Tuesday, 1 December 1998

Interview with Paula Chamlers (Scotland)


HENRY COOPER may have spoken for chauvinist swine the world over recently when he said something to the effect that women belong in the boudoir rather than the boxing ring.

What says Paula Chalmers, skipper and scrum-half of the Scottish ladies side who play Spain in a friendly in Madrid on Saturday while their male counterparts meet the same nation in a World Cup qualifier at Murrayfield?

Put it this way: Paula does not argue against the prerogative of her gender to infiltrate whatever area they wish of the sporting province regarded hitherto as being for men only.

But the chances of this 26-year-old from Melrose ever wanting to go 12 rounds are about as great as those of Joe Bugner, still fighting in his late 40s, applying belatedly to join a ballet school.

'I relish some man saying to me that I shouldn't be playing rugby,' she says assertively. 'I'd like to hear his argument. Women play football, they play baseball and softball. Why not rugby? It's not as if they're playing against men. It's women versus women and it's all fair.

'Women's boxing? Er, no. I watched on television an interview with the girl who was boxing in Edinburgh on Friday night. She was talking about hitting people in the face. I thought, och, none of that.

'I don't even like boxing for men, to be honest. I don't really know why anyone would want to go into a ring and take hits on the face while trying to smash their opponent. It can't be good.

You wouldn't get me in there, anyway.' Paula, if you didn't know or hadn't guessed, is the sister of one of Scotland's most celebrated rugby players, Craig. She knows the hurt which can be caused, even in their game, although it seems unimaginable for her to inflict any other than by accident.

'You're trying to play the ball in rugby,' she points out.

'You're trying to get that ball over the other side's line and, if it's at all possible, trying to miss out on any contact.

Rugby doesn't have to be hash-bash. It can be skilful.' So there's the difference, articulated by one whose support of women's rights in sport does not stretch quite so far that she would argue with the aforementioned Henry Cooper on the topic of their perceived excesses.

Paula may be feminist, a women of the 90s, but she is unmistakably feminine with it and, dare this be said, looks like Tinkerbell when matched up to some of these towering specimens of womenhood with whom she shares a field.

She plays rugby, by the way, with the full approval of her boyfriend, Mark Moncrieff, although that may not be such a great surprise. He, after all, plays himself; on the wing for Melrose.

It is hardly a surprise, either, to learn that she was introduced to the game, in a playful kind of way, with Craig throwing a ball to her when they were kids in the Borders.

'Rugby has always been in our family,' says Paula, who works in the sales division of a software firm in Galashiels. 'Craig played from an early age; the minis, midis, or whatever they were called then.

'But I progressed to playing hockey because women's rugby still wasn't that big at the time.' Paula, in fact, played hockey well enough to win two caps for Scotland some three years ago. Then, with the other game beginning to burgeon, she had to decide which of the two was better for her to pursue.

'Rugby seemed the greater prospect in that it had more potential for me to get into the side and get regular games,' she reveals.

'I still play club hockey for Melrose, turning out on a Saturday when available because rugby is played on a Sunday.' What did Craig, four years Paula's senior, make of her sporting conversion? She confesses that, initially, he seemed keener that she stick in at hockey. Why was he hesitant?

She is somewhat hesitant about answering the question, admitting: 'Maybe it was because rugby was quite a new sport among women.

'When it first started, it was played just at universities and, well, I don't like to say this, but it was more a sort of ...' She doesn't want to say it may have been more a sort of, er, butch person playing it. But we can gather that's what she means as she passes beyond the unspoken by adding: 'There are so many girls playing rugby now that it's just another sport. The game has widened, the skill level is away up.

'It's not just about big girls running about making hits. Some of them can kick the ball as well as men.

Some can pass it as well as men.

'The skill at international level is probably better than that at second or third level of men's rugby.

'It has improved so much and I think my brother can recognise that now and appreciate women's rugby for what it is. Mark is 100 per cent behind me and always constructive in his criticism. He even comes to our games when he can.

Another of our team, Alex Shepherd, goes out with Derek Stark. Through him, she'll come to training with a new move which the Caley Reds have been working on, so the support we get is great. I've not really met anybody who is anti women's rugby.' Paula, Alex and four others in their team to face the Spaniards play for Murrayfield Wanderers, a club which grew out of a fusion of women from Edinburgh Wanderers and Heriot Watt.

They are reigning Scottish champions as well as cup winners these last four seasons and Paula's latest international appearance, her first as captain, counts as number 13 following her debut against Wales less than two years ago.

She must enjoy the rough and tumble even though her fair countenance doesn't bear a bruise far less a scar. Or does she? 'Ask any of my team-mates,' Paula confesses, 'and they'll tell you I'm the one who takes the least contact in games.

'But it is quite hard and you do get some big hits. There are some big girls out there and a few late tackles. I'm not a greedy player, preferring to use the players around me.

'I just kind of slotted in at scrum-half because I wasn't big enough for the scrum or fast enough for the three-quarters. Touch wood, I've steered clear of any serious injury.

Craig hasn't been so lucky.' Nor is he quite so lucky at the moment, out of the Scottish men's squad while Paula is very much an integral part of the women's. His wee sister must feel a mite sympathetic. 'He'll be back, I'm sure he will,' she says supportively.

'He never gives up. If he'd given up the first time he was passed over by Scotland, he'd never have got half the caps he has. He's never say die.' Yet Paula can't resist aiming a playful dig at her big brother by pointing out that the honour of being Scotland captain has never been his and adding jocularly: 'I always have a laugh with him, saying that I'm a dual internationalist, what are you? He says he might take up bowls when he finishes with rugby, just to get a cap at another sport.'

Source Citation
"Rugby fair game for this sister act." Daily Mail [London, England] 1 Dec. 1998

Sunday, 29 November 1998

Interview with Alix Shepherd (Scotland)

ALIX SHEPHERD was busy outlining her rugby background, in between sips of her blackcurrant and lemonade. "Well," she said, "my father played for the North Districts. And my brother plays. And my boyfriend." They play quite well too, as it happens. Alix Shepherd's brother is Rowen Shepherd, one of the sextet who have surpassed the 100 points mark for Scotland. And her boyfriend is Derek Stark, once dubbed the fastest pastry chef in international rugby, who announced his arrival among the upper crust by scoring with his first touch for Scotland, against Ireland at Murrayfield five years ago.

This coming Saturday Alix will be looking to make a similarly dramatic international entrance. She has been chosen to make her debut for the Scottish women's team against Spain in Madrid. The timing of her elevation from the A team is a touch ironic, given the fact that both her boyfriend and her brother are international outcasts at present. Stark has been out of the Scotland picture since the 68-10 slaughter inflicted by the Springboks a year ago. Shepherd - Rowen Shepherd, that is - played at inside centre against the New Zealand Maoris a fortnight ago but has since been supplanted by the kilted Kiwi John Leslie. He has also been overlooked for the full-back place he lost to Derrick Lee midway through last season, Gregor Townsend having been picked to replace the injured London Scot against Portugal at Murrayfield yesterday.

There is irony in that too. Townsend and Rowen Shepherd are business partners. Together with Stark, they own the Three Quarters Sports Cafe, a splendidly appointed eatery-cum-watering hole which can be found in the shadow of Edinburgh castle in the Grassmarket. The Scotland shirt displayed behind the bar is the No 14 jersey Tony Stanger wore the afternoon he grand-slammed England at Murrayfield eight years ago. The No 11 top Alix Shepherd pulls on in Madrid might not be quite so significant but it will be just as precious to her.

"I can't believe it, really," she said, taking her lunchtime break amid the signed framed jerseys in the Three Quarters cafe. "I was in the A team last year. I wasn't involved in the World Cup team that went out to Amsterdam. There were 26 players in the squad so I really didn't see myself getting selected for the Spain match. It was quite a surprise."

It was also a surprise to the Scottish Women's Rugby Union. Shepherd's name was not among the 30 the SWRU nominated for lottery funding at the start of the season. She therefore has to find pounds 500 to cover the cost of the trip, or forfeit her international debut. "I've managed to get pounds 225 of it, from family and friends," she said. "I'll definitely be going. If the worst comes to the worst I'll have to speak to my bank manager and get an extension on my overdraft."

It is another of life's little ironies that Shepherd has been left self- funding her imminent international sporting career. She works as a case officer for the Lottery Sports Fund at the Scottish Sports Council. "There's absolutely no connection with my particular situation and my work," she said. "The governing body puts you forward for funding, not the Sports Council or the Lottery Sports Fund. My name was not put forward because I was not in the squad. It just happens that there's been a change of coach and now I'm in the team. It is quite ironic, though."

It is also no mean achievement that Shepherd has graduated to the international ranks at the age of 25. She does boast a personal sporting pedigree at international level. As a teenage long jumper she competed for the Scottish youth team in the Celtic Games. She did not, however, play rugby until she was almost 22. This is only her fourth season in the sport.

Like Stark, she plays on the left wing - for Murrayfield Wanderers, whose home base is the back-pitch area where the cars park at Murrayfield on international days. "Rowen comes down and watches, along with Derek," the happy Wanderer said. "They're always giving me hints and tips about what to do. Rowen's been down to coach the club a couple of times. He's behind me all the way. He thinks it's great that I've been picked for Scotland."

It is undoubtedly a great achievement to have brother and sister internationals in the same sporting family. It is a rare distinction too. There are the Nevilles, of course - Gary and Phil of England football fame and Tracey of England netball renown. "There are the Chalmers as well," Alix pointed out, lest Scottish rugby's established siblings be overlooked. Craig Chalmers, like Stark, has not figured in the Scottish men's squad this season but Paula Chalmers, a veteran of last season's World Cup campaign in Holland, will be at scrum-half for the women's team in Madrid on Saturday.

Injuries could yet dictate that a Shepherd and a Chalmers line up for Scotland against Spain this Saturday both in Madrid and at Murrayfield. And the Shepherds may yet, in time, complete an international family hat- trick. "Our younger sister, Rhona, has already been in the Scottish A team," Alix said, proudly. "So, you never know, there could be three of us playing for Scotland one day." They are quite a flock, these Caledonian Shepherds.

Source Citation
"Rugby Union: Left field for a Shepherd; Another member of a famous sporting family is winging in for Scotland." Independent on Sunday [London, England] 29 Nov. 1998

Sunday, 1 November 1998

Interview with Emma Mitchell (England)

Stephen Jones meets a scrum-half who hopes England will learn from the best in the world

IT IS good for the soul to realise that, after a good few years watching rugby, there are still things to see which have you rubbing your eyes with a sense of disbelief. Good, that is, unless you were a fellow contender of the New Zealand team in the 1998 Women's World Cup, a splendidly successful event held in Amsterdam in May. The Kiwis were astonishingly brilliant.

And it is typical of Emma Mitchell, who led England in a deeply-courageous defeat against the flying Kiwis in the semi-final, a fine and ferocious encounter, that she spent a short time being profoundly impressed but far longer working out how to catch up. Individually, she was there already. She is one of the world's great players; in the World Cup she was the outstanding scrum-half of the tournament, with a remarkable all-round game in the areas of passing, kicking, running with the ball and needle-sharp tactical nous.

Mitchell is the outstanding personality in the women's game in this country. As a senior England player, as a core figure in the highly-successful Saracens team and splendidly-articulate proponent of her sport, both technically and in terms of promotion, Mitchell has played a key role in the sport's explosion.

She provided a cameo last season when Sky Sports provided excellent live coverage of the Saracens-Wasps match in the final of the Bread for Life Cup. Mere seconds after a tough match had ended in triumph, thanks chiefly to her own excellence, an out-of-breath Mitchell had the microphone stuck under her nose for the flash interview so beloved of producers; she provided such a cool, calm and accurate dissection of the game, regretting aloud that the nerves and tension had perhaps militated against the spectacle, that she put generations of tongue-tied, platitude-spouting sportsmen to shame. "It probably comes from the old days when people used to come up and say that women really shouldn't play rugby. If you got angry, which you wanted to do, it would only have made things worse. So you'd stay calm and ask them if they'd ever watched a match and, if they hadn't, suggest that perhaps they should."

All those doubters have been silenced by sheer numbers of participants, and all those who doubted that the sport could become watchable at its top levels were silenced in Amsterdam, and not only by the elite teams. Now for those damn New Zealanders. My fear for the players in all the home nations was that the emphatic superiority of New Zealand would simply discourage them, just as Bob Beamon's freakish long jump once effectively ended the careers of his peers.

To be discouraged is not in Mitchell's nature. "They were superb, a good distance clear of us and America, and way clear of the others. But they had been effectively preparing as professionals for 18 months. The way we improved from four months of proper preparation showed what can be done. Just having the time together so that, when you run out, you know exactly what everyone is doing was tremendous."

She believes that to narrow the gap, the England players need more time together and must regularly compete against the top echelon, such as New Zealand and Australia. "We have to compete with their preparation time, although we don't necessarily have to mimic the way they play. We must come up with a style to suit the players we have."

A grant from the Sports Council's allocation for world-class performance was a marvellous boost for the England squad before the tournament. Now, the players are biting their nails as they apply for a renewal to take the elite part of the game on further. The Sports Council has backed the application and it is now in the hands of the National Lottery commission. If any member had been in Amsterdam to see how well their cash had been used, they would approve it on the nod. But for the moment, the England squad are again relying on their own resources, "paying to use the gym, paying to use the track, paying to train", said Mitchell.

Her appetite seems undiminished. "The style we are playing is thoroughly enjoyable and there are quite a few new and talented players coming into the squad. I still think I have something to offer."

What she could have said is that the stature of England women's rugby, both in the national team and in the sport countrywide, is in her debt, beholden to an almost unique ability to be world-class as a player and quietly but devastatingly effective as an ambassador. In those fields, not even the Kiwis have anything to teach her.

Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 1998 **********

Source Citation
"Mitchell shows touch of class; Interview." Sunday Times [London, England] 1 Nov. 1998

Sunday, 13 September 1998

Profile of Kim Littlejohn (Scotland)

The inspiration behind Scotland's Grand Slam victory has decided on a change of direction in her illustrious career. By Alasdair Reid

FOR MOST of her time in international rugby, Kim Littlejohn displayed the sort of scoring touch that might have made you wonder if she had been coached in the art by Craig Brown. Her try in a bounce match against Sweden in 1994, a year after she had made her debut for Scotland, hinted at a fruitful career ahead, but another four years and more than 20 caps were to pass before she grabbed her second. When it arrived, though, the setting was close to perfect.

Inverleith, Edinburgh, March 2 this year. Scotland, so recently among the rabbits of international women's rugby, were chasing a Grand Slam in the last match of their Five Nations programme, against England. The match was 12 minutes old when a Scottish attack from a scrum appeared to break down near the English 22. Moving left, however, Littlejohn revived the move, exchanged passes near the touchline and darted over by the corner flag.

Strictly speaking, it was not the winning try, but as it accounted for more than half the points in Scotland's tenacious 8-5 victory, it deserves to be remembered as such. Moreover, although Littlejohn had never been the most prolific scoring machine in the past, it was perfectly fitting that the 27-year-old centre should claim it. She had, after all, played in the first Scottish international side, in 1993, and had captained the team through the remarkable half decade since that saw women's rugby in Scotland grow at an astonishing rate.

With good-humoured modesty, she plays down her own role in that development, but Ramsay Jones, the Scotland manager, has no doubt that she has been a central figure. Praising her qualities both as a player and as an inspiration to those around her, he pinpoints a moment shortly after the World Cup in 1994 which provided a critical impetus to what was to come.

"We had done okay at the World Cup, but it was clear we had a lot of catching up to do to compete with sides such as England and the USA," said Jones. "The management got all the players together and we told them we thought they had the talent to be among the best in the world. I think a lot of the players had difficulty taking that idea on board, but Kim believed it totally - and showed it. I think that was to prove a huge factor in what has happened since."

Despite an established programme and a four-year cycle between World Cups, most women internationals are still obliged to get involved in the background tasks that allow them to play their games. Littlejohn has done her fair share of organisational work, but her greater contribution has been on the pitch and in the immediate build-up to a match. Renowned for her defensive abilities, the meagre try tally against her own name is mitigated by the many scores she has created for others. According to Jones she also has a gift for bringing the best out of her fellow players.

"Everybody who meets her recognises that Kim's enthusiasm is fantastic, but she is very intelligent with it. The last words in the dressing room are always delivered by the captain after the coaches and management have left and, by all accounts, Kim's words are always carefully chosen. They're usually effective, too.

"She has a total focus on everything she does. She strives to be the best, in sport or in other activities, whether as an individual or as part of a team. It comes out as a mixture of dedication, enthusiasm and enormous motivational qualities. She also presents herself and her sport very well to the media and the public, and that has been an enormous help over the last few years."

Growing up in Kirkcaldy, Littlejohn's first taste of international competition was as a member of Scotland's gymnastics squad. However, she was a talented all-round athlete and when she began her computer science degree at Edinburgh university in 1988 she immersed herself in the sporting opportunities it offered. She played volleyball for Scottish universities and joined the recently-established rugby team.

Although she gave up rugby for a couple of years towards the end of her studies, the burgeoning club sector encouraged her to return to the game. She soon established herself in the powerful Edinburgh Accies side which formed the core of Scotland's early squads. The first international was played on St Valentine's Day in 1993 - a 10-0 win over Ireland - and Littlejohn has been a stalwart of the side ever since.

As a pioneer of women's rugby in Scotland, Littlejohn has not only played the game, but defined it. If that is a burden, it is one she carries lightly, but after captaining her country in 29 of the 30 internationals she has played, she recently relinquished the role. "I felt it was time somebody else got the chance to put their ideas and personality into the side and take it forward to the next World Cup," she said.

Although Scotland failed to live up to expectations raised by their Grand Slam success when the last World Cup was played in Holland in May - they were knocked out by the USA at the quarter-final stage - that disappointment did not influence her decision to stand down. A more pressing concern was that she wanted to develop her own game, and felt that captaincy stood in the way of doing so. "In future, I want to be able to be more risky than I've been in the past," she said. "When you are captain you are sometimes a bit inhibited, not wanting to set a bad example and watching out for the others in the team. It's nice to be able to shake off the responsibility and think more about your own game."

In helping to establish women's rugby, Littlejohn has tended to make her point with deeds rather than words. If gaining acceptance was ever a battle - and opposition has usually been absurdly overstated - it is now well and truly won. "We're way past that stage," said Littlejohn.

Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 1998 **********

Source Citation
"Littlejohn tries a little freedom; Rugby Union:Profile." Sunday Times [London, England] 13 Sept. 1998

Tuesday, 19 May 1998

World Cup: review

David Hands says the women's rugby World Cup illustrated a gulf in standards.

NEW Zealand, just as they have done in the men's game, set a new target of excellence when they carried off the women's World Cup in Amsterdam. In beating the United States 44-12, they set a standard to which others will aspire between now and the fourth tournament, in 2002.

During that time, the sport's administrators will be concerned to put in place a framework of matches that permits regular development in countries where the women's representative game is piecemeal. Too few of the countries competing in Holland have had that exposure, and it is likely that funds will be put aside for the staging of international tournaments as opposed to tours by those countries that can afford it. The International Rugby Board (IRB) gave Pounds 500,000 from Rugby World Cup for the organisation in Holland.

There will be concern, for example, that France appear to have gone backwards since the 1994 World Cup in Edinburgh; at the same time there will be pleasure at the advance of Canada and Kazakhstan - where fewer than 134 women play - and the ambition of Spain, the most popular team in the tournament. Yet if Canada, ranked fourth, could be beaten 81-15 by England in the third-place play-off, it indicates a gulf between the top three countries and the rest.

"We looked at where we were four years ago and there has been a 100 per cent improvement," Jill Zonneveld, the Canadian representative on the women's advisory committee to the IRB, said of the tournament as a whole.

"The levels of play have started to move up and the Dutch made this a highly-organised affair. Tenders for 2002 will go out in the next few weeks and we hope to know by January where it will be played. We have to consider development, impact and money." For those reasons, the venue is likely to be in Europe or North America, where access to sponsorship and television is greater.

Some 2,500 watched Vanessa Cootes score five of New Zealand's eight tries against the Americans on Sunday and confirm a technical expertise well in advance of any rival. The "Gal Blacks" had received coaching from John Hart and several members of his New Zealand men's squad and neither England in the semi-finals nor the Americans in the final could live with them.

It remains to be seen whether longstanding members of the England squad, which began with such high hopes of a successful defence of their 1994 title, will continue. An excellent spirit has been bred over the past three weeks and players such as Sue Day - switched to full back - and Jo Yapp, the 18-year-old scrum half, have received invaluable exposure.

FINAL RANKING (seeding in brackets): 1, New Zealand (4); 2, United States (2); 3, England (1); 4, Canada (8); 5, Australia (6); 6, Scotland (5); 7, Spain (7); 8, France (3); 9, Kazakhstan (14); 10, Ireland (11); 11, Wales (10); 12, Italy (12); 13, Holland (9); 14, Germany (13); 15, Sweden (16); 16, Russia (15).

Copyright (C) The Times, 1998

Source Citation
Hands, David. "New Zealand expose limitations; Rugby Union." Times [London, England] 19 May 1998

Monday, 18 May 1998

World Cup fina: report


New Zealand 46 USA 12

FROM the moment the All Blacks arrived here 16 days ago their desire to lift the women's rugby World Cup has been as overwhelming as their performances. Their invincibility did not, however, create a sense of anticlimax as they disposed of the United States 46 12 in the final.The match was a personal triumph for the All Black wing Vanessa Cootes, who came to the World Cup with the most prolific scoring record in women's international rugby. She scored five tries in Saturday's match to take her tally for the competition to eight and increase her record to 35 touchdowns in only nine games.

The defending champions England made up for their defeat by the All Blacks in the semi-final by securing third place with a 81 15 victory over Canada during which the Wasps full-back Sue Day scored four tries. The Five Nations champions Scotland lost the consolation Plate final, going down 25 15 to Australia.

Such is the interest in the women's game in New Zealand that the final was televised live. Other countries, including South Africa, have voiced a desire to participate in the 2002 tournament.

The New Zealand captain Farah Palmer said: 'We are absolutely ecstatic; I don't think this will ever sink in. The support from New Zealand has been unbelievable and we've been inundated with faxes and calls of best wishes.'

The United States' French coach Franck Boivert, who leaves the Eagles to coach Fiji's men's side, said: 'No matter how hard your own team tries to take the game to the All Blacks, they are faster, fitter and better. I don't believe anyone can stop them; they are unbeatable.'

Source Citation
"Rugby Union: Cootes crosses five times in a one-woman walkover: Women's World Cup Final." Guardian [London, England] 18 May 1998

Wednesday, 13 May 1998

World Cup: England v New Zealand: Report


ENGLAND's hopes of retaining the women's rugby World Cup foundered against the mighty All Blacks, the valiant holders giving up their crown as the favourites recorded a 44 11 victory.

England had the audacity to take an early lead with two penalties but New Zealand responded with a penalty and a converted try from the centre Annaleah Rush to hold a 10 6 half-time advantage.The second half was emphatic, however, with New Zealand's powerful, pacy play overwhelming England in the 90F heat. Rush cemented her dominance by scoring another try, three conversions and a penalty for a personal tally of 24 points.

In between Rush's scores the stand-off Anna Richards and wing Vanessa Cootes touched down, the latter's double contributing to a remarkable international record of 30 tries in only eight games.

Bruised and battered, England countered with a consolation try from the lock Clair Green - the first of the tournament against New Zealand - but the All Blacks had the final say when the replacement Kellie Kiwi went over.

In Saturday's final New Zealand face the United States, who defeated Canada 46 6. The Americans, runners-up in 1994, beat the All Blacks in the 1991 final but few predict a repeat.

The England captain Emma Mitchell said: 'We did about the best we could against them for 30 minutes, when we had them rattled, but they are a great side and justify their status as the best in the world. Our goal has to be to come back stronger and aim to beat them next time.'

Scotland recovered from the disappointment of missing the final of the cup competition by beating France 27 7 to secure a place in the consolation plate final against Australia.

Source Citation
"Rugby Union: Other All Blacks end defence." Guardian [London, England] 13 May 1998

Tuesday, 12 May 1998

World Cup: England prepare for semi final

ENGLAND'S crown will come under severe threat in Amsterdam this afternoon, when they meet New Zealand in a semi-final of the third women's World Cup tournament. However, they will be buoyed by the presence of Gill Burns, their captain, who has recovered from injury, and spurred on by their humiliation at the hands of the New Zealanders last August.

On that occasion they were beaten 67-0, having stepped from the flight taking them across the world only 24 hours earlier. "We got our backsides kicked," Carole Isherwood, the performance director for England, said. "We were naive, we made mistakes, we gave New Zealand a boost of confidence, but we are a much-changed team now."

They are also benefiting from nearly three weeks together, having spent a week at Lilleshall before travelling to Holland. Two comfortable pool matches, against Sweden and Canada, were followed by the demanding physical encounter with Australia on Saturday, which England won 30-13, scoring five tries, though both Burns and Helen Clayton sustained ankle injuries.

They have mended quickly, though, and both have been named in the starting XV today. The team will need to accept the early scoring opportunities that went begging against Australia, for the New Zealanders have yet to concede a try in three matches.

"All the talk is about the All Blacks, just as in 1994 it was about the US," Steve Peters, the England coach, said. "But we're world champions and intend to stay that way." If England are to reach a third successive final (they lost to the United States in 1991 and beat them in 1994), much credit will go to the tactical direction given by Emma Mitchell, the Saracens scrum half. Mitchell will take over the captaincy if Burns has to leave the field.

The other semi-final is between the United States and Canada, renewing a rivalry that has been sustained in women's rugby since 1987.

Scotland, beaten 25-10 in the quarter-finals by the US, play France in the plate competition.

Copyright (C) The Times, 1998

Source Citation
Hands, David. "Burns fit to lead England; Women's World Cup." Times [London, England] 12 May 1998

Sunday, 10 May 1998

World Cup: England reach semi-finals

ENGLAND stayed on course to retain the women's rugby World Cup as they edged out Australia 30-13 to secure a place in Tuesday's semi-finals.

Experience was the key as the holders overcame a resolute Australia. The England pack slowly ground down their opponents after the first half ended 10-10. Paula George, the England full-back, touched down and Claire Frost added a conversion and penalty. In the second half England scored four tries to a penalty.

Wing Niki Brown, scrum-half Emma Mitchell, lock Linda Uttley and replacement Joanne Yapp were the England scorers.

The hard pitch contributed to injuries to Helen Clayton, Jo Poore and Gill Burns, who had come on as a replacement.

All three will receive treatment tomorrow on Monday before the team is picked for the semi-final.

The dreams of Scotland, the Five Nations champions, were dashed by the USA who beat them 25-10. Tries from flanker Diane Schnapp and captain Jenny Crawford, with the latter converted by Jos Bergmann, put the USA in command while Scotland could manage only one first-half score, a Paula Chalmers penalty.

England now face favourites New Zealand in the semi-final after the All Black women beat Spain 46-3. The seemingly invincible New Zealanders, who have run in 34 tries in their opening two games, finally broke a spirited Spain. "New Zealand are an outstanding side but they are showing signs that their unbeatable tag is beginning to slip" said Mitchell.

"Both Spain and Scotland showed that New Zealand find close forward play hard to match and if we play to our strengths we can take them".

In the other semi-final, Scotland's conquerers, the USA, play Canada who defeated France 9-7.

Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 1998

Source Citation
Phillips, Marian. "George opens route for grand England defence; The rugby column." Sunday Times [London, England] 10 May 1998

Saturday, 2 May 1998

Women's rugby now accepted by Twickenham?


AS THE old advertising boast for the Virginia Slims women's tennis circuit had it - 'You've come a long way, baby' - so with the distaff branch of international rugby. Only 10 years ago, when Emma Mitchell played her first Test match against Wales at Newport, the England team slept in bunks or sleeping-bags at the Chepstow youth hostel.

'It was a three o'clock kick-off but we were still slung out by 10am after doing all the chores; the forwards washed up the breakfast things, the backs swept and dusted, and us two half-backs had to clean out the toilets. Then we found a park and 'killed three or four hours mooching about with our rucksacks, sleeping-bags and match kit.'From a Chepstow youth hostel to a swish hotel in Amsterdam . . . that 1988 fixture was only the third international England's women had played. Those pioneers have seen their game develop at such a remarkable pace that yesterday in Holland's capital the Dutch minister of sport, the former Olympic swimming medallist Erica Terpstra, officially opened the third women's World Cup in a jam-packed sell-out new stadium where today England begin the defence of their title against Sweden.

The final will be a fortnight today. Sixteen countries have qualified and although the bookmakers particularly fancy the holders England along with the United States, France and New Zealand, the newly Triple-crowned Scots are seriously optimistic; the Welsh and the Irish also travel with high hopes.

With some enlightened sponsorship, plus Sports Council funding and a Lottery grant, the women's game in England has nervelessly held the gaze and stared back with a bonny smile at the diminishing but still substantial body of men who scoff at their pastime.

The Rugby Football Union has come round at last. After the first women's World Cup in Cardiff in 1991 the International Rugby Football Board refused recognition to a follow-up in Holland, but after it was switched to Edinburgh and become another huge success, England famously winning the final, that haughty body loosened the studs on its starched wing-collars. Although not yet fully integrated the Women's RFU (RFUW) is now accepted under the umbrella of the RFU.

When the engaging scrum-half Mitchell played her first international that afternoon at Newport in 1988 there were reckoned to be about 40 women's sides in England. Today there are 270, and more than 8,500 registered players - which still does not compare, mind you, with the 13,000 players in 600-plus United States teams. Canada boasts nearly 10,000 players. On the other hand, Sweden muster only 100 adult players.

Brought up on men's rugby, you must watch and appreciate the women's game as if through a filter. As in cricket, different qualities predominate. Women's rugby is singularly more nimble and dextrous, and although just as wholehearted it has less of a grudge-driven and bullyingly hard edge.

Training at Lilleshall this week before travelling to Holland on Thursday, the England squad displayed a lightness of touch in mind and spirit that their sombrely grunting male counterparts have long lost. There is a wide blend in ages, although on the practice pitch the mudlarking teenagers are not noticeably in thrall to their two undoubted world stars, the totemesque No. 8 and captain Gill Burns and the equally appealing Mitchell, who set Sky screens alight a couple of weeks ago when playing for Saracens against Wasps in the club cup final.

Like Mitchell, Burns took up the game when chivvied to switch from hockey in her early twenties. 'Rugby took over my life,' says the enthusiast, who teaches PE at Range High School, Formby.

Both women remain chastened by last autumn's first England tour to New Zealand when, after a 28-hour flight, the team had a day's sleep before waking up to play, ludicrously, the full-strength women's All Black XV. Not surprisingly they were beaten, 67 0. It still rankles. In Amsterdam, England are seeded to play New Zealand, who did not attend the World Cup in 1994, in the semi-final on Tuesday week.

'If not quite 67, they were 30 points better than us,' says Mitchell with a delectably determined smile. 'We know we stood off that day and let them come at us, which was fatal.'

At Lilleshall this week the women called in one of the England coaches, the former rugby league stalwart Phil Larder, to galvanise their defences. Larder was a convert inside five minutes and, after two stiff sessions on Monday, stayed over for an extra one on Tuesday. 'I feared the worst, if truth were known. But I've been impressed. I've drilled them one-on-one just like I have with the men, and they compared on a dead-level par. At defence, their technique and ability to hit hard was an eye-opener; they've got the timing as well as the bottle; they've addressed their apparent weaknesses and now I'd be mighty surprised if any other team in this World Cup can possibly defend as well.'

The Worcester club provide two in the Amsterdam party, the full-back Nicky Brown and Mitchell's deputy, the 18-year-old Jo-Ann Yapp, and I offered the last word to Worcester's rugby director Les Cusworth, former England coach and sparkling fly-half. 'The ladies play and enjoy rugby as it should be played and enjoyed. They are fast and skilful, and though the old-fashioned male in me still winces at some of the physical contact, their vision, handling and deftness of touch can teach many a leading male player a trick or two.'

As the Virginia Slims baby had it, they have come a mighty long way. From that Chepstow youth hostel to a plush hotel in Amsterdam . . .

Source Citation
"Rugby Union: Women's World Cup: It's only ruck and roll but we like it: Even the twits at Twickers take the fillies seriously now. It's been a long hard road, but they've finally arrived." Guardian [London, England] 2 May 1998

World Cup: Gill Burns prepares for England's defence

GILL BURNS transports herself around the country in a car precisely 180,000 miles old and has not taken a holiday in almost seven years. If she spends little or none of her precious time worrying about money, it is because she has no money to worry about. "Disposable income? That's a laugh," she says. "You make sacrifices to play this game and the first sacrifice is whatever you might have in your pocket."

Her game is rugby and, without putting too fine a point on it, she is an extraordinarily accomplished performer; a fact she intends to emphasise over the two weeks of the third Women's World Cup, which began in Amsterdam yesterday. England are reigning champions and Burns, a No 8 from the Waterloo club, is captain of her country and the proud owner of 40 international caps, one more than Janis Ross, a flanker with Saracens and her oldest international ally.

She is also the only player to have scored in both previous World Cup finals and when you consider her physical resilience, her longevity at international level and a catalogue of complementary sporting achievements - Burns represented British Universities at hockey, basketball, swimming and athletics - she emerges as an explosive mix of Sean Fitzpatrick and C B Fry. A Corinthian with attitude.

Indeed, the most striking aspect of the 26-strong England squad who begin their campaign against Sweden today is the bewildering breadth of their sporting excellence. Paula George, for example, is a world championship netball player as well as an attacking full-back; Pip Spivey, the Clifton wing, is a nationally ranked pentathlete, tetrathlete and indoor rower; Teresa O'Reilly, a prop forward with Saracens, was a junior discus and javelin champion before moving into martial arts, where she won British and European titles in karate. Think twice before you take liberties with her, Os du Randt.

Thanks largely to a pounds 146,000 grant from the Sports Lottery Fund, this England party will be more thoroughly prepared for the rigours of international competition than any of their predecessors. "We've just spent the most fabulous week at Lilleshall, which gave us quality time together," said Burns. "Back in the early days, we'd have to get someone to pick our shirts up from some motorway service station an hour before kick-off. I could never have imagined a situation in which an England squad could spend 24 hours a day thinking purely about rugby. That's how far we've come.

"That's not to say we're pampered professionals, of course. All the girls in this squad have spent a fortune and shown enormous dedication getting to the top level - Susie Appleby, Janice Byford and Helen Clayton all took career breaks to get themselves ready for this tournament - and in my opinion, there is still a lack of respect from people who presume to judge us without taking the trouble to watch us play.

"But the game in England is growing stronger almost by the day; indeed, it is officially recognised as the fastest-growing women's sport in the country. There are 10,000 girls playing serious competitive rugby, we have a stable of incredibly supportive sponsors and a national development team funded by the Sports Council. All we need to do now is go to Holland and sock it to 'em."

Socking it to a predictably tough and resourceful New Zealand side, who are seeded to meet the holders at the semi-final stage, will be easier said than done. "We played them over there last year and had our backsides kicked," admitted Burns, none too sweetly. "We were naive, we defended poorly and we paid through the teeth. But we're a different side now, both in terms of personnel and attitude, and even though the New Zealand girls have been writing us off in public, I'm confident in our ability to handle whatever they throw at us.

"We've taken big strides off the field and those have been accompanied by improvements on it. We've always trained and trained damned hard, but we weren't necessarily doing the right training. Now we have balanced player-specific programmes, expertly compiled and rigidly adhered to. We're serious about this."

According to Byford, a front-row partner of O'Reilly's at Saracens, many leading male players discovered the seriousness of it all some time ago, especially their counterparts at Saracens: "We get a tremendous amount of moral and practical support from guys like Tony Diprose and Richard Hill," she said. "And when Francois Pienaar first took over as Sarries coach, he encouraged us by saying: 'This club needs silverware and you're the people to win us some.' If he recognises the work we're putting in, we must be doing something right."

Source Citation
Hewett, Chris. "Women's Rugby Union: Burns sets tone as a Corinthian with attitude; The England women's rugby union team begin their World Cup defence today. Chris Hewett met their dedicated captain." Independent [London, England] 2 May 1998

Friday, 1 May 1998

World Cup: Home nations prepare

A DARK cloud looms on the horizon of women's rugby. It is called New Zealand and the 15 other countries that contest the third World Cup in Holland over the next fortnight await with some trepidation to see whether its womenfolk can match the feats of the All Blacks.

The old order is changing, no matter what the gender. England, the holders, the United States and France have been the traditional powers but this weekend will show what the southern hemisphere can offer: New Zealand played in the first women's World Cup, in Wales in 1991, but withdrew from the 1994 tournament after an absence of support from the New Zealand Rugby Football Union.

They return with a flourish, underpinned by the growing popularity of competitive touch rugby in the southern- hemisphere summer and successes that include a 67-0 demolition of England last year. They will be joined, for the first time in a world tournament, by Australia, while Scotland will enter as European champions after a season in which they recorded their first success against England, by 8-5 in March.

For the first time, the tournament commands the support of the International Rugby Board (IRB), which will meet all the costs. It is a far cry from seven years ago, when the overwhelming enthusiasm of the administrators of the women's game in Britain carried all before them, even if it left them in debt by the close.

Now, however, there is greater recognition by the men of the merits of women's rugby. For example, England will defend their title after spending a week together at Lilleshall, thanks to a Pounds 146,000 grant from the National Lottery; the team is sponsored by Swiss Life (UK), supported by ADMeat, and a further eight companies con tribute significantly to the squad's preparation.

Ten years ago, when Gill Burns played her first international (against Sweden, England's pool opponents tomorrow), the players paid their own way in terms of kit, travel and accommodation. Burns leads England into what will be her third World Cup, knowing the financial worries that afflicted the 1991 organisers are things of the past - though she has not taken a holiday in the past six years and the mileage on her car is approaching 200,000.

This has not stopped three members of the squad - Susie Appleby (policewoman), Janice Byford (teacher) and Helen Clayton (lecturer) - from taking career breaks so that they can concentrate on a successful World Cup. It is also an opportunity for youth, because in Jo Yapp, 18, England include one of the youngest competitors in the tournament. Whether England can retain their crown remains to be seen. Their squad has changed out of all recognition since the visit to New Zealand, but the forwards do not look as formidable as the pack that squeezed the life out of the United States in the 1994 final; they have received coaching from luminaries such as Dick Best and Phil Larder and enter the fray encouraged by their 62-8 defeat of Ireland a month ago.

They are seeded to meet New Zealand in the semi-finals, at the Dutch National Rugby Centre in Amsterdam. Scotland, drawn in the same pool as New Zealand, must beat Italy to ensure a quarter-final place, while Wales are in the same pool as the Americans, whose free-running backs provided the highlights of the 1994 tournament.

Ireland's inexperienced team, which has received financial support from the Irish Rugby Football Union worth Pounds 20,000, will lack nothing in commitment but look to have the most demanding of games on the opening day, when they play Australia. It is, though, New Zealand's performance that will be watched most closely. "Ever since they beat us in August, I have been dying for another chance," Emma Mitchell, England's talented scrum half, said. That chance may be just around the corner.


ENGLAND: Backs: P George (Wasps), N Brown (Worcester), P Spivey (Clifton), J Molyneux (Waterloo), S Day (Wasps), K Knight (Old Leamingtonians), T Collins (Saracens), S Appleby (Saracens), G Prangnell (Wasps), E Mitchell (Saracens), J Yapp (Worcester). Forwards: J Smith (Wasps), J Byford (Saracens), T O'Reilly (Saracens), M Edwards (Saracens), N Ponsford (Saracens), J Poore (Richmond), T Siwek (Richmond), L Uttley (Wasps), C Green (Saracens), S Robertson (Leeds), G Stevens (Clifton), J Ross (Saracens), H Clayton (Saracens), C Frost (Saracens), G Burns (Waterloo, captain).

WALES: Backs: N Evans (Cardiff Harlequins), T Comley (Ty-Croes), E Green (Saracens), S Thomas (Waterloo), S Phillips (Aberystwyth), L Rickard (Aberystwyth), R Williams (Wasps), S Williams (Ty-Croes), B Evans (Cardiff Harlequins, captain), R Owens (Swansea Uplands), S Calnan (Cheltenham). Forwards: D Mason (Waterloo), J Studley (Blaenau Gwent), A Antoniazzi (Waterloo), L Pritchard (Cardiff Harlequins), N Griffiths (Cardiff Harlequins), J Kift (Cardiff Harlequins), A Dent (Waterloo), C Donovan (Saracens), J Robinson (Aberystwyth), J Morgan (Cardiff Harlequins), S Ellis (Richmond), G Baylis (Saracens), E Steer (Swansea Uplands), P Evans (Swansea Uplands), L Burgess (Saracens).

SCOTLAND: Backs: C Herriot (Edinburgh Academicals), A McGrandles (Leeds), M Cave (Saracens), S Brodie (Edinburgh Academicals, K Littlejohn (Leeds, captain), D Fairbairn (Murrayfield Wanderers), P Paterson (Richmond), K Craigie (Murrayfield Wanderers), S Higgins (Edinburgh Academicals), R Lewis (Murrayfield Wanderers), L Blamire (Edinburgh Academicals), P Chalmers (Murrayfield Wanderers). Forwards: J Taylor (Edinburgh Academicals), K Findley (Richmond), L Allsopp (Murrayfield Wanderers), A Christie (Edinburgh Academicals), A MacKenzie (Glasgow Southern), S Scott (Murrayfield Wanderers), M McHardy (Edinburgh Academicals), L Cockburn (Edinburgh Academicals), G Cameron (Murrayfield Wanderers), D Kennedy (Leeds), I Wilson (Alton), J Sheerin (Richmond), J Afseth (Edinburgh Academicals), B MacLeod (Murrayfield Wanderers).

IRELAND: Backs: S Cosgrave (Old Crescent), L Nicholl (Cooke), A Dillon (Blackrock College), C-A Byrne (Blackrock College, captain), F Neary (Waterloo), S Fleming (Cooke), H Siwek (Wasps), R Currie (Cooke), R Shrieves (Richmond), F Devaney (Creggs), S O'Donovan (Waterloo). Forwards: D Campbell (Cooke), O Brown (Shannon), M Nash (Wasps), A Parsons (Wasps), J Moore (Exeter), E Wilt (Crawley), T Kennedy (Old Leamingtonians), M Myles (Wasps), A-M McAllister (Blackrock College), L Noade (Cooke), R Burn (Novocastrians), J O'Gorman (Old Crescent), F Steed (Novocastrians), J Whiteside (Leeds), J McCarthy (Old Crescent).

POOLS: A: England, Canada, Holland, Sweden. B: United States, Spain, Wales, Russia. C: France, Australia, Ireland, Kazakhstan. D: New Zealand, Scotland, Italy, Germany.

ITINERARY: Today: Opening ceremony; Canada v Holland. Tomorrow: Spain v Wales, New Zealand v Germany, France v Kazkhstan, United States v Russia, England v Sweden, Australia v Ireland, Scotland v Italy. May 5: Pool matches between first-round winners; pool matches between first-round losers. 9: Quarter-finals. 12: Semi-finals. 16: Final.

Copyright (C) The Times, 1998

Source Citation
Hands, David. "England outlook blackened by rivals; Rugby Union." Times [London, England] 1 May 1998

Sunday, 26 April 1998

World Cup: USA in line for third final

EVEN though England and New Zealand are the favourites, America must be in line to reach their third successive World Cup final, writes Stephen Jones. They will avoid both sides until the final if results go with seedings.

Women's rugby has thrived in America for de cades. They have 10,000 reg istered adult women players, more than any other compet ing nation.

Only England, with 9,000, and Canada with 8,000 have remotely near that number.

Sweden, with only 100, have the smallest playing base.

The Americans featured in both the first two World Cup finals. They won the inaugu ral tournament in Cardiff in 1991, beating England 19-6 in the final, thanks to the bril liance of their backs.

Three years later in Edin burgh, England cashed in on scrummage power to gain revenge, winning 38-23.

The dark horses among the home countries are Scot land, who completed a memorable grand slam in the recent home nations champ ionship, beating England in Edinburgh.

Wales, who ran England closer than the 29-12 scoreline suggests in their home na tions match, face a tough opening assignment against Spain, who have recently beaten both Ireland and France.

The Irish have also to negotiate a strong pool, which includes France, Australia and Kazakhstan, a team comprising chiefly of army personnel.

Australia and Germany are the two teams playing in the World Cup for the first time.

WORLD CUP Pool A: England, Canada, Holland, Sweden.

Pool B: America, Spain, Wales, Russia.

Pool C: France, Australia, Ireland, Kazakhstan.

Pool D: New Zealand, Scotland, Italy, Germany.

FIXTURES May 1: Opening ceremony and Holland v Canada May 2: England v Sweden; US v Russia; Spain v Wales; France v Kazakhstan; Australia v Ireland; New Zealand v Germany; Scotland v Italy.

May 5: Remaining pool matches:

May 9: Quarter-finals May 12: Semi-finals May 15: Plate and Shield finals May 16 : Final.

All matches take place at the Nat ional Rugby Centre, Amsterdam

Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 1998

Source Citation
Jones, Stephen. "America in sight of third cup final; Rugby Union." Sunday Times [London, England] 26 Apr. 1998

Sunday, 19 April 1998

National Cup final: report

Wasps 0 Saracens 5 .

SARACENS scored after five minutes to set a challenging pace in the women's Bread for Life National Cup final, but desperation and drizzle settled over The Stoop in equal measure and the result remained in doubt until the end.

Mistakes ruled and Saracens were fortunate to have the resilient Emma Mitchell in such commanding form. Mitchell produced the only try with a combination of pace and strength off a scrum and it is no surprise that Saracens rated her good enough to play in their second team a couple of years ago - the men's second team, that is.

Wasps would have recognised the threat which Mitchell presented at scrum-half, but when she set off on her decisive run, dipping the shoulders, maintaining speed and balance, it was class at work. The pity was that it was never fully expressed again as Saracens won the Cup for a record fifth time.

Saracens controlled 90% of the first half but made so many mistakes that they were responsible for most of the 25 scrums. Only Mitchell look capable of better things but was caught in the tide of errors which ruined the match as a spectacle.

Wasps put the ball to their wings only twice - once in the Saracens' half - and must have realised at half-time that with a modicum of belief and an increase in pace they could turn the game.

Wasps tried, but their efforts were wasted. Paula George put in a long attack from full-back only for Cheryl Stennett to drop her pass on the Saracens 22 and No 8 Jenny Chambers was also frustrated after driving through.

The final started with 14 of the England squad who will defend the World Cup in Amsterdam next month after losing to both New Zealand and Scotland in the last eight months. England, like Saracens, will have to depend on Mitchell's continued good health if they are to stand any chance of holding on to their crown.

Saracens: M Cave; J Edwards, T Collins, A de Base, E Green; S Appleby, E Mitchell (capt); M Edwards, N Ponsford, T O'Reilly (P Ramsey 61min), L Burgess, C Green, J Ross, H Clayton, C Frost.

Wasps: P George; C Stennett, R Williams, B Lloyd, S Day; G Pragnell, H Harding (N Alcock 74min); J Smith, J Potter (capt), A Parsons (V Huxford 36min), L Uttley, M Myles (O Lacey 61min), E Vermeulen (B Slee 40min), C Mulalley, J Chambers.

Scorers: Saracens. Try: Mitchell.

Referee: D Matthews (Liverpool).

Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 1998

Source Citation
Parsons, David. "Classy Mitchell lightens gloom; Women's rugby." Sunday Times [London, England] 19 Apr. 1998

Sunday, 12 April 1998

Rugby prepares for first live TV broadcast of National Cup final


CLAIRE DONOVAN once failed to get a job because she played rugby union. 'The company I applied to turned me down because they felt I'd be far more committed to my rugby than my work, which was quite unfair.'

On the other hand, it does tell you something about the changing attitude towards what was once regarded as the quintessential chaps' game. Ten years ago, an employer would never have regarded a woman's involvement in rugby as the sort of distraction that might make her a liability. It might have raised an eyebrow, but hardly an objection.Now, though, thousands of women have crossed the touchline to cast off the traditional female role at rugby matches: providing her manly other half's team-mates with evidence of his predatory skills when he is not in the clubhouse demonstrating the liquid capacity of the male bladder. The Rugby Football Union for Women calculate that there are some 10,000 women playing the game in Britain at 270 clubs.

And there is a growing realisation that women's commitment to rugby in terms of training and practice is steadily closing the gap on men's, so the employer's misguided decision to turn down Claire Donovan did at least have the virtue of recognising that the game's rapidly expanding distaff side don't just turn up for rugby matches, fanny around for 80 minutes and spend the rest of the week buffing their nails.

A more important recognition of the advance of women's rugby takes place next Saturday, when the Bread for Life National Cup final becomes the first women's rugby union match in Britain to be televised live, with Sky dispatching 19 cameras and, among others, the former England and Lions scrum-half Dewi Morris to cover the game at the Stoop ground, home of Harlequins. Donovan will be there, too, a second-row forward in the Saracens team who have just won the Premier Division One title with an unbeaten record and hope to confirm their supremacy over their only serious rivals, Wasps, in the final.

Donovan, 26, from Cardiff

- she is also a Wales international - started playing rugby union when she was at Seale Hayne agricultural college in south Devon. 'I used to enjoy showjumping, but knew I'd never be particularly good at it, and was relatively successful at cross-country running, but absolutely hated it. Rugby was the one thing I was quite good at and actually enjoyed doing.'

She says the only aspect of rugby she had difficulty adapting to was the team thing. 'When I was show- jumping I used to go to a quiet corner of the warm-up area and just be nervous on my own. Suddenly I'd got 14 other people to be nervous with before a game, and that was quite hard.'

After Seale Hayne she moved to the South-East and, having finally overcome an ankle injury from horse-

riding, managed a full season with Canterbury in 1996-97. 'I got into the Welsh squad at the end of that season and felt I had to play at a higher standard to get my skill level up. I went to Saracens at the start of this season and graduated to the first team.'

So how hard does she train? 'Every weekday unless we've had a particularly demanding match, in which case I tend to take the Monday off. But we usually go sprint training twice a week and have club training on two other nights.

'Like the men's game, the emphasis has changed. We've lost the slow, fat forwards and everyone has had to work on their fitness and improving their speed. You have to be able to run and compete for 80 minutes, rather than scrum, walk to the next line-out and then potter about for a bit.

'I've lost two stone in the past two seasons (she is six feet and 11 and a half stone) and am fitter than I've ever been. Before, my lungs gave out before anything else; now my lungs are all right but my legs tend to go wobbly after 80 minutes.'

And in the dark recesses of the scrum, where all manner of unspeakable crimes are supposedly committed in the men's game, is the women's just as bad? 'No, I think that is one of the big differences between the two. My boyfriend hadn't really watched rugby at all until he started coming to see me play. He got quite interested in it and wanted to try playing the game himself until he went to watch a men's match. I think he was quite surprised by how much activity there was unrelated to the play.'

Away from the playing field, Donovan says the reaction to her rugby playing is generally positive, reflecting the acceptance of the women's game. 'A couple of people in the office pretend to be absolutely terrified of me and shrink away whenever I come near. And my previous boss was quite averse to me having a black eye when I came to work. One morning he said, 'Oh, nice black-eye day. Well done. Good match was it?' Then he came up to me a little later and said, 'Oh dear, Claire. We're not going to make a habit of this.'

'But most people can get past the women's rugby thing and, although it is relatively new, they take on board that you must have worked bloody hard to represent your country, which is nice. The farmer who looks after my horse down in Wales is a huge rugby fan and when he introduces me says, 'This is Claire, she's an international rugby player.' He's just as pleased as if I were Doddie Weir.'

And the employer who turned Claire Donovan down might be interested to know that she is now a highly successful technical manager for Tesco, driving the best part of 2,000 miles a week and 'dealing with suppliers from Zimbabwe to Inverness'.

'The difference between people who get to the top is how they manage their lifestyles. We've all probably got the same talent, but it's the will to do it, to fit in playing the game around your work. I was quite hurt that someone thought I wouldn't be any good at my job because I'd be too busy training.'

His loss, one suspects, has been the greater.

Source Citation
"Rugby: Claire and the girls Stoop to conquer: Jon Henderson on why thriving women's rugby deserves a TV cup final showcase." Observer [London, England] 12 Apr. 1998

Monday, 6 April 1998

Growth of women's rugby

WOMEN'S rugby is enjoying a boom after small beginnings in 1983, when the Rugby Football Union for Women (RFUW) was formed with a hand ful of teams. The first in ternational was staged at Richmond in 1987, when a few doz en spectators watched a well-drilled France defeat Great Britain, which boasted sev eral outstanding individ uals but little cohesion as a team. Car diff hosted the first women's World Cup in 1988, which despite being run on a shoe string, attracted 12 countries.

Standards have im proved dramatically, thanks in part to the increased number of in ternational matches.

There are regular home internationals, and England took on Ireland at Worcester yester day.

Some 10,000 women now play and compete regularly at 330 clubs all over Brit ain. Although in the early days women's rug by was predominant ly a college and university sport, with few players taking up the game before their teens, growing numbers of schools offer touch rugby for girls as young as eight and intro duce the full-scale game to teenagers. Most universities field several women's sides. The top eight senior sides, in cluding Saracens, who field a high propor tion of the England team, and Old Leamingtonians, compete in a national Premier League.

There are two other nat ional leagues just be low them, as well as four regional leagues for less experienced players learn their craft.

RFUW also organises National Senior, Stu dent and Junior Cup competitions.

Most clubs wel come newcomers regard less of size, background or athletic prowess - coaching and fitness training are provided and, unlike most sports, rugby ac commodates all phys ical types because of the various skills re quired in different posit ions. For more details contact the RFUW on 01635 42333.

Copyright (C) The Times, 1998

Source Citation
"Ways and means; Rugby Union." Times [London, England] 6 Apr. 1998

Thursday, 2 April 1998

England reflect on Scotland defeat; women's rugby "one of the fastest-growing sports in the country"

England's rugby-playing women fumbled their chance to keep in step with the men when they lost to Scotland for the first time in their version of the Five Nations Championship. The grand slam belongs north of the border, but when England take on Ireland at Worcester on Sunday, they will have an extra incentive to return to winning ways.

It will be England's last competitive match before they begin their defence of the World Cup in Holland next month, when one of the key players will be Emma Mitchell, 31, the Saracens scrum half, who played in both previous tournaments after taking up the game in 1985.

"I started playing when I was at Loughborough University," she said. "I went there as a discus thrower and hockey player, but wanted to try another team sport. Jim Greenwood, who was a British Lion in the 1950s, was a lecturer there and he got involved with the women's team just as I took the game up. I was very lucky not to learn bad habits early on."

With barely half-a-dozen sides playing in England and Wales during the early 1980s, Mitchell found herself propelled into the England set-up. "That happened in my second year of playing and I won my first cap in 1988. I was one of the players - and there are still a few in the present squad - fortunate to become involved just as the sport really took off," she said.

The Sports Council has identified women's rugby as one of the fastest-growing sports in the country over the past decade. There are more than 200 club sides and as many university and youth teams.

Mitchell was among the founder members of Saracens in 1989 and the club has since won three league titles, with a fourth on the horizon, the National Cup and the National Sevens on four occasions. "It's good at the moment," she said, "because we fit alongside the men in that they're going for the premiership and cup double."

Although the men's team has moved to Watford, Mitchell believes the spirit built up at Southgate, their base before their move to Vicarage Road, has been retained. "Nigel Wray (the club owner) is a millionaire who has come into the sport as a true rugby fan. He is very supportive of us because he sees the future of the club as being very family-orientated. The atmosphere is great.

'We've had coaching sessions from Tony Diprose, the men's captain, Greg Bottomon, who is one of the hookers in the squad, and also from Paul Wallace, the British Isles prop. I think they (the men) still see their home as Bramley Road and they're in and out of there every day for training. If we happen to be playing, they come out on the touchline and watch."

Professionalism may have added glamour to the men's game, but, as amateurs, many of the women will be taking time out from their jobs to play for England in May. National Lottery funding has eased the financial burden - Mitchell estimated that it cost her Pounds 2,000 to play last year. "From my point of view, it has been ten years accumulating debt," she said.

As a commissioning editor, signing up academics to write textbooks for the higher education market, Mitchell is more fortunate than most. Her employer, Addison Wesley Longman, the publisher, is one of the few cash sponsors of the women's game, paying Pounds 10,000 to have its name printed on the sleeves of the England shirts.

"They also give me paid leave to play and extended lunch hours so that I can get to the gym and train," she said. "It does make a huge difference because most people use up all their holiday allowance playing for England." If the England players can retain the World Cup, won in Edinburgh in 1994, it will all seem worth it.

Of the 16 nations competing, New Zealand are the favourites, with England, Australia and the United States all capable of running off with the trophy - although Scotland's recent victory has raised some doubts about the England scrum.

"To be honest, France, Scotland, Spain and even Wales, on their day, could upset the whole cart and beat any one of us," Mitchell said. "The main thing is that the game is continuing to grow. There were only 12 sides in the last World Cup and that was the first time the game featured in the sports pages.

" We've only just started to get the recognition that has led to our present level of support. Whatever happens in Holland, that is definitely very exciting."

Copyright (C) The Times, 1998

Source Citation
Potter, Sarah. "Mitchell thrives on textbook technique; Rugby union." Times [London, England] 2 Apr. 1998

Monday, 23 March 1998

Chalmers gives Scotland World Cup inspiration

Scotland 8 England 5

SCOTLAND, the most improved of the home international sides in women's rugby over the last two years, will go to the World Cup in Holland in May as holders of the grand slam. They will do so thanks to a penalty goal kicked by Paula Chalmers, which earned them victory over England at Inverleith on Saturday, though the slim margin of victory does not indicate Scotland's all-round superiority.

Before the last women's World Cup in 1994, which they hosted, Scotland were among the newest of international contenders, but they have established a side that has now overtaken the two countries dominant in women's rugby in the northern hemisphere for the past 15 years, France and England, whose hopes of a successful defence in Holland of the title that they won in Edinburgh four years ago do not look well-founded.

In an error-strewn match, Scotland dominated the set-pieces, almost claiming a pushover try in the second half against an England side that formerly took pride in emulating the men's side in the power of their scrum.

There is, too, far more kicking in the women's game than used to be the case: it is a skill that they have learned to do well, but Scotland overused it on this occasion, for they had a back division with the legs of England.

They proved that in the first quarter, when Kim Littlejohn looped swiftly to retrieve a dropped ball and rounded the English cover. Yet, before the interval, England had made up for two missed penalty attempts from Gill Burns, Maxine Edwards leading a drive on the left before the backs at last sustained a handling movement to create space for Pip Spivey on the right.

Only ten minutes remained when Chalmers, to the delight of Craig, her distinguished brother, who was among the spectators, kicked the penalty that won the game, leaving England with the game against Ireland at Worcester on April 4 to make hasty repairs to their World Cup defence.

SCORERS: Scotland: Try: Littlejohn (13min). Penalty goal: Chalmers (70). England: Try: Spivey (22).

SCORING SEQUENCE (Scotland first): 5-0, 5-5 (half-time), 8-5.

SCOTLAND: A McGrandles (Leeds); D Fairbairn (Murrayfield Wanderers), P Paterson (Richmond), K Littlejohn (Leeds, captain), M Cave (Saracens); R Lewis (Murrayfield Wanderers), P Chalmers (Murrayfield Wanderers); J Taylor (Edinburgh Academicals; rep: E Allsopp, Murrayfield Wanderers, 53), S Scott (Murrayfield Wanderers), K Findley (Richmond), L Cockburn (Edinburgh Academicals), M McHardy (Murrayfield Wanderers), J Afseth (Edinburgh Academicals), B McLeod (Murrayfield Wanderers), D Kennedy (Leeds).

ENGLAND: P George (Wasps); P Spivey (Clifton), S Day (Wasps), S Harris (Waterloo; rep: S Appleby, Saracens, 70), N Brown (Worcester; rep: J Molyneux, Waterloo, 70); G Pragnell (Wasps), E Mitchell (Saracens); T O'Reilly (Saracens), J Potter (Wasps; rep: J Smith, Wasps, 65), M Edwards (Saracens; rep: A O'Flynn, Waterloo, 65), L Uttley (Wasps), T Siwek (Richmond), J Ross (Saracens; rep: J Chambers, Wasps, 10-14, 38-40), G Stevens (Clifton), G Burns (Waterloo, captain).

Referee: P Sleeman (Wales).

Copyright (C) The Times, 1998

Source Citation
Hands, David. "Chalmers gives Scotland World Cup inspiration; Rugby Union." Times [London, England] 23 Mar. 1998

Sunday, 22 March 1998

Scotland win Grand Slam

Scotland 8 England 5

STRANGE days at Inverleith, the old Edinburgh ground that is steeped in the proud history - and the recent under-achievement - of its home club, Stewart's-Melville. On Friday it played host to a Grand Slam by the Scotland A team and yesterday it provided another for Scotland's women, who completed their clean sweep with this battling win over England. Who says you don't see Scottish Grand Slams every day of the week?

Granted, the opportunity for another this afternoon has already been lost, but even if they were small in number, the crowd at this match could still savour their day. Scotland were not flattered one bit by the scoreline at the end and, from having been among the rabbits of the last Women's World Cup in 1994, they can now go forward to the next tournament, in Holland in May, with confidence soaring. The spirits of England, the world champions, however, are in need of urgent restoration.

Most of England's best attacks were ignited by Emma Mitchell, whose all-round excellence at scrum-half provided a vivid sub-text to the game. Indeed, Mitchell probably kept England in the game during the first half.

Her assuredness was important when Scotland tried to raise the pace after their first try. That arrived in the 12th minute when Linda Uttley knocked-on near her 22 and Scotland were awarded a scrum. Paula Chalmers moved the ball left and although Michelle Cave and Pogo Paterson almost ruined the move with a fumble in midfield, Kim Littlejohn, the Scottish captain, both resuscitated the attack and finished it off, arcing round the defence to the left corner.

With more ball, Scotland might have capitalised further, for there was a wonderful eagerness about their play. England, by contrast, were leaden, and prone to horrible handling lapses all along the three-quarter line. Yet England took their example from Mitchell and the fly-half, Giselle Pragnell, and it was through their composure that they clawed their way back.

More significantly, they also hauled themselves onto the scoreboard before half-time, levelling with a wonderful try. It came in the 32nd minute when a rumbling charge down the left touchline by Maxine Edwards drew in the Scottish defence, Mitchell switched play to the right and a looping move by Pragnell allowed Pip Spivey to sprint in by the flag.

Some people still claim women's rugby is strange spectacle, but the only truly bizarre sight was that of a Scottish scrum destroying English opposition. The Scots spent much of the third quarter camped on England's line, yet despite a clear advantage in the set-piece, they could not quite find the extra ounce of power to surge over.

Indeed, Scotland seemed more sapped by the experience, as England swept back upfield with determination. Gill Burns, however, was spotted stamping in a ruck and, when Scotland grafted their way back into English territory, it was more Burns footwork that again cost England dear. Foolishly, the English No 8 did the deed on her own 22 this time, and Chalmers swept the penalty home.

The kick secured the win for Scotland and secured the status of a sport that has had more than its fair share of detractors in this part of the world. Certainly, you could pick critically at some of the quality of the game, particularly the goal-kicking. But the attitude and spirit of the Scottish side was second to none.

Scotland: A McGrandles; D Fairbairn, P Paterson, K Littlejohn, M Cave; R Lewis, P Chalmers; J Taylor (L Allsopp 52min), S Scott (A McKenzie 40min), K Findlay, L Cockburn, M McHardy, J Afseth, D Kennedy, B McLeod (J Sheerin 40min).

England: P George; P Spivey, S Day, S Harris (S Appleby 71min), N Brown (J Molyneux 71min); G Pragnell, E Mitchell; T O'Reilly, J Potter (J Smith 63min), M Edwards, L Uttley, T Siwek, J Ross, G Burns, G Stevens.

Scorers: Scotland: Try: Littlejohn. Pen: Chalmers.

England: Try: Spivey.

Referee: P Sleeman (Wales).

Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 1998

Source Citation
Reid, Alasdair. "Scottish women set the scene with Grand Slam victory; Rugby Union." Sunday Times [London, England] 22 Mar. 1998

Scotland v England

Scotland 8 England 5

STRANGE days at Inverleith, the old Edinburgh ground that is steeped in the proud history and the recent under-achievement of its home club, Stewart's Melville. On Friday, it played host to a Grand Slam by the Scotland A team and yesterday it provided another for Scotland's women, who completed their clean sweep with this battling win over England. Who says you don't see Scottish Grand Slams every day of the week?

Granted, the opportunity for another this afternoon has already been lost, but even if they were small in number, the crowd at this match could still savour their day. Scotland were not flattered one bit by the final scoreline and, from having been among the rabbits of the women's World Cup in 1994, they can now go forward to the next tournament, in Holland in May, with confidence soaring. The spirits of England, the reigning world champions, however, need urgent restoration.

Most of England's problems lay in the pack, where they lacked the co-ordination of their opponents. England's best attacks were ignited by Emma Mitchell, whose all-round excellence at scrum-half compensated for failings elsewhere. Not that Julie Potter, her hooker, would have been particularly appreciative when Mitchell's first kick of the game brought both boot and ball thumping into her midriff, but it would be true to say Mitchell probably kept England in the game during the first half.

Her assuredness was important when Scotland tried to raise the pace following their first try. That arrived in the 12th minute when Linda Uttley knocked on near her 22 and Scotland were awarded a scrum. Paula Chalmers moved the ball left and, although Michelle Cave and Pogo Paterson almost ruined the move with a fumble in midfield, Kim Littlejohn, the Scottish captain, both rescucitated the attack and finished it off, arcing around the defence to the left corner.

With more ball, Scotland might have capitalised further, for there was a wonderful eagerness about their play at that stage. England, by contrast, were leaden, and prone to horrible handling lapses all along the three-quarter line. Yet England took their example from Mitchell and fly-half Giselle Pragnell and it was through their composure that they clawed their way back into the game.

More significantly, they also hauled themselves onto the scoreboard before half-time, levelling the scores with a wonderful try. It came in the 32nd minute when a rumbling charge down the left touchline by Maxine Edwards drew in the Scottish defence, Mitchell switched play to the right and a looping move by Pragnell allowed Pip Spivey to sprint over by the right flag.

Yet the prospect of a punishing England effort in the second half quickly receded as England, so wonderfully aggressive when they won their 1994 trophy, seemed seriously short of appetite. Scotland, however, were ravenous. To the verve of Paterson at outside centre they could add the poise of Rimma Lewis, their stand-off. As the game wore on, moreover, it was clear the Scottish pack, and especially their brittle front row, were gaining the upper hand.

Some people still try to claim that women's rugby is a strange spectacle, but the only truly bizarre sight in this match was that of a Scottish scrum destroying English opposition. The Scots spent much of the third quarter camped on England's line, yet despite a clear advantage in the set piece - they also stole some priceless English lineout ball with the glee of the genuinely larcenous - they could not quite find the extra ounce of power to surge over those last few inches.

Indeed, Scotland seemed more sapped by the experience, as England swept back upfield with determination. Their attacks lacked conviction, however, and the Scottish defence picked them off around the fringes with comfortable ease. Then Gill Burns, the English No 8, was spotted stamping in a ruck and, when Scotland grafted their way back into English territory, it was more Burns footwork that again cost England dear. Foolishly, the English player had this time done the deed on her own 22, and Chalmers swept the penalty home.

The kick secured the win for Scotland and secured the status of a sport that has had more than its fair share of detractors in this part of the world. You could pick critically at some of the quality of the game, particularly the goal-kicking which was next-to abject throughout. But the attitude and spirit of the Scottish side was second to none, and when they travel to Holland in two months time they have every right to believe they could earn the same accolade.


A McGrandles; D Fairbairn, P Paterson, K Littlejohn, M Cave; R Lewis, P Chalmers; J Taylor (L Allsopp 52min), S Scott (A McKenzie 40min), K Findlay, L Cockburn, M McHardy, J Afseth, D Kennedy, B McLeod (J Sheerin 40min).


P George; P Spivey, S Day, S Harris (S Appleby 71min), N Brown (J Molyneux 71min); G Pragnell, E Mitchell; T O'Reilly, J Potter (J Smith 63min), M Edwards, L Uttley, T Siwek, J Ross, G Burns, G Stevens.

Scorers: Littlejohn (T 12min) 5-0; Spivey (T 32min) 5-5; Chalmers (P 69min) 8-5. Referee: P Sleeman (Wales). Attendance: 1,000.

Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 1998

Source Citation
Reid, Alasdair. "Scots savour grand victory; Rugby Union." Sunday Times [London, England] 22 Mar. 1998