Sunday, 3 December 2000

Letter: Taking issue with Girl Power.(Observer Sports Magazine)

Gill Burns and Emma Lindsey

I was pleased to see that your magazine recognises the role of women in sport with your 'Girl Power' section in OSM . I was, however, bitterly disappointed to see that you have ignored the rugby union players totally in your selection. Women's rugby is no longer a minority sport and I am sure the 10,000-plus women who play up and down the country each week will also be amazed that you have not recognised our sport.

Only today there was an article in your newspaper reporting on Kate Hoey's interest and support of our game and yet our international players from all over Britain have been ignored. England finished third at the 1998 World Cup and only last month beat the USA, who were ranked second, to go up one place. England also cruised to a victory in last seasons Five Nations Championships.Perhaps Paula George, our current captain, should have been included in the top 20 women sports stars? How can you ignore a team that is now ranked two in the world? There are only a few of your 20 choices who are ranked higher than the current England squad.

Gill Burns

England captain 1994-1999

Vice president, Womens Sports Foundation

Emma Lindsey - who masterminded the compiling of the list - replies:

Compiling a top 20 of the British sportswomen was always going to be problematic as much because of deciding who to leave out as who to include, especially given that women in sport don't get much of a look in on the back pages. Although there was an element of subjectivity in the decision-making, ultimately editorial concensus was reached on the grounds of achievement on an international stage, relative to the depth and standard of competition within each discipline, with an added proviso to give a shout (where appropriate) to champions in sports which receive no coverage at all.

The Observer (London, England) (Dec 3, 2000): p6

Saturday, 26 August 2000

Richards to lead women into new era

A NEW era begins this weekend for England women's rugby when Geoff Richards, the former Wasps and Australia full back, becomes their first full-time coach (David Hands writes). He will meet his squad, many of whom helped to win the five nations title last season, for the first time at a training camp at Lilleshall before selecting the party to contest the Canada Cup in Winnipeg next month.

All the leading countries in the women's game are gearing up for the 2002 World Cup with professional appointments but Richards, who replaces Peter Kennedy and Steve Redfern, arrives with the experience of Australia A and under-21 men's squads behind him. He has also spent three years with the Australian Institute of Sport before taking up a two-year contract with England, funded by the Sports Council.

There is liaison with the senior men's game too, since Phil Larder and David Alred have worked on defence and kicking with the women's squad. Sadly, Richards will not have at his disposal for Canada the experience of Emma Mitchell, the Saracens scrum half, and the midfield duo of Sue Day and Nicky Jupp; all three are recovering from injury.

However, over the weekend he must perm 26 from the senior training squad of 36 for the party, as well as appointing ancillary coaching staff. His opponents will include New Zealand, the world champions, and the United States.

The Times (London, England) (August 26, 2000): p43.

Monday, 8 May 2000

Lomu of women's game fired up for European title

Pete Nichols

It was a little over a month ago that the English women's rugby team wrapped up a Five Nations grand slam with a comprehensive 64-9 victory over Scotland at the Stewart's Melville ground in Edinburgh. Only one of the four matches had been close, that against France at Massey, near Paris, in February, when England scored in the final minute of time added on to snatch a 24-18 win. The remainder of the tournament had been a romp, confirming their status as the best team in Europe.

In the modest but hectic world of women's rugby, however, there is no resting on laurels. Today in Almeria, on the eastern wing of the Costa del Sol, the first games of the European championship take place and England have to prove their superiority all over again.The cast list is familiar, for Spain, Scotland, France and Wales contested the Five Nations with England and they form the core of Group A in the European event. The additional teams in the top group are Ireland, Italy and Kazakhstan, fifth in the 1999 event and against whom England open their championship today.

Europe takes on an elastic shape for sporting events, as evidenced by the participation of the Kazakhs, whose capital city Almaty is closer to Beijing than Moscow. Even so, rumours will definitely have reached them of the player in the England team they will have to stop if they are going to win.

Chris Diver always wanted to be a firefighter. As a child she would pass the fire station in Slough on the way to school. "I thought, they squirt water and climb ladders and that would be fun," she recalls. Even now, six years into the job, she has an undiminished love of her work. "It's better than I thought, although we don't save lives every minute like they do in London's Burning; we get our share of fires in rubbish bins and horses that have fallen into trenches."

Diver's rugby career developed in a more accidental fashion. Unsure of how the fire brigade would feel about women enlisting, she decided to go to university first. It was during her final two years at Chelsea College in Eastbourne, where she took a Bachelor of Education degree in PE and science, that the university formed a women's rugby team and she switched her allegiance from hockey.

On graduation she applied to West Sussex for a job as a firefighter and was posted to Crawley. If it had been Worthing or Bognor the rugby career might well have ended there, but in Crawley there was a women's team.

Work and pleasure dovetailed as the fitness for the job - "you've got to be able to sling 14st people over your shoulder" - paid dividends on the pitch. In 1997 she was spotted by Carol Isherwood, the England performance director, at a sevens tournament in Crawley and enlisted into the national squad.

From the start Diver, at 5ft 10in and 13st, could easily have been assigned to the pack, but she has always been a wing. "I've never done any serious running, the last time was at school, but I'm naturally quick," she says. Quick enough and strong enough to earn the highest of accolades. "I'm the female Jonah Lomu, I've been told," she says, laughing.

A series of stunning recent performances, culminating in the last-minute try that stole that England-France Five Nations game, have reinforced the image and the reputation. Yet it was not an easy ride to the top.

"Last season I had a very good game against Scotland and the success got to me a bit," she admits. She became anxious about her perfor mances and her game suffered. The pleasure principle was discarded. "I can't really explain it. I just felt a lot of pressure, so I started working with our psychologist, Kirsten Barnes. Now I don't dwell on matches a week before they happen. I just enjoy it. They [the tries] just happen," she says.

For the past three winters Diver has played for Saracens, who have just won the league title ahead of Richmond. The 28-year-old is full of praise for Nigel Wray, who owns the club. "We've had women's matches preceding the men's games, which is great. He's been so supportive of us," she says.

She is eager for her sport to move more into the mainstream - "I'd love to play at Twickenham, wouldn't anyone?" - but the future of women's rugby is in the balance. With no television or gate money to feed the coffers, women's rugby union in the UK is dependent on lottery funding.

Recently the Scotland team lost a government grant worth Pounds 79,000 because they came only third in the Five Nations, and everyone connected with the England team tells you how tenuous is the hold on their funding should they not justify their ranking as favourites in Almeria.

On the other hand, the World Cup comes around again in 2002. The last edition was held in the Netherlands and won by New Zealand - the Black Ferns, as they are known in the women's game. The encounter that settled the issue came in the semi-final against England when the heat of the battle became so intense that two English players ended up in hospital, one with a broken nose, the other with cracked ribs.

England are one of the two countries bidding to host the 2002 event. What a pleasure it would be if the female Jonah Lomu, from Crawley, could put one over the world champions. It would be only fair, given the number of occasions the All Blacks' male Chris Diver has done it to us.

The Guardian (London, England) (May 8, 2000): p7.

Thursday, 13 April 2000

England v Scotland


The England Women's rugby team defeated Scotland 64-9 in Edinburgh to complete their second successive Grand Slam... Midlander Karl Keska finished second in his 10,000m debut in the European Challenge in Lisbon last night... Spain's Miguel Angel Perdiguero edged out Laurent Jalabert to win the second Miguel Indurain Grand Prix... Ford driver Colin McRae led fellow Briton Richard Burns by 3.3 seconds after the eighth stage on the Catalunya Rally... Chris Byrd pulled off a surprise win to claim the WBO heavyweight title after Ukraine's Vitali Klitschko quit with an injured shoulder at the start the tenth.

The Independent on Sunday (London, England) (April 2, 2000): p17.

England serve a tasty treat

THE England women's rugby team ripped their Scotland opponents to shreds to claim an emphatic 64-9 victory at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Wonderfully destructive in the tackle and ruinous on the break, England inflicted on Scotland their second-highest defeat and the measure of their superiority was such that they could have beaten the 76-0 margin set by New Zealand against the Scots two years ago. As it was, they seemed more concerned with flinging on every available substitute in the closing minutes.

Chris Diver and Nicola Jupp scored a hat-trick of tries each, while Selina Rudge, Jenny Foster, Jenny Sutton and Emily Feltham were the other scorers. Foster sent over four conversions with Diver kicking three as Scotland's haul was restricted to three penalties by Paula Chalmers.

The Times (London, England) (April 3, 2000): p37.

Sunday, 26 March 2000

Rugby Union - March of Paula's army; Alan Hubbard finds that England's women rugby players are matching the men's achievements.

SHOULD ENGLAND beat Scotland next week and secure rugby union's Grand Slam, doubtless they will celebrate by singing a few bawdy songs, throwing their coach into the bath and doing their best to get blotto in the bar. Ah well, girls will be girls.

It isn't just Matt Dawson's men who will be behaving much like rugby players are expected to behave should success come their way at Murrayfield on Sunday. Twenty- four hours earlier, Paula George will be happy if there is a modest outburst of unladylike horseplay down the road in Edinburgh at Stewart's Melville, where her women's team also take on the Scots in what could be the first leg of an historic double.

"Yeah, we'll be having a few beers and a bit of a knees-up if we win," says the 31-year-old captain and full-back, who hopes to be leading her team to triumph in their own Five Nations Tournament for the second successive year. "Rugby's a bit like that. You train hard, play hard and go out and enjoy yourselves."

Enjoyment did not seem that high on the agenda on a sunny morning at Bisham last week, though, where 45 of England's finest female ruckers and maulers had gathered for their final full-scale preparation. It wasn't for the faint-hearted, on the field or off. "C'mon guys, crouch, sink, hit, two-three-four," came the shouted command as the burly front row thudded their shoulders into the scrum machine, aptly labelled Rhino. When push comes to shove, England's lady forwards are an intimidating bunch and, judging from the liberally sprinkled fruity expletives, there isn't too much they could learn from their male counterparts about the niceties of the game.

Across the park, things were slightly more decorous as the willowy George and the backs practised some impressive running, passing and dummying under the tuition of head coach Peter Kennedy, who shares his duties between the England women and Exeter Chiefs. Like Steve Redfern, ex-Leicester and England, who looks after the forwards, Kennedy admires the endeavour and application of these women in the roughest of team sports. "They are prepared to listen and take things on board," he says. "They are quick learners and always want to do the right thing. They're great to coach."

No one argues any more that rugby shouldn't be a game for girls. It is now one of the two fastest- growing sporting activities among females, the other being football. And while women's football talks of going professional in 2003, women's rugby, in a way, is already there. "If you like, we're professional with a small `p'," says the Twickenham-based women's RFU performance director, Carol Isherwood, a former Great Britain captain and the country's top female coach. "We have 35 players on Lottery funding, which means they only need to work part-time." Three of the elite squad are married; one to an Army major, and another has a 15-year-old son. The rest are the usual collection of PE teachers, physios and students. There are two policewomen and a firefighter, and one of the front row works for a brewery. The hooker, Nicky Ponsford, with 42 caps, is an administrator with Sport England.

Nationwide, there are 270 women's teams, including those attached to illustrious clubs such as Wasps, Saracens, Harlequins and Richmond, with around 6,000 players. There are half-a-dozen leagues, two cup competitions and 60 youth sections. An active recruitment programme in schools, says Isherwood, will help transform a game that has been essentially middle- class because of its genesis in universities. Meantime, they will be lucky to muster a crowd of more than a few hundred in Edinburgh on Saturday, though in France, where they take women's sport far more seriously, some 4,000 watched them beat the French 24-18. Victories over Spain (31- 7) and Wales (51-0) have put England in pole position for the Grand Slam.

The women's game would love a higher profile, though they'll probably stop short of posing topless or spraying on the body paint to get themselves in the public prints. Anyway, scrum caps don't do much for sex appeal and those blood-red lips come by courtesy of Lonsdale gumshields rather than Revlon.

The nearest women's rugby has got to the tabloid treatment came when one of the sport's sponsors attempted a hard sell with a survey among the players which asked the question: "Who would you most like to snog?" Nicky Jupp, the centre, who, according to the survey, "at 6ft and a slim size 12 turns the heads with her good looks", said she could not decide between Brad Pitt and Keanu Reeves.

There's a popular misconception that women's rugby is all butch and biceps. There's a flavour of that, but by and large it is a game played, if not always with a degree of elegance, at least with zest and dash. There's the odd broken collarbone and torn ligament, but no history of serious injury in the 20 years women have been playing the game. Isher-wood admits: "Some of the games can be a bit brutal, though there's a place for this with women just as there is with men. You need to be a certain type to play it, but then you do if you are a guy. Basically, what attracts the girls to the game is the same thing that attracts the men."

George agrees. "Physically, I can't think of a harder sport for women. For me it is the most complete sport and I've played all of them, from netball to hockey. Nothing has the same excitement, the same pace, requires you to make decisions under pressure, or more all-round skills." In the women's game, she is likened to Jeremy Guscott. Fast and flamboyant, she has played everywhere from full-back to flanker for her club, Wasps.

She works one day a week, teaching PE and A-level psychology at a Middlesex school and has an American father, Scottish mother and was born in Wales. A maternal grandmother gives her qualification for England, so there is no question over eligibility. Like most, she was converted to the sport "as a bit of a dare" at university. That was 11 years ago. Now she is about to collect her 40th England cap. "If someone asked me whether there's anything I would like to change in my life, I couldn't think of anything. It may sound strange, but when I play rugby, I'm living my dream."

The Independent on Sunday (London, England) (March 26, 2000): p18.

Sunday, 27 February 2000

Interview with Nicky Jupp

The tryscoring centre epitomises the levels of excellence now expected in women's international rugby, writes Stephen Jones

A SURVEY of women players conducted by Bread For Life, one of the sponsors, has this to say of Nicky Jupp, who will be in England's centre when they face their own Celtic crunch against Wales at Newbury next Sunday: "At 6ft and a slim size 12, she turns heads with her good looks." The survey reveals a dilemma as Jupp grapples with the probing question: "Who would you most like to snog?" She cannot decide between "Hollywood heartthrobs Brad Pitt and Keanu Reeves".

The survey is presented, er, tongue-in-cheek, though it seems perfectly in order for the women's game to sell itself in any way with which it is comfortable. But Jupp does personify a new image, and not as a reflection in her mirror. When women's rugby first fielded representative sides, they comprised the best and fittest of a polyglot, if determined, bunch. These days, England's squad is an arena for athletic excellence of international class.

Most of the current squad have reached national or international level at a host of sports outside rugby, including track and field athletics, heptathlon, swimming, sailing, netball, basketball, hockey, lacrosse and karate. Rugby reaps the benefits. "Before rugby, I'd trained for years for speed, strength and stamina. You develop a fierce competitive attitude to training, and to sport," Jupp says.

She was an outstanding athlete in her teens, when she was "almost an avid hater" of rugby. She scored 4,500 points in heptathlon at 17 and represented Wales, where her parents lived, at heptathlon, all three of the jump events and hurdles. She was only dragged on to a rugby field through peer pressure in her first year at Birmingham University: "My track coach thought it was great off-season fitness work."

But now, it is athletics that is the sharpener for her new first love: "Gradually, the priority shifted." No wonder. She scored six tries in her first rugby match, but kept scoring in the corner instead of running to the posts to make the conversion a formality. "They shouted the hell at me." Soon after, she scored nine tries in a match, dutifully running round.

Her background, however, did not prepare her for a rugby specific, namely handling the ball, a user-unfriendly implement. Peter Kennedy, England's head coach, recalls the weakness: "When she came from athletics she was held back by her handling. She was always stuck out on the wing and if she caught it, she was fine. It was obvious to me that with so much talent, she had to move inside to get more involved and be nearer to the source of the ball."

She moved to the centre for Richmond, her club, and her hard work paid off. "By the time she played for England in the Hong Kong Sevens last season, she had progressed dramatically," Kennedy said. "She's worked so hard on her skills, her power training, the lot. She's always been a great character, now she is a player of European standing."

Jupp played a significant part in the dramatic win over France last weekend, a 24-18 triumph clinched with a try in the last seconds. She brought off such a clattering tackle on Natalie Amiel, the French centre, that the ball was turned over for an England try on the counter. She also looked a runner of devastating potential.

Unlike some of her teammates, who can forge a semi-professional career with proceeds from Sport England's World Class Performance grants, Jupp works full-time, with Carlsberg-Tetley in Northampton. But her dedication is daily, and almost frightening. "The goals are so high in internationals, especially when you see how far teams such as New Zealand have advanced," she says. "It's hard to get there and harder to stay there. When you are out on the field in an international, it just feels like a job that you have to do. You can enjoy it afterwards, but it ain't nice when you are out on the pitch."

When we spoke just before England's win over Spain in the Five Nations opener, I offhandedly remarked how good it would be for the sport if Spain should win. The look of withering disdain was well deserved. She might "turn heads with her looks" but she looked ready to turn mine to a point from where it was unlikely ever to face the front again.

But serious or not, I found a tremendous sporting exuberance in Nicky Jupp, a kind of joy through a pursuit of excellence. I told her that, in the course of my researches, one of her colleagues described her as a "serious party animal". There was no objection to the label. "I love life, I live it to the full. My diary is always full," she said. "But I take sport very seriously. If I thought it would help my rugby, I'd give up going out."

Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 2000

Source Citation
Jones, Stephen. "Prolific Jupp raises standard for England; Rugby Union." Sunday Times [London, England] 27 Feb. 2000

Sunday, 6 February 2000

Lottery funding has galvanised women's rugby in Britain

Stephen Jones

IT'S A different tournament this year. Spain enter the women's Five Nations championship for the first time, replacing a struggling Ireland team which has withdrawn to concentrate on rebuilding its domestic rugby.

The environment of the tournament is also changing profoundly. England open their campaign against Spain at Banbury today with semi-professionalism conveyed by lottery funding and standards of preparation so emphatically improved that the players are fit to be compared with international athletes in any sport.

They may not, quite, be on the verge of riches, but England's leading players can now obtain funding for equipment, medical care, gymnasium and other training costs and also enough to tide them over if they decide to revert to part-time employment.

The money comes from a national lottery world-class performance grant.
"It gives us so much more freedom," Carol Isherwood, performance director of the Rugby Football Union for Women, said.

"It can be a shattering experience trying to fit in six or seven training sessions per week when you are also working full-time."

But the important thing is not so much the money, as the status the grant imparts. "Because the lottery has recognised them as being comparable with international athletes in other sports, it gives the girls the feeling that they have been accepted - that means more than any monetary value," said Isherwood.

The funding also hands England the key to challenging for the 2002 World Cup and, especially, to catching the brilliant world champions, New Zealand.

While competition in the Five Nations is stern, England cannot advance until they meet New Zealand more regularly, not to mention America, Canada and Australia, the other major teams.
The world-class performance grant will fund England's participation in the Canada Cup in September, when New Zealand, Canada and, it is to be hoped, other top nations will be competing.
Isherwood is trying to arrange for the team to travel to New Zealand and Australia after the tournament.

Today's game may not prove quite as taxing because, even though Spain were the surprise package of the last World Cup in 1998, they lost to England in a recent friendly.
England's new-look team contains neither of the staple figures of the last decade - Gill Burns, the former captain, played for England A against England Emerging Players yesterday and Emma Mitchell, the scrum-half, has a knee injury.

Paula George, at full-back, assumes the captaincy.

This season's Five Nations fixtures:
February 4: Wales 10, France 27 (Swansea); February 6: England v Spain (Banbury); February 18: France v England (Massy); February 19: Spain v Scotland (Murcia); March 5: England v Wales (Newbury); March 5: Scotland v France (Edinburgh); March 18: France v Spain (Dax); March 19: Wales v Scotland (Caerphilly); April 1: Scotland v England (Edinburgh); April 1: Spain v Wales (TBC).

Sunday Times 6 Feb. 2000: p 5

Thursday, 3 February 2000

Paula George becomes Englad captain; Jo Yapp looks ahead

As demands in women's rugby grow, one player realises premier ambition

The international rugby men kick off 2000 with a new tournament, new rules and new captains. Italy join the more familiar adversaries to make it the Six Nations Championship and all will be in action on Saturday. It is a similar tale for the women, who open their revamped Five Nations Championship on Sunday when England, the title-holders, entertain Spain, the newcomers, in Banbury.

Injury has forced the withdrawal of England's leader and, as Paula George, the full back, takes the captain's role from the inspirational Emma Mitchell, a familiar name to rugby followers will step in at scrum half.

Jo Yapp, 20, is the sister of Tony, the Worcester fly half. While she plays for the Worcester women's side in the top flight of the Premier League, he turns out for the men's side who seek promotion to such heights. "It's rugby, rugby, rugby in our house," Jo Yapp said. "My Dad still coaches, Mum loves to watch and my younger sister plays for the second team."

Small wonder, then, that Yapp feels so at home at this smart, friendly club nestled beside the M5. "A lot of women's clubs have trouble with their men's sections because they don't really want to give them proper support," Yapp said. "But it's different at Worcester - they've always backed us totally."

Which means that the men turn up at training sessions, unstinting with their advice. "I get to the club early before our training so that Tony can help me with my kicking and passing," she said. "There's never been any rivalry. I watch him on a Saturday and he watches me on a Sunday. There's no game like rugby for its contact and you're always learning something new. It is special."

It is also a booming sport for women. Bankrolled by National Lottery money, many of the top players are semi-professional and the number of clubs continues to grow. "Just seeing the numbers we get for training shows how popular it is," Yapp said. "We started with ten or 11 turning up, now it's nearer 50. In the England team a lot of the girls are only working two or three days a week, which means the skills and fitness have improved immensely."

Yapp, who has 11 international caps, is a physical education student at Worcester College and there is no disguising that little would get in the way of her sporting ambitions. "Whatever happens, I will definitely carry on with rugby," she said.

The demands are increasing. After the Five Nations comes the European championship, then summer training camps and, yet to be confirmed, an autumn trip across the Atlantic, where Australia, New Zealand and the United States are expected to contest the Canada Cup.

"Those are the big three in women's rugby," Yapp said. "We don't get much opportunity to play them but, with the backing we now have, it does seem that we might be able to go. It would be valuable experience for the next World Cup in May 2002."

So far, because of Mitchell's brilliance at scrum half, international opportunities have been limited for Yapp. Her debut, on home turf at Worcester two years ago, burns especially bright. "I came on for Emma during the match against Ireland," she said. "It was probably more nerve-racking because it was here in front of my family and friends but it also made it extra special."

Ireland, trounced by everyone in recent times, have withdrawn from the Five Nations to concentrate on strengthening their domestic competitions. Spain, a talented side of free spirits, will be intent on an upset on Sunday. "We beat them 41-10 in Barcelona last month in a friendly," Yapp said, "but the score didn't really reflect the game."

Despite her tender years, Yapp is not easily fazed on a rugby pitch. A year in New Zealand did much to sharpen an already competitive nature. "It was an awesome experience because they are all so big and strong," she said. "I think it did my rugby a lot of good." In this Five Nations tournament, she would like to prove that it did.

Copyright (C) The Times, 2000

Source Citation
Potter, Sarah. "Yapp increases the hope of family fortunes; Opinion." Times [London, England] 3 Feb. 2000:

Tuesday, 11 January 2000

"Women who play rugby are not from planet butch"

Raekha Prasad

We hear the voices telling women that their views, their understanding of the world, are as important as men's. We hear TV and radio stations and newspapers saying they want - need - women journalists, even if only to bump up audience or readership figures. It is a knock, then, to open the first edition of The Journalist's Handbook in the new millennium. The media quarterly is devoted entirely to the media themes and personalities of the 20th century, the centrepiece of which is a collection of profiles of journalistic heroes. There are 23. All of them are men. No Martha Gellhorn, no Katharine Graham, no Kate Adie, Katharine Whitehorn, Mary Stott, Jill Tweedie. Roll, roll, roll on the new millennium.

It's official. Women who play rugby are not from planet butch. In fact they have things in common with, well, normal women. Just look at the evidence. A survey of women rugby players has found that playing rugby does not disqualify wimmin from being seduced, being chatted up and having an ideal date; 28% said they'd want to go white water rafting and 80% said they like a GSOH. So next time you feel confused about whether women playing rugby are really women, do the ultimate gender test and see if she's interested in your oar and laughs at your jokes. How useful! How practical! How depressing. Sidelines has been sent desirable gloves. Desirable, that is, if you're dealing with your cat's litter tray, gutting fish, chopping chillies or doing housework. Yes, three pairs of household gloves without a hint of irony. And to top it off, the bumf tells us when we're scrubbing the toilet rim, these rubber monsters will protect our manicured nails and keep our hands looking young. Nice to know someone cares. Where's the chocolate?

Source Citation
"Women: Side lines." Guardian [London, England] 11 Jan. 2000