Davis an injunction restraining the RFU from raising doubts about her eligibility until after the election. The RFU had written to the Cornish RFU last year quoting its rule 17 and hinting at doubt about women members serving on the committee.

The RFU said Davis could stand for election but, even if she won, it had not yet decided whether it would admit women. 'I am not prepared to be disadvantaged because I am female,' said Davis, who feared clubs might think a vote for her 'could turn out to be a wasted vote'.

Judge Bishop agreed with her yesterday, saying the RFU had had ample time to sort out its rules and that the delay in doing so had clearly been to her electoral disadvantage. 'The defendants have appeared to treat her less favourably than the men,' he said and he refused the RFU leave to appeal.

The RFU claimed that as a private club it was not covered by the Sex Discrimination Act. It said it could interpret its own rules as it wished - but anyway it had yet to decide whether its rules precluded women from the committee. But Lindsay Bryning, a solicitor for the Equal Opportunities Commission, claimed the RFU was not a private club, for it provided public services, and that there were many female members of RFU clubs, so they should be allowed to be represented nationally.

Twickenham's male diehards say any committee member should fulfil the same eligibility requirements as England rugby players; and, because RFU rules bar a girl over 13 playing in the same matches as boys, such a requirement could never be met. In addition, since the national women's rugby body had always made clear its desire to remain separate from the 'male' RFU, this should be reflected in the committees of the two organisations.

The Helston club, of which Davis is secretary, was formed in 1965, so has none of the history of famed Cornish teams. But the name of Helston resounds uniquely in sport, for the little hill town was the birthplace, in 1862, of Britain's only world heavyweight boxing champion Bob Fitzsimmons. Obviously the tradition of breeding fighters continues.

One by one sport's male bastions have fallen. Might the clubhouse at St Andrews or MCC's pavilion and committee room at Lord's be stormed next? All 'masculine' trophies are presented on the pavilion balcony and it jarred after the 1993 women's World Cup final that the presentation was on the outfield grass.

It reminded some of the Durban Open Golf Championship at the height of South Africa's awfulness when the Indian winner Sewgolum received his trophy outside in pouring rain while the white competitors he had beaten watched from inside the clubhouse.

In the Sixties the Jockey Club was forced to give way when the trainer Florence Nagle won in the Court of Appeal and put an end to its chauvinist fiction by which training licences were granted to women only 'in the name of their stables' male head-lad'. Now the club accepts women members and women jockeys.

Many golf clubs are still riddled with discrimination through the male-dominated 'private' get-out, and the men fight on with petty, dyed-in-the-wool misogyny.

In the first dozen years since the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act, the Equal Opportunities Commission received some 2,000 complaints about the lower status and treatment of women members of private sports clubs. Davis's case will be another landmark.

Source Citation
"Rugby Union: RFU loses sex discrimination case in court." Guardian [London, England] 22 Feb. 1995

Monday, 13 February 1995

England v Wales

Gerald Davies reports on a skilful women's international in which England beat Wales 25-0

The old world changes, and so do attitudes. Years ago, a friend of mine used to say, in his fashion, that, for so rough a game, he could not get over the extraordinary number of women who followed rugby. Were he still with us today, he would find that the women are not only there sitting beside him in the stand, but out there on the pitch, too. For so politically correct an age, this masculine view of the feminine world may be interpreted as dangerous talk. But there we are. We cannot deny the fact.

Quite what my old pal would say in seeing the women of England actually playing the game against the women of Wales, I am not sure. But knowing him, he would doubtless approve, particularly as he would have seen a match of high skill and wholehearted endeavour at Sale yesterday. He would have been less content, however, since he wore his Welsh heart so firmly on his sleeve, to see Wales go down to so disciplined and well-organised an England team by five tries without reply.

Those who object to women playing rugby are much the same as those who once objected to women running marathons: the over-protective male attempting to shelter what is perceived to be the sensitive femininity of a woman. This is the male chauvinist in patronising mood.

Jeff Probyn put his foot in it recently by wishing, at the first hint of danger and physical harm, to outlaw women from rugby altogether and giving scant acknowledgement that women, like men, can make up their own minds as to what is and what is not dangerous. Adopting such a posture is much like subscribing to Dr Samuel Johnson's view that ``a man is in general better pleased when he has a good dinner at his table, than when his wife talks Greek''.

Had the venerable good doctor known about rugby, he might have added the laws of rugby union as another subject to be kicked into touch. The dissection of rugby's intricacies can often seem like so much ``greek'' in any case.

While England were too powerful for Wales to make it a proper contest, the skills displayed and the overall commitment of both teams were qualities to admire. The feistiness with which women's rugby has been foisted on an unsuspecting and deeply suspicious public deserves to be richly rewarded. Unless that sounds too patronising.

The dominating personality was England's captain. Gill Burns dominated the lineout and like Dean Richards although comparisons are not wholly valid she drew her forwards around her to clear any threats at the base of the scrum. Not far behind her was Jenny Chambers. Suzy Appleby was a neat and busy scrum half, who, with an accurate pass, seemed to turn up everywhere when the need was called. These three set a high standard.

For Wales, Amanda Bennett, at stand-off half, seemed to have studied the videos of when Wales's factory was in full production. She had a fine game, as did Lisa Jones at No8.

Sara Wenn's try from a drive at the lineout close to the Welsh line and Burns's push-over try gave England the half-time lead. Superior power in attack led to three more tries after the interval by Mills, Appleby and Edwards.

Now that England and Scotland are associate members of their respective rugby unions, with Wales and Ireland soon to follow, the future of women's rugby can be nothing less than bright. Any remaining prejudice must fly out of the window.

SCORERS: England: Tries: Wenn, Burns, Mills, Appleby, Edwards.

ENGLAND: P George (Wasps); 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). Cole replaced by L Mayhew (Leeds, 68min). Burns temporarily replaced by K Henderson (Clifton, 56).

WALES: K Richards (Old Leamingtonians); A Lewis (Ystradgynlais), P Evans (Swansea), W Shaw (Aberystwyth), K Yau (Waterloo); A Bennett (Wasps), B Evans (Cardiff); J Watkins (Cardiff), N Griffiths (Cardiff), C Lloyd (Cardiff), J Morgan (Cardiff), S Jones (Cardiff), K Knoak (Swansea), S Butler (Richmond), L Jones (Cardiff). B Evans replaced by C Thomas (Waterloo, 28); Griffiths replaced by B Jones-Evans (Waterloo, 68), S Jones replaced by H Carey (Swansea, 56).

Referee: J Fleming (Scotland).

Copyright (C) The Times, 1995

Source Citation
"National pride dispels prejudice; Women's Rugby." Times [London, England] 13 Feb. 1995

Sunday, 15 January 1995

London Scottish force removal of women's team's honours board from clubhouse

TO represent your country is an honour, to do so and conquer the world an achievement worthy of national pride unless, it seems, you are a member of Richmond women's rugby team.

Having produced 27 international players in eight years, including five members of the World Cup-winning England side, Richmond WRFC proudly erected an honours board on their clubhouse wall. However, an objection from London Scottish, the men-only club with whom Richmond share premises, led to it being consigned to a cupboard.

The reason for the objection: ``They didn't ask permission and we don't want their board to be in the same sort of position as London Scottish players who have represented Scotland, or Richmond players who have represented England.''

Source Citation
"Pressure on Evans grows ever greater; Inside Track." Sunday Times [London, England] 15 Jan. 1995

Sunday, 1 January 1995

RFU excludes candidate from election to an RFU committee... because she is a woman

Stephen Jones

Stephen Jones takes some outdated attitudes to task as the RFU board rules that if you can't play for England, then don't bother to apply.

IT IS impossible to be left unimpressed by the outer face of the Rugby Football Union. The vertiginous monster that is Twickenham, creeping under the tower cranes, is much more than a stadium-rebuilding project. It is the most eloquent statement of confidence in the future. All the more reason to be disturbed by the recent discovery of medieval ruins on the same site.

I suppose it was inevitable that there would be a flurry of publicity when Beverley Davis, secretary of Helston rugby club, announced her candidacy to become Cornwall's representative on the committee of the RFU. There is always a fuss about the first woman anywhere in space, in parliament, in rugby. When the first female physiotherapists appeared at rugby clubs, everyone duly trotted out the jokes about treating groin injuries. These days, with all that out of the system and with almost every major club in the land having a female physio on their medical team, they are left to get on with their (priceless) work.

A new respect for women in rugby in England has allowed the sport to emancipate itself from a largely scandalous past. All the more shocking then, that the RFU has revealed its old colours. It has ruled that Davis is ineligible for its committee, not by raising a valid regulation, but by cowering behind one.

The offending regulation states: ``The qualifications which govern the Union's selection of players for England...shall apply to all persons nominated for constituent body representation on the Committee.''

It is obvious this measure was intended purely to exclude non-English people. If you can't play for England because you are not English, then you can't possibly sit on the RFU either.

But for the RFU to pretend that the regulation was ever meant to exclude women, for it pointedly to use it as a cheap shot precisely to exclude one woman in particular, and to say that Davis cannot stand for the committee purely because she has no chance of being chosen to play for the England team, is just too insultingly preposterous for words.

And even if you can bring yourself to ignore the breathtaking sexism of it all, does anyone really believe that for the future of a game in rapid turnover, the administration at the top level is so outstanding that it can deny the potential of half the population of the country.

Consider the potential loss. There are now 72 women secretaries of English rugby clubs, there are thousands more acting elsewhere on the committees or as coaches, commercial managers, referees, press officers and rugby journalists. There are no roles in the game that women cannot fill. Rosie Golby, the best-known administrator in the wondrous explosion that is women's rugby, decorated in The Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year Awards, could move effortlessly into any senior role in the men's game. Davis has a distinguished record in rugby administration, including eight years representing her club, and the Cornwall RU.

What of the damage to the game's image. Until the RFU manoeuvre, rugby had become a far more comfortable environment for women. The RFU had led the way in royal treatments of wives and families of players, and the wonderful Leicester club, which has more than 3,000 members, has been the gem of the new images.

But we are now reminded of the desperate old grimness, the image which rugby, especially English rugby, had of rampaging sexism that was not only widespread but well earned. There were few innocent bystanders.

I still have a copy of my college's Freshers' Handbook, which solidly warned new female students about the activities of the College Rugby Club. I have always been ashamed that those of us who joined the club to play never spoke out more loudly against those who fastened on simply to cause criminal damage, to verbally abuse any woman within earshot and to sing those staggeringly appalling rugby songs, which some half-wits even used to produce in book or cassette form. Just as I am ashamed that last week I left a Berkshire golf club festooned with Men Only signs on most of its doors, only after playing a round and having lunch. Other sports have their monstrosities, too.

The good news is that the RFU can easily reassert the sport's progress, can banish the impression that a body which now deserves to be called progressive, still has an unpleasant clique at its heart. All they have to do is stop hiding behind a regulation of convenience, to allow the candidacy of Davis to stand or fall simply on the wishes of her electorate in Cornwall and to realise that the future is not a stadium but a state of mind.

Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 1995

Source Citation
"Davis tackles an RFU in the Dark Ages; Rugby Union." Sunday Times [London, England] 1 Jan. 1995