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