Tuesday, 19 September 2006

England fall just short in thriller; Rugby Union.

David Hands

THAT the World Cup final has been described as the best game of women's rugby in history will be limited consolation to England. They lost 25-17 to New Zealand in Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium on Sunday night, an enthralling contest that ebbed to and fro before the Black Ferns clinched their third successive title deep into injury time.

Four tries to two tells the story of a New Zealand side infinitely more dangerous in open space, but says nothing of a wonderfully committed England and the inspirational work of players such as Maggie Alphonsi and Sue Day. A converted try by Helen Clayton in the last minute of normal time reduced the deficit to a mere three points, only for New Zealand to work Amiria Marsh into the corner.

"This was certainly the best game of women's rugby I've ever seen," Rosie Williams, the managing director of the RFU for Women, said. But how England must regret their failure to score the points in the first half-hour that their territorial domination suggested were there for the taking.

Their use of Catherine Spencer at close-range scrums became too predictable and they failed to turn New Zealand's defence with tactical kicking. A penalty try, awarded after a series of scrums were collapsed on the New Zealand line, brought England back into the game, but the Black Ferns responded magnificently. "This was a fantastic final for people to watch -I'm just sorry we couldn't deliver," Jo Yapp, the England captain, said Donna Kennedy, Scotland's most-capped player, has retired after her side finished sixth in the tournament. Kennedy, 34, played in 95 of Scotland's 100 matches, the last in a 24-0 defeat by the United States in the fifth-place play-off.

The Times (London, England) (Sept 19, 2006): p78.

England raise the bar in defeat.

ENGLAND'S women may have finished runners-up to New Zealand in the World Cup final for the second time in succession, but yesterday's final in Edmonton is being hailed as the best ever game of women's rugby.

It was certainly the most physical and competitive match in the tournament's history and showcased a level of skill and athleticism not seen before in the women's game.

England, underdogs facing the defending champions, were always playing catch-up but had closed to within three points before New Zealand clinched a 25-17 victory with a late try through Amiria Marsh.

"We worked hard for 80 minutes and did everything we possibly could,'' England captain Jo Yapp said. "It was a tough game and you can't take anything away from the performance of the England girls.''

Despite dominating possession in the first half, England turned around 10-3 down after a try by Monalisa Codling and a conversion and penalty by Emma Jensen, Karen Andrew kicking a penalty for England.

England fell further behind when Stephanie Mortimer scored straight after the break. A penalty try and a touchdown by Helen Clayton closed the score to 20-17, but then Marsh eluded England's desperate cover defence to claim the crucial score.

After the match, centre Sue Day and back-row forwards Clayton and Georgia Stevens announced their retirement from international rugby.

Daily Telegraph (London, England) (Sept 19, 2006

Sunday, 17 September 2006

Day is central to England's final tilt: Wasps star has helped women to the brink, says Anna Kessel.

Anna Kessel

ENGLAND FACE New Zealand tonight in the Women's Rugby World Cup final in Canada, but with barely a squeak about it in the media you would be forgiven for knowing little about it. The vast majority of matches have been broadcast over the internet and Sky screened just one semi-final live from Edmonton.

New Zealand's Black Ferns are the overwhelming favourites to win a tournament that was officially sanctioned by the IRB only in 1998. They are the current holders, having beaten England in the final four years ago, and they have smashed their way through the opposition this time round, conceding 17 points and amassing 177 along the way.

England's own points tally looks impressive - scored 139, conceded just 30 - but their semi-final win over hosts Canada was uncertain right up to the final whistle and the winning margin was slim at 20-14. England are second favourites for the trophy, however, and have a number of experienced players - such as 32-year-old centre Sue Day - to draw on memories of past achievements and narrow misses.

They were champions in 1994, but otherwise England's women have been frustrated in recent years after defeat in two finals and finishing third in 1998. However, the triumph of this year's Six Nations victory will go some way to buoying the team.

Day is typical of the old guard generation of women rugby players who discovered the game late in life - at university - and this year looks as if it will be her last playing for England. But a younger generation with a different knowledge of rugby is emerging, players such as 19-year-old Michaela Staniford, already capped 16 times, who played rugby minis from the age of 12.

This generation are changing the game - by the time they reach their mid-twenties they will have amassed the same number of playing years as Day. The pace and skill of the women's game is on the up.

But the sport still suffers from an image problem. As recently as 2003, a Women's Sports Foundation report revealed that 17.2 per cent of those questioned didn't think that women should even be playing rugby (the same percentage as boxing). And with such poor coverage it is unlikely that many on the street could name the captain, Jo Yapp.

This World Cup has been ground-breaking in recruiting the highest number of female match officials (12) to oversee the games. In addition, the IRB announced that for the first time women's rugby will have a sevens tournament in 2009 running alongside the men's event.

But if England overcome the odds and beat New Zealand - and in addition recruit a decent-sized TV audience despite the midnight kick-off - will women's rugby be given the publicity it deserves? After the men's World Cup victory in 2003, a massive grassroots investment campaign was initiated to revitalise the sport. Between them, the RFU and the Government ploughed in pounds 28.5m to reverse the fall in playing numbers before 2003. Twelve months later, 33,000 new players were attracted to the game, with the biggest rise in numbers being the 7-11 age group, a 32 per cent increase.

There has been nothing like such attention to grassroots women's rugby. There are positives here and there but if the good-luck messages to the women's team from Andy Robinson and Rob Andrew on behalf of the RFU aspire to be taken seriously, much more needs to be done.

In an interview with Observer Sport before the World Cup, Staniford called for better interaction between the personnel of men's and women's rugby. 'Neil Back once came to talk to us, which had a huge impact,' she said, 'but there's still so much that the men's game can offer to us in terms of experience.'

Women's Rugby World Cup final

England v New Zealand, SS3 midnight

The Observer (London, England) (Sept 17, 2006): p19.

Sunday, 10 September 2006

Women progress

Nigel Botherway

England will play Canada, the hosts, in the semi-final of the Women's Rugby World Cup in Edmonton on Tuesday. The second favourites beat France 27-8 late on Friday night to top their pool. France face New Zealand, the defending champions, in the other semi-final.

Sunday Times (London, England) (Sept 10, 2006): p21.

Sunday, 3 September 2006

England women chase semi-final spo

Nigel Botherway

South Africa and France stand between England and a place in the semi-finals of the Women's Rugby World Cup in Edmonton, Canada. The Six Nations champions, who are ranked second behind holders New Zealand to lift the trophy, beat USA 18-0 on Thursday. The female Springboks are next up for England, tomorrow, followed by France on Friday. France beat Ireland 43-0 in their opening game, while Scotland beat Spain 24-0

Sunday Times (London, England) (Sept 3, 2006): p17

Sunday, 27 August 2006

THE GIRL'S A BIT SPECIAL: Michaela Staniford Rugby Union Age 19, England outside-centre, 13 caps.

Aren't you a bit young for women's rugby?

No, it's changing and a lot of younger girls are coming through now. Years ago women only started playing at university but now girls have the chance to learn rugby 'minis' at school. I also benefited from fast tracking - I played one season at under 19s and then went straight through to the Six Nations aged 18. I was the youngest ever female player to be capped.

Are people surprised when you tell them you play rugby?

Yes, always. I don't look like what you'd call a typical rugby player, but then that's stereotypes for you. Our squad's made up of all shapes and sizes. Contrary to popular belief there really is no type.


Mic. Or whatever comes out when they're shouting at me on the pitch. . .

Rugby idol?

I always loved watching Will Greenwood, as much for his attitude as his playing ability. He played his hardest but he'd always smile if he made a mistake.

What kind of character are you?

I get told I'm an old head on young shoulders - I enjoy being around the older ladies. I don't want to mess about because I've been fast tracked so I've got to prove myself.

I appreciate professionalism.

How are the team preparing for the World Cup?

We've been endurance training at a marine commando base on Exmoor. It's been awesome. We've been over assault courses, pushing Land Rovers up hills, going through underwater tunnels, abseiling and all sorts.

How many times did they scream 'drop down and gimme 10?'

They didn't. But they kept trying to wind us up about safety harnesses breaking and all that. They had to tone it down for us because we've got a World Cup to go to.

How does the quality of the women's game compare to the men's?

It's difficult because no matter how hard we train they're always going to be stronger and faster, but on skill I know we can match them, for sure.

What has been done to raise the profile of women's rugby ?

We needed a better standard of competitive rugby so last year the Super League was introduced. Whereas previously you'd get one club whitewashing another, Super League takes the top 88 players in the country, splits them into four teams and it makes for a much better quality game. It'd be nice to get more media acknowledgement of our achievements though.

Your aim for the World Cup?

To win it of course, and I really believe we can. And to show people that we can play some very, very good rugby.

The kids from fame: Women's Rugby World Cup, Edmonton.

Why should we care?

The face of women's rugby is changing: there's better coaching, better quality play and a younger generation of players coming through. With many of the women's matches now being staged just before the men's, it's a sport you'll be seeing much more of in the future.

When's it taking place?

31 August to 17 September in Edmonton.

Is it on TV?

Sky will be screening both semi-finals and the final live, and you can watch all the games live on the official IRB website,


Who are the tournament favourites?

New Zealand's Black Ferns are tipped to win their third consecutive title.

And England?

Second favourites from a pool of 12 teams.

And the best of England's kids are?

Kim Oliver Centre, age 22, Clifton RFC. Began her sporting career in judo.

Danielle Waterman Scrum-half, age 21, Henley RFC. Student at University of Wales.

Rachel Burford Centre, age 20, Henley RFC.

Amy Turner Scrum-half, age 22, Wasps. First picked up rugby ball aged 6.

Maggie Alphonsi Flanker, age 22, Saracens. An ex-discus thrower.

The Observer (London, England) (August 27, 2006): p23

Sunday, 6 August 2006

Why more coverage of your sport would suit you, madam: Felled by flawed attitude

Sue Day

As the vice-captain of the England women's rugby team, the reigning Six Nations champions, I read 'A Man's World' with interest and agreed with a lot of the sentiments. Undoubtedly the women's sporting world needs to do more to sell itself, raise its profile and to demonstrate to the kids out there that it is a fulfilling and inspirational place to be.

I would take issue with certain suggestions made, however, not least from your own sports editor, Brian Oliver, who said: 'It's too simplistic to blame the media, who do not coach, develop and fund champions.' I agree that it is too simplistic - there are many other factors, including funding, opportunity, perception and quality of coaching. But if the system in place to bring through the female stars of the future is flawed, then the media's attitude to it is equally so.

The women's sports that get the most coverage seem to be those inextricably linked to the men's events - tennis, athletics, horse racing. Look at the coverage of my own sport. The England women's team fly out to the World Cup at the end of the month as second favourites. Each individual in the squad trains as a 'professional'. We have skill, determination and entertainment value to rival the men, and if you are reporting sport simply on its merits, then surely we would have seen news of our achievements.

I am realistic enough to understand that it will probably take decades (at least) to begin to compete with the history that goes with hundreds of years of male-dominated sport. However, it would be nice to see the British media do their bit towards ensuring that women's sport actually is reported on its merits.

Sue Day, England rugby player

The Observer (London, England) (August 6, 2006): p18.

Saturday, 4 February 2006

Scotland looking for Murrayfield inspiration to beat the auld enemy

Hilary Weale

With a World Cup later this year, England, Scotland and France will be hoping to give their campaigns a boost with a grand-slam triumph, while Wales have something to prove after coming last in 2005 HAVING botched three attempts at winning the grand slam, England's men clinched it in 2003, getting their World Cup year off to the start it needed. In view of this, it is easy to understand that Geoff Richards, the England women's coach, considers this season's Six Nations in a wider context.

"We're hoping to win the grand slam. In World Cup year that's an important goal because if you're not going to win the Six Nations, it diminishes your chances of winning the World Cup."

The World Cup takes place in Edmonton, Canada, this summer and it has given incentive to the teams in the Six Nations to perform well. Running parallel to the men's tournament, the women follow the same fixture list, the difference being the inclusion of Spain rather than Italy.

The competition is vital for the development of the women's game, and for the Scots to play their home match against England at Murrayfield straight after the male counterparts have finished their battle should help to bring it to a bigger audience. Gil Stevenson, the Scotland coach, said: "It's always a thrill for them (the players) to play at the national stadium. What we hope is that they can continue to raise the profile of the game."

That England are playing their home matches in the more humble surroundings of Old Albanians RFC does not worry Richards unduly: "We have played at Twickenham in recent years, and it's wonderful (for the players) to play for their country at the home of rugby. But sometimes it doesn't help our grassroots supporters, because they don't have access to Six Nations tickets."

Venues aside, there are some intriguing sub-plots to some of the fixtures. Spain are in the same group as Scotland in the World Cup, so the result of that tie on the last weekend of the tournament will have resonance. The Scots are probably the third strongest team in the competition, and rather than playing any matches in the autumn, were saving themselves for a warm-up match against the United States last month, which they lost 13-6. Hardly the best preparation for playing France next. In Donna Kennedy, the No 8, they boast the most-capped female XVs player in the world, and the most-capped Scotland player, her 84 caps surpassing Gregor Townsend's tally.

It is always tight between Wales, Ireland and Spain. Wales, who finished bottom last year, have a new coaching team in Fielies Coetsee and Jason Lewis, but are still smarting from their failure to qualify for the World Cup, so will be out to prove a point.

Last year, France were crowned queens of Europe, their three-point win over England being the crucial result. Losing their two matches against New Zealand in October has made England all the more determined to better their second place of last year.

Richards points out that there are some world-class players in the side, among them Jo Yapp, the captain and scrum half, as well as young players blooded recently, such as Alice Richardson, the fly half, who give the squad strength in depth.

Winning is vital, but Richards has an additional hope: "I just wish more people would come and watch women's rugby. I think for the time and effort and quality rugby they produce, it's a great spectacle, and I think people would be pleasantly surprised if they came and watched."

Donna Kennedy is the most experienced woman player in the world with 84 caps

The Times (London, England) (Feb 4, 2006): p41