Sunday, 26 May 2002

New Zealand crowned the queens of rugby

England 9 New Zealand 19

WHILE the nation has been captivated by David Beckham's left foot, few will have noticed that England came tantalisingly close to winning the World Cup yesterday.

England women's rugby team narrowly lost to a physical New Zealand team in the final of the 2002 IRB World Cup here yesterday but were part of an absorbing contest.

England's coach, Geoff Richards, felt the game took women's rugby to new heights. "It was a fantastic spectacle," he said. "Women's rugby has improved markedly since 1998 and will continue to. The game will increase in popularity and standards will rise accordingly."

Though the organisers could not claim to have converted hundreds of Spaniards to the oval game, the tournament has been an undoubted success. Nearly 8,000 people turned up to watch the culmination of this two-week competition centred around the Catalan city and women's rugby's two heavyweights contested the match in a stadium worthy of any final.

New Zealand are undoubtedly the queens of their game, conceding no tries and just 12 points in the whole campaign. England, though, were gallant losers, led superbly by their captain Paula George. "We are gutted," she said, "and I cannot put into words quite how we feel. But we have to look forward. I'm exceptionally proud of my team and I could not have asked for any more."

The women's game so long the target of scepticism back home, has made rapid progress. New Zealand, under the guide of their coach, Darryl Suasua, who retired following the final, has showcased players with improved technical and physical ability. Strong forward play and speed in the back line was too much for England to handle on the day.

But more important than the result was the spirit in which the game was played. It was a fantastic advert for the women's game which is already one of the fastest growing sports in the world. The final also provided a brief glimpse of what the men's game is lacking since it turned professional.

Yes, the pre-final entertainment was distinctly amateurish but that was the beauty of it. The majority of the 16 competing teams stayed long after the final whistle and mixed happily with each other. Enemies on the pitch, friends off it - rugby's brotherhood (or sisterhood) was evident. The women's game is free from the financial incentives and imperatives that have become part and parcel of the men's game.

Scores: 3-0 Wilson pen; 3-3 Rae pen 3-3; 6-3 Wilson pen, 6-6 Rae drop-goal, 6-9 Rae pen, 11-9 Hirovanaa try, 16-9 Waaka try, 19-9 Marsh pen.

New Zealand: T Wilson; D Cahura, A Rush, S Shortland, H Myers; A Richards, M Hirovanaa; R Sheck, F Palmer, R Luiaana, M Codling, V Heighway; C Waaka, A Lilii; R Martin,

England: P George; N Crawford, N Jupp, S Rudge, S Day; S Rae, J Yapp; M Edwards, A Garnett, V Huxford, K Henderson, T Andrews, J Phillips, G Stevens, C Frost

Sunday Telegraph (London, England) (May 26, 2002)

New Zealand crowned the queens of rugby

England fell at the ultimate hurdle in the Women's Rugby World Cup yesterday when they lost the final to the defending champions, New Zealand, in Barcelona's Olympic Stadium.

However, the game was much harder-fought than the Black Ferns' eventual margin of victory, 19-9, suggests. Shelley Rae's kicking kept the runners- up in contention throughout a tight first half, but New Zealand eventually eased clear with tries from Monique Hirovanaa and Cheryl Waaka.

Rae cancelled out two Tammi Wilson penalties with one of her own plus her first drop goal of the tournament before adding a second penalty to edge England 9-6 ahead.

But Hirovanaa put the Kiwis back in front when she spotted a gap after 33 minutes and crossed to give her side an 11-9 half-time lead.

Waaka extended that advantage to seven points when she breached the English defence six minutes after the restart, and the Black Ferns managed to hold on for the rest of the second half despite the sin-binning of Victoria Heighway. Hannah Myers, a replacement, sealed New Zealand's triumph in this 16-team, two-week tournament when she added a penalty in injury time.

France, beaten 30-0 by the Kiwis in their semi-final, bounced back to hammer Canada 41-7 in the third-place match. The French helped themselves to four first-half tries, including a pair from centre Nathalie Amiel, en route to a 24-0 interval lead.

In the second half, the prop Dalphine Plantet went over for her second try of the day and the French were only denied a clean-sheet victory when the Canadian centre Julie Foster touched down and Kelly McCallum supplied the conversion.

France completed the scoring in the 71st minute when their No 8, Clotilde Flaugere, claimed their sixth try. Estelle Sardini added the conversion to swell her points total to 11 for the match.

Scotland had to be content with sixth place after they were routed 30- 0 in their closing game by Australia. Charmain Smith, a wing, ran in a brace of first-half tries as the Wallaroos built a 13-0 half-time lead, and there were further touchdowns after the break from centre Sharon O'Kane and flanker Selena Worsley. The rest of Australia's points came via the boot of Tui Ormsby, who kicked two penalties and two conversions.

Had they not run into a rampant New Zealand line-up at the quarter-final stage last weekend, the Australians might well have finished higher in the overall pecking order than fifth.

The Independent on Sunday (London, England) (May 26, 2002): p8

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