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