Wednesday, 16 May 2001

Scotland European champions

Scotland crowned European champions; Rugby Union

Lewis Stuart

SCOTLAND are champions of Europe in at least one sport. The women's rugby team carried off the trophy, beating Spain 15-3 on Saturday in the final in Lille, France, emerging from the competition without conceding a try.

After the nailbiting semifinal win over France, the previous holders, the final was a less tense affair, with the Scots taking an early lead as Jenny Dickson, the wing, slid round the blind side of a ruck to go over, and they extended it with Rimma Petlevannaya, the centre, battering her way to the line.

Paula Chalmers, the scrum half, who won the player of the tournament award, added a conversion and a late penalty, and although the Spanish threw everything into rescuing the game, the Scotland defence held firm.

"It was a tight match but we dominated the field position for most of the game and stuck it out to the end," Chalmers said yesterday. "We came on a mission to win and achieved just that. When the Spanish did manage to attack, they met a wall of blue that shut them out."

Apart from the heady enthusiasm at their triumph, there was also a considerable amount of satisfaction that they had proved a point to the managers of the National Lottery, who stopped funding for the side last year.

"Fortunately, the Scottish Rugby Union stepped in with aid, otherwise this would not have been possible," Chalmers said. "This is going to raise the profile of the women's game in Scotland a huge amount, and it gives us something to show the girls when they come to the summer camps, to show what can be achieved."

Rosy Hume, the team manager, said the key to the triumph had been, the link around the half backs, Chalmers and Denise Fairbairn, along with Jenni Sheerin, the no 8, the first woman to win 50 rugby caps for Scotland.

"Throughout the tournament, the defence, which had been a weakness in the past, was superb," Hume said. "We only conceded 12 points, all through kicks, and our discipline was also spot on with the team giving away very few penalties.

"The girls worked really hard for this. We came feeling we could win and although the heat in the final was formidable, we stuck to the task to come through in the end."

The real question is whether, having succeeded where the men failed, in capturing the European crown, the women's game in Scotland can use the victory to expand its profile ahead of the women's World Cup next year and the numbers taking part.

"I would hope that on the back of this, the lottery assistance will restart so that we can mount a strong challenge at the world cup," Hume said. "We need to start being able to bring the London-based players up for regular training sessions and organising weekends together."

Scotland do not win many European titles in any sport, so they are determined this triumph for women's rugby will be the foundation for an upsurge in interest in their sport.

The Times (London, England) (May 14, 2001): p5

Rugby's champion belles of the ball.


OUR rugby team performed abysmally in the Six Nations Championship and the footballers are struggling to qualify for the World Cup in 2002.

But in one fast-growing field of sporting endeavour, the Scots really can hold their heads up high - women's rugby.

Remarkably, the Scotland first XV, including three police officers, two nurses, a PE teacher, a sales representative and an insurance broker, have just been crowned European champions.

But lurking under all the talk of line-outs and scrum downs lie the more familiar women's concerns such as makeup, clubbing and boyfriends.

Flanker Fiona Gillanders admitted the women spend much longer doing their hair and makeup after the match than their male counterparts.

'It is something we are actively encouraging because we know we are role models. We enjoy looking smart and feminine - guys certainly like it. The image has changed and men now like to see feminine women with great bodies.

They run to us now, rather than run away.' Boyfriends watch their matches as often as they can and both sexes mix sociably in the post-match drinking sessions, in which the ladies always hold their own.

But Miss Gillanders admits that while they may look more feminine off the pitch, once they don the studs and get on the pitch they are every bit as aggressive as the men - gouging, scratching, kicking are all par for the course in the mauls, while punch-ups are not unusual.

One ploy which is used in the female game - less common in the men's - is pulling ponytails in a last-ditch attempt to stop opponents crossing the line.

Miss Gillanders laughed: 'If it's there to be pulled, then it will be as long as it stops the opponent scoring. It is a trick used by every women's rugby team.'

The Daily Mail (London, England) (May 15, 2001): p27

Sexy Denise is maul woman; SHE'S A RUGBY BABE


MOST women normally associate mud on their faces with beauty treatment.

But for a group of Scots it is the ultimate way to spend a Saturday afternoon - lying in it face down.

They are Scotland's women's rugby team, and they have just put one over their male counterparts by winning a major trophy.

They have rucked and mauled with the best of them, slaughtering - among others - top-scoring France and Spain, in the European Championships.

They carried off the honours in Lille, France, at the weekend, putting Scotland right at the very top of women's international rugby.

But while the mud that spatters them usually comes from the gritty turf of the rugby pitch, Denise Fairburn is a perfect example of how they can scrub up well off the pitch.

Stunning Denise, 29, hopes the team's success can inspire young girls into the game.

She said: "I am a PE teacher and I would encourage any young girls to play rugby - it's a great game.

"I usually play on the wing because I am only 9st so I don't get a lot of contact.

"For the final I played at stand-off but once you explain to girls how to make contact safe they really enjoy playing rugby.

"It's also a game in which I found I improved very quickly and that's always heartening."

Flanker Fiona Gillanders admits the team likes to spend plenty of time after a match putting on their make-up and getting their hair right.

She said: "It's something we are actively encouraging because we know we are role models. We enjoy looking smart and feminine.

"Times have changed and men now like to see feminine women with great bodies.

"They run to us now rather than run away."

The women's team lost their lottery funding last year - ironically for not being successful enough. That means they have had to compete all year against sponsored and paid-to-play teams.

But that has made Scotland's success all the sweeter.

Flanker Beth McLeod, 26, who has 34 caps, said: "We had a very hard game in the tournament against France in very hot weather.

"Then we met Spain in the final in even more extreme weather conditions.

"But the result was 15-3 to Scotland and the girls were just ecstatic. The atmosphere afterwards was terrific. We were all very excited."

Beth went on: "Rugby is just great fun and there's good social life too.

"The women's team and the men's teams usually meet up for drinks afterwards.

"We really enjoy ourselves."


HIGH KICKS: Denise Fairburn, pictured, left, in a glamourous dress and, above, in her training gear, fired Scotland to victory with crucial kicks; WING QUEEN: Star Angela Hutt glides past a Spanish player during Scotland's victory; GLAMOUROUS: But pretty Rimma Petlevannaya loves the rough and tumble of rugby; FLOWERS OF SCOTLAND: The team celebrates European success; SWEET VICTORY : Fiona Shepherd, Beth McLeod and Rimma Petlevannaya with the trophy

The Mirror (London, England) (May 16, 2001): p12

Sunday, 13 May 2001

Lively women's movement; Richmond and Wasps revisit HQ for today's other final

SO HISTORY repeats itself. The last time two senior women's rugby teams appeared at Twickenham was in 1987. On that occasion Wasps were the victors and Richmond lost out.

Now, 14 years down the line, the same two clubs contest the RFUW Rugby World National Cup final at HQ, as a curtain-raiser to the main event, the Zurich Championship final.

But other things have changed. For a start there is now a full-blown Six Nations tournament for women, some of which was shown on television last year; this season's tournament, sadly, went largely unrecognised by broadcasters.

"It was probably because England did not start the tournament too well," said Nicki Jupp, who plays in the centre for Richmond, the cup holders, and England. In fact she was wrong. Sky wanted to be there, but there were organisational problems, which meant among other things that that there was no guaranteed foreign coverage. But as is so often the case with minor sports, when TV does not cover something, the rest of the media tends to overlook it as well.

Yet overall Jupp believes the profile of the women's game has been raised, and Paula George agrees. Shortly before high noon today the England captain will lead Wasps out on to the hallowed turf for another historic step on the long road to serious sporting recognition. Since that first flirtation with Twickenham there have been women's matches at the stadium, but only at student level, and George said: "This is really important for the women's game. It is an indication that we have been accepted into the upper echelons of rugby union. In 1990 I played at Cardiff Arms Park, and I have been waiting for the time when I could do so at Twickenham."

As shop windows go, this one is not so bad. The Rugby Football Union are bracing themselves to cope with a crowd of up to 50,000 for the two matches, and if the weather holds that is not an unrealistic expectation. And since these are two of the top four women's sides in England at present - the other two being Saracens and Clifton - who have been equally matched in the Premiership this season, there is every chance of a feast of quality rugby.

It is certainly what George is expecting from her crew. "We pride ourselves on our handling game and we try to play 15-woman rugby," she claimed. "We have a really exciting back-line. There is Lou Latter on the wing and our fly-half, Shelley Rae, who can place-kick with either foot. In fact in a recent club match this season Shelley bruised the big toe on her right foot and so kicked four successful conversions with her left. There are not many men who could do that."

Jupp countered with a list of Richmond's pluses, including Spain's scrum-half, Roccia Ramirez, and their wing Emily Feltham: "She will be the fastest person on the field, and on the other wing we have Jen Dickson, who is very quick, but also very skilful."

And provided Sky commentator Dewi Morris, the former England (men's) scrum-half, likes what he sees and persuades the viewers that the product is good, then the women's game may be able to square the vicious circle that has left them without serious long-term backing.

"We need backing to develop, but until we get the media coverage we won't attract sponsors," said Jupp. Not that the women's game is totally bereft of backers. England players do not have to fork out for quite as much as they used to, as George explained: "We used to have to buy our England shirt if we wanted to keep it, otherwise we had to hand it back. Now at least we are given a shirt, albeit for the season. But we still have some way to go to catch up with the England men, who are given two shirts per match."

No one would be advised to put their shirt on the result of this match, however. The last time these two sides met, 10 days ago in a Premiership game, Wasps, having trailed 0-8, came back to win 10-8. They lost the first meeting of the season, though, by a try.

"It will be close," said George. "Whoever gets on with it and does not dwell on the fact that television is there and it is Twickenham will have an advantage. I am going to tell my players that it is just another game, on just another pitch, and ignore the fact that it is an historic moment for the senior women's game."

Jupp is looking to the past for omens for today. Not the past of 14 years ago, but rather that of last season. She explained: "Last year we lost to Clifton in the league but went on to beat them in the cup, so I am hoping that history may be repeating itself." Which is where we came in.

The Independent on Sunday (London, England) (May 13, 2001): p12

Scotland close in on European crown

Lewis Stuart

By the end of today, Scotland could be holding a European Championship title. The country's women rugby players face Spain, who they have already beaten 19 8 this season, in the final of the FIRA competition in Lille, France.

"It has been a fantastic team effort," Peter Brownlee, the coach, said yesterday. "We came to the competition with our hopes riding high, we have been 100 per cent focused on the game we wanted to play and we have been getting better and better as the competition has gone on.

"The girls want to win this for themselves, and it would be a considerable achievement, but it would also do so much for the women's game in Scotland if we were able to come back with the title."

The team were already in the elite group, and started with a hard-fought 13-3 win over Wales, with Jennifer Dickinson, of Richmond, getting the try while Paula Chalmers, of Murrayfield Wanderers, kicked a conversion and two penalties. They followed that by coming from behind to beat France 9-6, with Chalmers getting all the points from kicks.

"Basically, we squeezed the life out of them," Brownlee said. "The forwards were magnificent and while I would rather they had played more of their rugby in the opposition 22, you can't complain."

Spain, who are previous European winners, will be no pushover after defeating England in their semi-final, but the Scots say they are ready for the physical challenge they pose. "There are not many surprises in store at this level," Brownlee said. "We don't expect to see much as far as back moves and three-quarter play is concerned, they will try to boot the ball down into our half and drive us from there.

"If the forwards can repeat their showing in earlier matches, then we can come home as European champions."

The Times (London, England) (May 12, 2001): p44