Monday, 20 January 1997

England v Scotland: preview

After seeing a women's rugby match Christian Dymond says England v Scotland will be a cracker.

If my experience is anything to go by, the women's rugby international between England and Scotland next weekend should be a cracker.

England women's team are the world champions and Scotland lost the fixture only 12-8 last year. The match takes place at Blackheath on Sunday and is preceded by a game between the two national women's A sides.

With England men's poor performance against Argentina still relatively fresh in my memory, I travelled to the outskirts of Newcastle upon Tyne to watch the women of Blaydon Barracudas entertain the might of Wharfedale.

This was by no means the top flight of women's rugby - Blaydon and Wharfedale are in the northern league of the third division - but both sides clearly had ambitions to take the game to each other in an entertaining and open way.

Blaydon Barracudas were also looking to improve their performance after their defeat in Yorkshire a few weeks before, and early evidence suggested enough bite to rattle the visitors. Scrummaging looked pretty solid, there was clean ball from the lineout and after five minutes Elizabeth Simpson, their nippy wing, should have gone over for a try but the final pass was way off target.

Gradually, though, Wharfedale got a grip on the game, their backs attacking with greater brio while their forwards seemed far more mobile around the pitch. By half-time they were leading 10-0. This increased to 20-0 before Blaydon replied with their solitary try. This galvanised them but only briefly, and, as they ran out of steam, so Wharfedale ran them ragged, the final result being 46-5.

It did emerge later that Blaydon had been decimated by sickness and had taken the field with two players who had never before experienced a full game.

Five of the eight Wharfedale tries were scored by one of the centres, which was indicative both of the way the match was played and of the way that women generally approach the game. Points from penal ties were conspicuous by their absence.

The match certainly impressed Tom Sarginson, 17, one of about 30 spectators hugging the touchline. A rugby player who had never watched a women's game, he said: "It was extremely entertaining, much better than I thought it was going to be. A lot of the tackling was excellent and there were some good moves and great handling skills."

The 30 players on the pitch at Blaydon were some of the 12,000 to 15,000 women who now play rugby in the British Isles. In the past few years the game has grown from 12 teams in 1983 to about 270 clubs, some with two or three sides. Rules are the same as for men.

Rugby generally has a higher profile and the growth in the women's game owes a lot to that. There is also the fact that England women won the World Cup in 1994, as I was told by Rosie Golby, the president of the Rugby Foot ball Union for Women, the governing body for the game in England.

A player for 13 years, she turns out as scrum half or centre for Old Leamingtonians in Leamington Spa. "I play because it's a team sport and a contact sport and because I enjoy it," she said. "I can't kick, so, when I do, everyone around me cheers," The side trains twice a week.

Blaydon Barracudas, formerly known as Northern Ladies, also trains twice a week. Tuesday night is for scrummaging, passing and practising set-piece moves; Wednesday evening is primarily for fitness.

Their 25-women squad ranges in age from a 17-year-old who is still at school to a 32-year-old mother of two. The captain and No 8 is Helen Greenwell, 28, one of three policewomen in the side. Many of the others are students. It is Greenwell's second season of rugby, although she had previously been a rower for ten years.

"I've always enjoyed watching the game, but a friend who started playing inspired me to take it up," she said. "Rugby's a good team sport and I think you can enjoy it at whatever level of fitness you are. It also makes for an enjoyable Sunday afternoon." Women's rugby is almost always played on a Sunday, otherwise there might be a clash of pitch and changing facilities with the men.

Three quarters of an hour before the kick-off against Wharfedale, Blaydon Barracudas were out on the field going through leg and arm exercises with Andy Ellis, their physiotherapist; 20 minutes later, having been split up into backs and forwards, they rehearsed moves with Tom Gilmour and Rob Thomson, their coaches.

"Some of the squad are very fit," Ellis said. "Others have come to the game with a basic level of fitness but with a good degree of strength and determination which we hope to build on. Fitness sometimes takes second place to the learning of the game because rugby is new to them."


THE women who play rugby at Blaydon pay a Pounds 20 subscription for the season and a Pounds 1.50 match fee. The social side is strong with evenings out and dances at the extremely impressive new Pounds 1.1 million clubhouse.

In wider terms, women's rugby is organised in national leagues: first and second divisions (Saracens, Richmond, Wasps and Leeds being four of the strongest sides), a third division with four regional leagues (North, Midlands, South East and South West), and fourth and fifth divisions with eight regional leagues apiece.

There is a sixth division which has leagues for new clubs and there are also knock-out cup competitions. A national development officer, Nicola Ponsford, was appointed last September, this is apparently women's rugby's first salaried post.

Last season saw the first home nations' championship involving teams from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. In March, after the 1997 championship, England will participate in the first women's seven-a-side tournament in Hong Kong.

* For more information on women's rugby contact: 01635 278177.

* For more information on Blaydon Barracudas contact: 0191-371 9901.

Blackheath on January 26: England A v Scotland A: kick-off, noon; England v Scotland: kick-off 2pm. Tickets: Pounds 5.

Copyright (C) The Times, 1997

Source Citation
Dymond, Christian. "A great way to spend a Sunday; Sport for All." Times [London, England] 20 Jan. 1997