LESS BEER and spills than pleats and frills, the first Rugby Ladies' Day kicked off at the Harlequins ground in Twickenham. Darling Will Carling couldn't be there but no one seemed to miss him.
Organisers and sundry hangers-on hoped it would be the start of a fine romance - rugger-buggers and the champagne set joined to celebrate - it's hoped - the last home game of every season, making yet another annual event on the A and B celeb list calendar.Ruth, one of the stewards at the gate, could tell from the off there was something different about today, women tottering about in stilettos and Lycra dresses for a start. Henley without the boats they said, and it didn't seem to matter there was no royalty in sight, not even a Princess Di.
Debs-delight and renowned organiser of Tatler-worthy events, Bunty didn't quite approve of the champagne, but at least she came. Cameras clicked and found Heather Mills, the model who triumphed over adversity making the headlines because she lost a leg, and rent-a-blonde-bob local television news presenters.
Kids TV presenter Denise Van Outen, dressed in white and stopping the show with spotless make-up and a gorgeous friend, loved the attention. 'Everyone always thinks rugby is a male-dominated event, it's so nice to have something for the women.'
If colour analysis or a free Estee Lauder demonstration wasn't your style, there was the fashion show. Granite-jawed male models curled arrogant lips while stick-thin beauties sashayed their hips in an extraordinary spring-time extravaganza. Overhead sunlight filtered through the pink-rouched canopy and a woman's voice cooed: 'It's soft, pretty and very feminine for weddings and Ascot - those times you want to feel flirty, sexy.'
Feeling grumpy, Gloucester supporters kept out of the VIP zone and out of the away supporters' stand and made the best of things.
Jack said: 'Ladies' day is fine so long as they don't push punters out of their seats. This would never happen in Gloucester. It's a lot of nonsense, but I suppose we're not as lah-di-dah as you lot in London.'
Well it wasn't fair. The covered Harlequin stand was taken over by the luvvies while everyone else had to make do and mend. But for the most part they were good humoured about it.
Jeans and boot-clad dyed-in-the-wool supporters gave it the thumbs up. 'Why not?' said Fraser and Ruth up from Cheltenham. 'Although rugby is a man's game and it might upset some to see women around, it's a fact of life. This sort of thing can only be good news.'
Fraser added: 'We can bring our wives when we wouldn't normally and they can enjoy themselves while we drink beer. No arguments.'
Thinking less about happy families than the woman in front of him in pink with a plunging cleavage, Jed agreed. 'It's a better view than I normally get.' Nearby in a small tent husband and wife proprietors of the Languedoc Wine Club had the appearance of folk who enjoyed a barrel or two. 'We've been shipped in for this and I must say we've had a jolly good response.'
Just then, too drunk to be disorderly, some of the gossip press staggered past, sunglasses plonked firmly on their heads, leaving in search of more to drink although the game was still in full swing.
Serious about the game and raising the profile of the women's team was Jane Wilman from Kirkby Lonsdale RUFC. Nursing a pint of bitter, elegant in a blazer, she said: 'I'm here taking notes. This will be great for our lot. It's just what rugby, but especially women's rugby, needs.'
Quite whether the men's game needs their players to strut around the catwalk, some footballers and rugby's Jeremy Guscott is best placed to tell, and is a damn sight better at it.
Star players Chris Sheasby, Peter Mensah, Jason Leonard, Will Greenwood and Daren O'Leary tried bless 'em, but plodded out with the grace of carthorses to Aretha Franklin but to the delight of Harlequin supporters let in for Pounds 6 per ticket and a free glass of wine.
Then, every rugby wife's dream, they got their kit off for the girls. Not to be sexist for the boys the Storm model babes did the trick. What a party. A village fete goes to Hollywood.
Cheese and wine but without the cheese, a good suburban day out - it hardly smacked of rough and tumble. But if it goes with increased professionalism, we mustn't grumble.
"Rugby Union: Fizz, fashion and a few fisticuffs - Boys just have to be boys, even on Ladies' Day in Twickenham." Observer [London, England] 14 Apr. 1996